Karen Binder, Executive Director
Tree Callanan, Director of Communications & Visitor Experience
Tree first learned of Blithewold from her mother, who loved flower gardens, antiques, historic architecture, and all things beautiful. A lifetime of exposure to these topics turned out to be a real asset to Tree as Director of Communications and Visitor Experience at Blithewold. Leading up to this position, Tree’s professional career has covered a wide range of industries, from hospitality and high tech, to Rhode Island’s signature non-profit arts organizations WaterFire and Trinity Rep. Graduating in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Johnson and Wales University and completing graphic design coursework at Rhode Island School of Design rounded out the toolset she needed to be a successful part of the Blithewold team. 401-253-2707 ext 23
Julie Christina, Education Programs Manager
Hailing from Ohio, Julie Christina first fell in love with nature, plants, and all things garden-related when exploring her 10-acre property as a child. This love of the outdoors stuck with her as she went on to pursue a Bachelor of Science in landscape horticulture from Ohio State University, where she was able to study horticulture and garden design, as well as explore some of the finest English style gardens abroad at Myerscough College in England. Julie has previously worked with the Falmouth Service Center in Falmouth, MA, as Community Garden Coordinator, and at Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, MA, as Horticulturist and Plant Records Manager. Since 2008, Julie has been Education Program Manager at Blithewold, where she is continually inspired by the history, the people who lived here, and of course, the abundant gardens. Julie has expanded Blithewold’s educational offerings over the years to accommodate a diverse audience and loves seeing more young families out enjoying the grounds. Blithewold has played a huge role in her own family, and she is now able to experience the full circle of sharing her and her husband Dan’s love of nature with their adorable, clever, curious, and fun-loving sons, Jack and Owen. 401-253-2707 ext 16
Jillian Cleveland, Communications Assistant and Registrar
For Jillian Cleveland, it was love at first sight when she began interning at Blithewold, so much so she came back the next summer, before becoming a permanent fixture in the communications department. She’s a New England local, who attended Framingham State University, where she studied graphic design. When she’s not designing or drawing, she’s an enthusiastic gamer, and lover of science fiction, baked goods, and all things sweet and edible. She uses the gardens, architecture, and energy of Blithewold for inspiration when working on everything from creating postcards to the redesign of the grounds map. 401-253-2707 ext 15
Connie Ganley, Volunteer & Vegetable Garden Manager
Connie Ganley is a native of the East Bay and a graduate of Rhode Island College. After a career in the antiques field, she came to Blithewold with a passion for all things local: history, food, architecture, and people. When she’s not cooking or researching local history, she’s enjoying time with her family and pets. She ensures that all Blithewold volunteers share their pride and enthusiasm for Blithewold with each of our guests. 401-253-2707
Sue Legault, Visitor Center Manager
At the end of a long retail management career, Sue Legault was looking for a volunteer opportunity when she discovered that help was needed for Christmas at Blithewold. As a Master Gardener and longtime Blithewold member who had always loved the holiday season at the Mansion, she immediately responded and put her retail background to use in the gift shop. That first Christmas was absolutely magical, so when asked to become the shop manager, she jumped at the chance. It has been the perfect fit: She has the opportunity to continue the activities she enjoyed during her retail career, buying and merchandising a small but active shop, while also experiencing firsthand the beauty of the gardens of Blithewold.
Allan Millora, Membership, Group Tour Coordinator, Culinary & Photography
Allan Millora’s background in membership sales, marketing, photography, and special events makes Blithewold a perfect place for his role as Membership Coordinator, Registrar, Tea Manager, and Photographer. Allan moved to Rhode Island back in 2012 and immediately started working at Blithewold. It’s a dream job for him, as he also gets to follow his passion for cooking when he is in the kitchen prepping for Blithewold’s afternoon teas and special events. Allan is also a full-time photographer and videographer and can be seen all around New England on the weekends, shooting portraits, galas, and weddings. 401-253-2707 ext 21
Nicole Kowalsick, Director of Special Events
Nicole Kowalsick comes to us through our exclusive catering partnership with Blackstone Caterers, Nicole is the Director of Special Events for Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum and Blackstone Caterers. She grew up on Long Island, NY, then graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Western Connecticut State University and has worked in the special events field for over twelve years, gaining her experience through the American Cancer Society and the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Nicole and her husband, Chris, moved to Rhode Island 9 years ago and now call Portsmouth their home with their two children, Ryan, 4, and Emily, 2, along with their dog Marley! 401-253-2707 ext 11
Linda Blade, Collections Manager
Linda moved to RI at the start of the millennium and, given her love of history and gardening, one of the first locales she visited was Blithewold. After that visit, she pondered for a number of years how she might use her skills to contribute to the preservation of Blithewold’s charm, beauty, and history. In 2009, she completed a Master’s degree in Museum Studies at Harvard University Extension School and started shifting away from her 20-year career in consumer research. In 2014, Linda got her chance and began working inside the mansion, in the Archives. Her primary responsibility is to organize, digitize, analyze and supervise every object in the mansion, those you see in the exhibit rooms, as well as the numerous items stored away behind closed doors. Working with a group of specially trained volunteers, she has overseen the entry of more than 4500 objects into Blithewold’s collections database.
401-253-2707 ext 14
Gardens & Grounds
Fred Perry, Director of Horticulture
Fred Perry is the current Director of Horticulture at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum. After receiving a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from the University of Rhode Island, he worked for several landscape companies in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. More than 15 years ago, he started his career in public horticulture, where his increasing passion for trees led to his work as a RI licensed and ISA Certified Arborist. He serves as a member of the board of directors of the New England Chapter of ISA. 401-254-6962
Gail Read, Horticulturist, Gardens and Greenhouse Manager
Dan Daley, Groundsman
Dan Daley is no stranger to estate gardens, although that was not always the case. He started out in computer technology and technical writing. In 2007, he came over to the “green side” and he hasn’t looked back. Before coming to Blithewold in December 2014, Dan had worked for seven years as an estate gardener for private clients in both Newport and Bristol, Rhode Island.
Betsy Ekholm, Horticulturist
Betsy Ekholm received her BA in English from Gordon College and worked at Pearson Custom Publishing until her love of plants stole her away from the publishing world. She has been working in gardens since her youth, always admiring and caring for plants whenever she could. She worked at Tranquil Lake Nursery for seven years and took the URI Master Gardener course during that time. She then followed her love of plants to Boston, where she interned at the Arnold Arboretum. From daylilies to trees and shrubs, she then worked for Schartner Farms, growing perennials and annuals. In 2013, her love of gardening drew her to Blithewold, where she began as an intern. She now is a Rhode Island Certified Horticulturist and on staff full-time. 401-253- 7777
Joe Verstandig, Horticulturist
I was born in Albany, New York and raised just outside the city in Delmar. After high school, I went to the University of Rhode Island, graduating in May 2017 with a degree in ornamental horticulture. I’ve always had a love of the outdoors, whether it was riding my bike with friends or trying to catch frogs at the local neighborhood pond. Plants have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. I grew up helping my father at our family’s florist and later wholesale greenhouse. During my college summers I worked at the Mohonk Mountain House as a gardener. Mohonk is a historic resort in upstate New York known for its natural beauty and extravagant show gardens. In my free time, I like to be active and outside. I also enjoy hanging out with family and friends, especially while watching football. Go Giants! 401-253- 7777
Sue Axelrod, started at Blithewold in December, 2001 through Accountemps. She was only supposed to be filling in for only a month or so and has been here nearly 15 years! All year-round Sue still appreciates what a beautiful place Blithewold is to walk into work every day. She also loves that there is so much activity every day: decorating for Christmas, teas, horticulture events & classes, kids camps, volunteers and so much more. Over the course of the last 15 years, Sue has learned a great deal about gardening, taking home the lessons learned at Blithewold where she’s planted many flowers, bushes, shrubs & small trees.
Ted Sykulski served as a Line Officer aboard several ships in the US Navy. After serving his term he was employed in sales and management with both Ryder Truck Rental and Avis Truck Rental. He then went on to own his own business; Ted’s Barrington Norgetown. He sold the business and began working as a subcontractor with Dynamic Results, doing broadband upgrades for Media One, ATT and Comcast. After retiring he began working in building maintenance for Blithewold, where he remains an essential part of our team.
Board of Directors
Trish Sylvester, Chair
Jeff Hirsh, Vice Chair
Joe Dewhirst, Treasurer
Greg Hoffman, Secretary
Gioia T. Browne
Richard M. C. Glenn, III
M. Patricia Sisson