Staff

Carol Laughlin

Executive Director

Carol began her nonprofit work in the Bay Area with the early-literacy nonprofit Jumpstart, managing community volunteers to prepare pre-schoolers for success. From there she worked on Special Projects for HandsOn Bay Area, where she managed a bay-area wide habitat restoration grant, among other thousand-member volunteer projects. Most recently, Carol was the Director of Volunteers, the Holiday Program, and Children’s Programming at Samaritan House in San Mateo for the last 3 years. There she managed over 3500 volunteers supporting all of the agency’s programs. She started a children’s empathy building program that expanded to three local school districts. Prior to that, she was the Director of Community Engagement at The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society for two and a half years, where managed the Garden’s volunteer workforce, brought in corporate groups to fund improvements in the Garden and ran the public programs, events and classes. Carol, who lives in Oakland, is an avid camper, hiker, amateur naturalist and unwinds after work by watering in the Nursery.

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Gretchen Bartzen

Fundraising and Development

Gretchen recently retired from her position as Director of Development and Parent Relations at The Seven Hills School. She directed a successful 5 million dollar capital campaign for them in 2003 and increased volunteer involvement, annual giving, and the school’s endowment. Her teaching background and participation in various organizations are skills that she brings to achieve the Board’s goal of raising visibility in the community, as well as increasing financial support.

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Billie Hopper

Special Projects

Billie is a California native who has resided in the Bay Area most of her life. She has a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in Public School Administration from Ohio University. She has also completed numerous courses in Ornamental Horticulture at Diablo Valley College. After a ten-year career in elementary education, Billie worked in a variety of supervisory and managerial rolls for Bechtel, a large engineering and construction company, for 25 years. She has also been a long-term supporter of the Nature Conservancy and was a docent at their Jepson Prairie Preserve for several years.

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Brian Kemble

Curator

Brian Kemble has been at The Ruth Bancroft Garden since 1980. He is highly regarded in the horticultural world and is a prolific writer and lecturer on botanical topics, especially relating to succulent plants. Kemble has a B.A. in Philosophy from Antioch College, and he began concentrating on succulents soon after moving to San Francisco in 1971. Brian's work for The Garden has included hybridizing aloes, agaves, gasterias and some South American cacti. Brian has traveled extensively in Mexico, Madagascar and southern Africa, studying and photographing plants in their native habitats. His gardening column “On the Dry Side” appears in several newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, and his photos have been published in numerous books on succulents.

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Walker Young

Assistant Curator

Walker joined the staff at RBG in January 2012 and since then has come to function as custodian of the Garden’s aesthetic. He acts as point person in the collaborative process of preserving, renovating, and rejuvenating Mrs. Bancroft’s beds, taking particular joy in sculpting undulating mounds and arranging rocks in the Garden to form a unifying backdrop and compositional foil to the Garden’s plant collection. Along with the curator he propagates rare succulents from seed to be used in the Garden and manages care of the private collection. His most significant contribution to the plant palette has been the donation of a cycad collection, which he has used as an intermediate texture connecting the garden’s collection of radially symmetrical rosettes with its softer drought-tolerant herbaceous perennials.

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Alice Kitajima

Volunteer and Program Coordinator

Alice joined the Garden staff in February 2016 from the volunteer ranks of the Garden, where she had been assisting Curator Brian Kemble and Horticulturist Ryan Penn in plant records management and care since 2015. She will help the Garden continue to develop the Adult Education and Volunteer and Intern Programs at the Garden. Alice’s roots in the horticulture world are long and strong! After graduating from UC Berkeley in Forestry and Music, she worked first as an intern at the New England Wildflower Society’s “Garden in the Woods” and then at the Arnold Arboretum as an apprentice in Boston. Next she spent time in Southern California working at Descanso Gardens in La Cañada, followed by several years as a botanic gardener at Lyon Arboretum at the University of Hawai’i. There she helped maintain the plant collections and wrote grants and edited articles for the Arboretum newsletter.

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Anna Halverson

Tour Coordinator

Anna joined the Garden staff after having volunteered for two years with the Children’s Education Program at the Garden, helping to develop and run new summer programs for kids and families. Anna is perfectly suited to this new position at the Garden! Her topic for her Masters thesis in Public Garden Management was: “The emergence of Children’s Gardens within public gardens.” And thereafter, almost all of her professional experience has been in designing garden and nature education for children, teenagers, and families, with staff positions at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia, and at the New York Botanical Garden. She has also handled children’s programming as a volunteer at Cornell in New York and at Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Anna is a certified professional Landscape Designer and worked for GreenFeet, Inc. in Annandale, Virginia before pursuing her Masters in Public Garden Management at Cornell University.

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Angela Hartman

Marketing Manager

Angela is excited to boost the Garden’s presence in the community and increase plant sales as Marketing Director. She joined the team in fall of 2016, and has experience handling marketing and communications for several local non-profits. She earned a BA in Broadcast & Electronic Communication Arts from San Francisco State University, and worked as a news reporter for a station in Joplin, Missouri. After getting married, she moved back home to the Bay Area where she now resides with her husband, son, daughter, and dog. When she isn’t at work, you can find her getting her hands dirty in her garden, or hiking our local trails. She also enjoys hunting for antiques, cooking, camping, and anything involving the outdoors.

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Tracy Fletcher

Events and Fundraising Manager

Tracy Fletcher grew up in Kansas City and joined Verizon Wireless at a very early age. She worked through the ranks and moved many times with the company. She grew up and started her wireless career in Kansas City. From there she moved to Des Moines, then Atlanta and finally to Walnut Creek, CA. After almost 30 years of service she felt it was time to leave the corporate world behind and pursue her true passions: animals and gardening. Tracy is an avid animal activist and has volunteered for various rescue groups and shelters. When not with four-legged friends she is in the garden. Her business experience and love for plants made her a great fit for The Ruth Bancroft Garden. She loves that each day is a new adventure and allows her to meet so many great people. Her dog Freddie is frequently by her side when working at the garden which allows her to combine her two favorite things.

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Linnea Lion

Nursery Associate

Linnea has been at The Ruth Bancroft Garden since 2015 where she started as an intern, and now continues her creative influence. She has a unique and extensive background in both design and horticulture, and she has combined these two passions in her work at The Ruth Bancroft Garden. She has an Associate degree in Biology from Los Medanos College, she attended the San Francisco Academy of Arts, and she studied textiles and surface pattern design at the California School of Professional Fabric Design in Berkeley. She also has two Certificates of Achievement (in horticulture and arboriculture) from Diablo Valley College and is a Contra Costa county Master Gardener.

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Eleanor Lonardo

Nursery Associate

Eleanor Lonardo joined the Garden staff as a Nursery Sales Assistant in October 2016. Eleanor comes to the Garden with lots of experience in retail, photography, marketing and little bit of coffee - but, her first love is horticulture! Two years ago she planted a bio-intensive flower/vegetable garden to add to her several years of experience as a collector of dozens of potted houseplants and succulents. She also became the “plant whisperer” for States Coffee in Crockett while she worked there. Recently Eleanor also completed a digital course in cultivating cut flowers through Master Gardener Claire Day. She likes to learn all she can about California natives and cactus gardens like RBG.

Stephen Lysaght

Garden Host and Membership Sales

A native of Sacramento, Stephen moved to the East Bay when he was 12. He attended San Francisco State University earning a BA in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences. While raising a family of 4 daughters Stephen worked for the US Postal Service for 20 years. The last 25 years of his career Stephen served as President of American Postal Workers Union Local, based in Walnut Creek. He first visited the Ruth Bancroft Garden soon after moving to Orinda from San Francisco 21 years ago, and was inspired to become a docent and begin creating a small “dry garden” at home. Following his retirement, and having volunteered as a Garden docent for 13 years, Stephen was hired as a regular Garden Host and Tour Guide in June of 2015. Stephen is an officer of the board for the San Francisco Succulent & Cactus Society, a former librarian for the California Cactus & Succulent Society, and a member of the San Francisco Bromeliad Society and East Bay Bonsai Society. Besides gardening, he also enjoys travel with his husband, and spending time with their 5 daughters and 6 grandchildren.

Troy McGregor

Design and Consultation Services

Troy McGregor, a native of Australia and specialist in Proteaceae - the tough, big-blooming plant family from the Southern hemisphere, which thrives so well in our hot dry inland Bay Area climate, has moved to landscape consultation, design, and installation. Troy has previously held both the Garden and Nursery Manger and Nursery Manager positions here at RBG, Troy spent three years as board member and then Nursery Manager and Volunteer Coordinator at Markham Arboretum in Concord, CA. At Markham, Troy helped grow plant sales dramatically with improved volunteer organization, signage and marketing strategies. Troy’s educational background is in graphic design and landscape design and he has over 15 years of experience initiating and troubleshooting programs during periods of transition. His past projects include an online nursery, Gondwana Flora, specializing in Mediterranean climate plants, Propagation and Education Coordinator for Carquinez Regional Environmental Education Center, and almost 10 years in the Australian Defense Force.

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Ryan Penn

Horticulturist

A Diablo Valley native, Ryan has been working in horticulture for 10 years, having specialized in California natives, plants of the Proteacea family, alpines, and generally anything bizarre. Ryan has been at the Ruth Bancroft Garden for over 2 years. His horticultural experience includes irrigation, aesthetic pruning, boulder and flagstone rockeries, and the care of a wide variety of plants groups. Ryan received a B.A. in English literature from UCLA and attended graduate school in Theology and Philosophy. He has also served on the board of Markham Nature Park and Arboretum in Concord, and is presently the Nursery Manager at Markham.

Melissa Sunbury

Office Manager

Melissa moved from Southern California to the Bay Area in 2006, taking a hiatus from her professional career in marketing with DIRECTV, to focus on raising her three children. However, not one to stay idle for long, Melissa immediately began volunteering in her sons’ schools where she has put her marketing and management skills to work chairing various PTA committees and fundraising events. With one son now in college and her two younger children in middle school, the time had come to go back to work and Melissa was excited to find an opportunity to join the Garden staff in the fall of 2017. Melissa is charged with helping everything stay organized in the office and assisting with special projects as needed. In her free time, Melissa enjoys gardening, theatre, and the outdoors. She is currently redefining curb appeal by cultivating an ever-expanding raised bed vegetable garden in her front yard, since her backyard is too shady. Melissa has a BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and an MBA from UCLA.

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Gina Trout

Visitor Host

Gina Trout joined the Garden as a Weekend Visitor Host in summer of 2016. She was introduced to RBG by her good friend William McDaid, one of the Garden’s talented Nursery Assistants. Immediately drawn to the prospect of working at the Garden since her mother is a long-time garden lover and a new enthusiast of succulents, it turns out Gina loves her weekend role welcoming visitors. You can tell that from her wonderful, warm smile. She enjoys learning about the plants, the friendly Garden team, and meeting new people. Gina attends Los Medanos Community College where she is working towards a degree in psychology. In her spare time Gina also loves playing softball and basketball with friends, sports she participated in throughout her elementary and high school years.

Martin Viveros

Gardener

Martin Viveros is the senior gardener, having worked at the Garden since 1990. He moved to Bakersfield, California from Mexico in 1984, where he began to work in vineyards there. His cousin first introduced him to the Bancrofts in the late 1980s and he soon moved to the Walnut Creek area to begin work in Ruth’s garden. He did not know much about cactus and succulents at the time and Martin said at first he did not enjoy working with the especially spikey cacti. He wondered how Mrs. Bancroft could handle them without wearing any gloves. After six months though he began to really enjoy the job, though he does wear gloves when working with cacti. He currently divides his time between Mrs. Bancroft’s private gardens and the Ruth Bancroft Garden. Martin also has his own landscaping business, and enjoys cooking for a special event catering business he created called “Tacos Michoacanos” providing signature dishes for weddings and other private gatherings.

Banner photo by John Ricca