Executive Update For You from Christine Conte

December 16, 2020

Dear Tohono Chul Family,

As the Winter Solstice and the year’s longest night draws near, I hope you are finding comfort in the promise of a brighter New Year.

At Tohono Chul, staff and volunteers are tending the winter gardens, filling the shops with holiday goodies, and the galleries with spirit-lifting artworks. At the same time, they are actively preparing to surprise and delight you this spring.

  • With a successful plant sale behind us, the grounds and propagation crew are putting their energy into a much larger project they call THE GRID. Essentially, the entire 49-acres is being broken into manageable grids, around an acre each, and it’s all hands on deck as they seek to catch up on things the pandemic and a very dry year threw their way.

  • The plant propagation team is growing new plants for the spring and starting to transfer them to the grounds.

  • Male Costa’s hummingbirds (called “Yosemite Sam” for the long “whiskers” that trail away from their gorgets) are on the lookout for a girlfriends these chilly mornings. Most of us are used to seeing Anna’s courting and nesting in December, but a few male Costa’s hummers, with their iridescent purple moustaches, are whistling up a mate as well.

  • A little Holiday cheer surprise is set for release in Friday’s Desert Corner Express. Stay tuned!

And speaking of change at Tohono Chul, no one is more qualified to reflect on that subject than our soon to be retired and much admired Director of Education, Jo Falls.

In my almost 35 years with Tohono Chul, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say, I’ve seen it all.

I remember chasing a prowling javelina out of the dirt courtyard that used to be a concrete swimming pool long before it was the Garden for Children.

At the time, Tohono Chul had a staff of 7 and less than 20 volunteers. The Garden Bistro—called the West House then—was still a home to caretaker grounds staff, with a pool that’s now buried under the back patio.

Dick and Jean Wilson regularly walked from their home behind us on Northern Avenue to meet with Executive Director Alice Herman to talk about how they envisioned Tohono Chul’s future.

I totaled the payables each month for Alice so she could ask the Wilsons for a check to cover the shortfall… We haven’t had a check like that in almost 30 years.

Dick and Jean and Alice wanted us to be self-sufficient. Together they laid the groundwork to make that happen. That’s why we’ve had a museum shop from the very beginning and, only two years after our dedication, opened a tea room and a second shop. Over the years, we’ve gotten very good at being self-sufficient.

Until 2020 and COVID-19. Until we had to close for 5 months.

But it is our future that matters most right now, and thanks to YOU, our future is bright.

As we approach the end of 2020, we have much to be thankful for. Not only have you helped sustain Tohono Chul despite the pandemic’s seemingly relentless uncertainty, but you have done so in extraordinary ways.

In October I shared that a generous donor had offered yet a second challenge grant – to raise an additional $200,000 by the end of 2020. And in these unprecedented times, YOU—our board members, members, donors and volunteers—have continued to provide exceptional support.

I am both humbled and overjoyed to report that our Survive and Thrive campaign has raised nearly 90% of the challenge. Yes! We are almost there. And so I ask once again at this time of thanks and giving, that you help us raise the remaining $20,000.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You can do it! Together, we WILL sustain our beautiful desert oasis.

Wishing you a joyous holiday season and sending thanks from the bottom of my heart,

Christine Conte, PhD

Executive Director