Juliann Rooke, chief operating officer at Descanso Gardens, has been selected to be the new executive director of the La Cañada Flintridge botanic garden. The announcement was made Tuesday by Amy Lamb, chair of the Descanso Gardens Guild board of trustees.
Rooke will step into the position on Sept. 1, following the retirement of current Executive Director David Brown on Aug. 31.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be selected as the next executive director,” Rooke said. “My heart and soul are rooted in Descanso Gardens. This is so much more than just a job.”
Rooke has 22 years of experience in nonprofit management. She joined Descanso Gardens in 2008 as chief financial officer. In 2012, she moved up to chief operating officer with responsibility for all revenue-producing operations Descanso Gardens, including development and marketing.
Rooke said it was around that time Brown had expressed the intention to retire within a few years, opening up a window of opportunity for her.
“I would say four years ago, this became a path for me,” she said.
During this five-year period, the Gardens saw significant growth in attendance; membership doubled to the current 16,000 households; and financial results from operations increased substantially, providing more revenues to reinvest in the care and maintenance of the facility. Descanso Gardens is owned by the County of Los Angeles and has been managed by the Descanso Gardens Guild Inc., a nonprofit since 1993.
Brown informed the Descanso Gardens Guild board of trustees a year ago that he would retire in August 2017 after 12 years as executive director. During the search for his replacement, the transition team considered dozens of candidates from botanic gardens, and from the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, Lamb said. “We looked at candidates from all over the country — internationally, too — and found the best person in the world for this job right here at home.”
Brown, too, is enthusiastic about the board’s choice. “Juls has a unique commitment to the quality of the visitor experience,” he said. “There is great capacity in Juls for creative thinking about making the Gardens different and better while preserving the unique character of a place that is already well loved. She just radiates passion for and commitment to Descanso Gardens.”
Among Rooke’s many accomplishments was the launch of “Enchanted: Forest of Light” in November 2016, a 43-night light show spectacular that introduced Descanso Gardens to a broader audience. “It was Juliann’s baby and she brought it home,” Lamb said.
Rooke said she’ll spend the coming months doing what she can to ensure a smooth start to her stint at the helm.
“It’s really wonderful to have a long transition time,” she said. “Now, they have to replace me as well. I’d like to have all of that taken care of by September so I can hit the ground running.”
That said, Rooke added it also was important to spend those months thanking Brown for his 12-year leadership and guidance of the organization.
“Really, we need to have our attention to celebrating David’s time here,” she said. “We’ve partnered on a lot of projects and he’s always been very helpful.”
A native of Pasadena, Rooke earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from USC. Her career in nonprofit management includes stints at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles and St. James School in Los Angeles.
Rooke lives in San Marino with her husband, Andy Rooke, and her four children. An active community volunteer, she currently serves on the board of the San Marino Junior Alliance and is a former board member of the San Marino Schools Foundation.