Our Staff

Karen Binder, Executive Director

Kar842.pngen Binder is the Executive Director of Blithewold, Inc., a post she has held since July 2004. Her primary responsibilities include oversight of daily operations, strategic planning, supervision of major capital projects, fundraising, donor and board cultivation, and support for Blithewold’s board and committees. Karen earned a dual Bachelor of Arts in economics and in political science from St. Mary’s College, Maryland, and a Master of Arts in education with a focus on management and training from the University of Rhode Island. Formerly, Karen worked as Director of Operations and as Executive Director for several large YMCA associations. Karen most recently served as Chair of the Bristol Museum Association and was a member on the Bristol Comprehensive Plan Committee and Vice-Chair of the Bristol Noise Commission. 401-253-2707 ext 12

Visitor Services

Tree Callanan, Director of Museum Operations & Communications

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

Jillian Cleveland, Communications Assistant and Registrar

Jill head shotFor 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, Public Engagement 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.

401-253-2707 ext 18

Allan Millora, Membership, Private Events, & Photography

allan milloraAllan 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

Liz Ripley Administrative Assistant for Visitor Services

Liz first visited Blithewold on a Christmas outing with family and quickly fell in love with the beauty and history of the landscape and mansion. A longtime lover of history, she began interning in the Volunteer Coordination office in 2017 before becoming a long-term Visitor Services intern in 2018. When not at her desk or running around the property, Liz enjoys gaming and learning traditional crafts, like knitting, quilting, tatting, and whatever else she reads about in her latest research project. She is proud to be part of the Blithewold family and hopes to be here for a very long time.


Margaret Whitehead, Curator
margaretMargaret Whitehead, originally from England, has worked at Blithewold for almost 25 years, and has been Curator of this important collection since 1999. She works in the Archives and Collections Center of Blithewold on the third floor of the Mansion, preserving, transcribing, and interpreting, to share with the public the endless stories of the Blithewold family through exhibits and articles. She has written two books about the history of the family: Blithewold: Legacy of an American Family and The Grand Tour 1903-1904, both published by Blithewold Press and available at the Museum Gift Shop.
401-253-2707 ext 22

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

Betsy Ekholm, Horticulturist, Gardens and Greenhouse Manager

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

Julia Callahan, Horticulturist

Julia was first introduced to horticulture while studying at the University of Vermont where she completed a B.S. in Sustainable Landscape Horticulture in 2020. Julia was raised in Portsmouth, Rhode Island and connected with the horticulture staff at Blithewold for a summer internship in 2018. This inspired her passion for public horticulture and the application of ecological principles to the design, maintenance and conservation of landscapes. Prior to joining the Blithewold horticulture staff in 2021, she was the horticulture intern at the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Becca Christ, Horticulturist

Becca learned of Blithewold from her grandmother, who was a long time volunteer in the gardens. After working in the garden alongside her family at home in Barrington, Becca gained experience at the University of Rhode Island taking plant science classes and working in the URI greenhouses. After completing her BS in Communicative Disorders, Becca solidified her passion for fine gardening during a summer horticulture internship at Blithewold. Prior to joining the Blithewold horticultural staff full time at Blithewold in 2022, she worked independently creating floral cutting gardens and various garden landscapes around South County.

Dan Daley, Groundskeeper

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.


Special Events

Melissa Avedisian, Director of Special Events

401-253-2707 ext 11 or [email protected]


Sue Axelrod

sueSue 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.

Building Maintenance

Al Thornton

A lifelong RI resident, Al currently resides in Bristol. He attended Washington University in St. Louis where he focused on pre-med and baseball. After graduating RI College in accounting, Al worked decades in the areas of taxes, investments and mortgages. Throughout that time, he also owned rental properties…where he learned to repair everything from foundations to roofs and most things in between. He even built a motorcycle! After the mortgage crisis in 2008, Al opened “Al Can Fix That”. His clients ranged from homeowners to corporate clients. Al is currently pouring himself into painting, repairing & contributing to holiday decorating at Blithewold…and working with a phenomenal team!

Board of Directors

Jeff Hirsh, Chair
Gary Furtado, Vice-Chair and Treasurer
Kate Lentz, Secretary

Melissa Benner
Ellen Bruzelius
Herb Cummings
Laurie Dubel
Carol Feinstein
Richard Glenn
Susan Hibbitt
Curtis Ley
Joanne Patterson
Joe Perroni
Lisa Raiola
Lisa Sienkewicz
Kim Sutton
Anne Szostak
Pamela Thompson
Sophath Toun
John Tschirch
Laura Willson

Chairman's Council

Joan Abrams
Noreen Ackerman
Gioia T. Browne
April Carleton
Ellen Collis
Mary Glenn
Richard M. C. Glenn, III
Robin Hall
Marty Halyburton
Porter Halyburton
Alan Hassenfeld
Vivien Hassenfeld
Sanne Kure-Jensen
Arthur Parker
Virginia Purviance
Jackie Savoie
M. Patricia Sisson
Shawen Williams
Margot Wolf