New Leader for Botanical Center
After working for Quad City Botanical Center since its beginning 23 years ago, Ami Porter is leaving the nonprofit in Rock Island, and the Quad-Cities.
Porter – who joined as facilities manager in 1998 and has been chief executive since 2007 – is moving in May to northern Wisconsin, where she and her husband (Marshall Porter, who retired as general manager of WHBF-TV last year) bought a house.
While staying with the Botanical Center in transition until May 14, a new director started on April 7. Ryan Wille, former marketing manager of the center, was selected by the board after a nationwide search. A 2009 graduate of Bradley University, Wille was the marketing manager at the center in Rock Island from 2016 to 2018, and since then has been development manager for the Humane Society of Scott County.
Porter says the choice is perfect, since he started as a part-time educator and later was promoted to full-time, managing marketing and special events.
“Ryan, he is just a great leader. He is a wonderful person. He is very passionate about the gardens. He cares very much about the success of the gardens and he's very community-oriented. And so the Quad-Cities is his home and when you pair a love for the community with a love for an organization that’s mission-based, I don't think you can go wrong.”
After Porter announced in January her intention to step down, the Botanical Center board posted the position with several botanical and recreational organizations, and it received 36 applications from coast to coast, according to board member Bill Nelson. He says Wille’s qualifications, demeanor, and excitement for the job really made him the top choice.
Porter – a 52-year-old native of Moline – graduated from Illinois State University, has always loved gardening, and has a passion for promoting interaction with the natural world. She worked for John Deere guest services before joining the center in 1998, just a month after it opened. Porter recalled the first time she saw the new building, she wanted to work there.
“The gardens have just changed and grown and developed so much over the years. But the overall excitement of being able to offer such an amazing amenity to such an amazing community was just a very exciting prospect. So when I started at the gardens my hospitality background with Deere I feel like is, that's the reason I was able to step into the position I did at the Botanical Center. I took over as facilities manager, so the hospitality end of things – managing events and the banquet space was my first engagement here at the center.”
Porter became chief operating officer in 2007, when the center was suffering financially, and she was able to work through that and get the center on a sound financial footing, in addition to being able to expand, according to Nelson, a former Rock Island parks and recreation director.
The children’s garden and its expansion – with the second phase opening in May - was a major feat for her, at a time when there was concern about expanding anything. He says the children’s garden virtually doubled the attendance for the center.
While hosting private events, weddings and meetings are a core revenue source, education has long been central to the center, according to Porter.
“Although the word education doesn’t really appear in our mission, it’s implied. The mission is to bring people and plants together in fun and meaningful ways, and education is just at the heart of that. So whether we're teaching youth or inspiring adults, it's inherent and everything that we do.”
The Botanical Center has been fortunate during the pandemic because it’s been a place people could enjoy the outdoors safely. After the popular “Winter Nights, Winter Lights,” it was open only on Saturdays through March, then re-opened seven days a week starting April 1. Porter said she’ll miss everything about the Quad-Cities, and credited the community for supporting the center.
"People have to love it. People have to love the community and understand why it's important to have these kinds of amenities available and understanding of how not only does it make our community better, but it draws people into our community for so many reasons -- to visit and for the gardens in particular. To relax, to unwind and meet with people that they love, to have life celebrations. There are so many things."
"The gardens would not be a possibility without all the people that come together to make that a reality, and that includes all of the generous donations – donors, funders, the people who care enough to invest and not only financially, but time. I just want to make sure that I don't leave out how amazing our board of directors is. How amazing our volunteers are; how wonderfully the entire community comes together to support our garden and I'm sure all of the other cultural institutions in the Quad-Cities have that same dynamic.”
For more information on the center, visit www.qcgardens.com.