HomeCity NewsDescanso Gardens Names New Chair

Descanso Gardens Names New Chair

Descanso Gardens has seen a change in leadership as longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident Brad Schwartz takes on the role of board chair, while Donald Voss steps down as chair to serve the remaining term on the board.
Voss and Schwartz go way back and have been friends for more than 30 years. Both of them share one goal: to give back to the city.
Voss, who first started on the Descanso Council in 2015, has grown to call Descanso Gardens his second home.
But after the two had dinner in 2018, and Schwartz expressed his opinion about the amenities at Descanso, Voss said, “If you feel so strongly about it, join the board and do something about it.”
Although Schwartz came up with a few ideas to better improve the restaurant on the grounds, he soon began to fall in love with Descanso Gardens all over again.
“Once I got involved, I just loved it all over again and everything they’re doing here,” Schwartz told the Outlook Valley Sun.
Schwartz, who started the position of chair Jan. 1, is excited to continue what leaders like Voss kicked off in the master plan and continue to develop ongoing projects.
“Our goals and our plans are to make it better without changing the character of Descanso Gardens,” said Schwartz.
“I love being involved at a time when something is really good, and you can help to take it to the next level and make it great,” he added. “In some ways, I’m just stepping into the shoes of people who’ve already put in a lot of the work, although there’s lots of more work to do for a number of years.”
With five years under his belt on the Descanso board, Schwartz has been involved in the executive committee, the planning committee, the development committee and the restaurant committee, to name a few.
Schwartz started off as an attorney at a large law firm and has since begun his own law firm, which has worked with a lot of startups.
“I’ve been an active investor in startups, and now less involved with the practice of law,” said Schwartz.
Nonprofit organizations have also been a part of his life; he and his family are donors to City of Hope, Union Station Homeless Services, Pasadena Symphony and Pops and STEAM:Coders, to name a few.
As stressful as the chair position may be, Schwartz is more excited than he is nervous. He has two big goals for his time in the leadership role.
“It’s to continue the path, and to get more smart and talented people on the board and elsewhere who aren’t in the Descanso world.”
For those already involved with the gardens, Schwartz wants them more deeply involved, to feel a part of the organization and have ownership in a project or be in one they are interested in.
Voss, who is also excited to see Schwartz in the new position, is soaking up his last year on the board.
As chair from 2022 to 2023, Voss has dedicated himself and continued to implement the 10-year master plan, which is currently in the first stage.
The first major project was updating the nursery and propagation center, which was completed during his time as chair.
He recounted his time on the board after eight years.
“During the pandemic, we closed for six weeks and then reopened with the approval of the county with strict masking protocols,” said Voss. “But this is one of the few places in Los Angeles County during the height of the pandemic that you could go. Restaurants were closed, theaters were closed, sports venues were closed, but we were open because we were outside. During that process, we were able to increase our membership rather significantly for that period of time.”
His time as chair has been energizing and positive as membership increased with more than 30,000-member households. Descanso Gardens is No. 8 in the United States in terms of membership for botanical gardens.
“We were named the nonprofit of the year in 2022 for California Assembly District 43, which was a great honor,” said Voss.
Although Voss said that Descanso Gardens CEO Juliann Rooke is responsible for the change and continued growth at the organization, “it’s really a team effort that includes the board, management, volunteers, constituents and [even] the members.”
“Don has been chairperson of the board of trustees during a really important time for Descanso,” Rooke told the Outlook Valley Sun. “During his time, we approved a master plan, a two-year planning project in the making. The plan is a blueprint that will ensure Descanso is here for future generations. He was also here for the first completed project of the master plan, The Ruth Borun Nursery and Propagation Center, where our staff is working to preserve and protect the plants of Southern California.”
Voss told the Outlook Valley Sun that Schwartz will make a great chair.
“Brad never does anything halfway,” Voss said. “He has been a very active and productive member of the Descanso board and its committees and has taken a particular interest in food services. Brad commands the respect of his fellow directors and management and has amply demonstrated his leadership and collaborative abilities. To the extent I had any involvement in Brad joining our board, I take great satisfaction, and am confident he will have a very successful term as chair.”
Rooke also thinks Schwartz will make a good fit as chair and will leave his mark at Descanso Gardens.
“Brad’s enthusiasm and passion for the garden are contagious, and I know he will be a great leader,” she said. “As we move through the year and continue developing the projects in the master plan, I know that Brad’s energy will be his strength.”

Both Voss and Schwartz shared that Descanso Gardens will see a lot of needed change in the coming years.
More recently, Descanso has received a new nursery and propagation center, a new walking labyrinth in the Rose Garden for meditation and a new and more environmentally friendly train that has an electric engine.
In the next few years, projects will include an extensive rehabilitation of the lake, creating a new nature discovery zone and getting a new water capture storage and conveyance system.
The courtyard has seen a new food service setup, a Jones Coffee Roasters truck, and a reconfigured gift shop.
For the coming years, the organization will introduce a family-oriented area with water features for children to play in during the summer.
“This has been a very, very wonderful time for Descanso Gardens,” said Voss. “We are in a growth mode, and we have a lot of exciting projects underway.”
Voss said that maintaining the tradition and heritage of Descanso Gardens is the main priority when making changes.
“We want to be true to our mission and do things within the gardens that demonstrate that our mission is not just a slogan, it’s a real thing,” said Voss. “The mission at Descanso Gardens is that we connect people with nature and with one another.”
Rooke has also come up with new ways to bring in new members with a La Cañada night for residents to enjoy the gardens for free and get a feeling of what is in their backyard, since most of the members at Descanso Gardens come from outside the city.
“This is an exciting time at Descanso, and I look forward to working with the entire board in the coming year. It’s a great time to visit the garden,” said Rooke.

The rose garden is a popular attraction at Descanso Gardens where new board chair Brad Schwartz is excited to continue plans to improve and enhance the visitor experience Photo courtesy Descanso Gardens

First published in the January 4 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.


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