The Morton Arboretum Names Jill C. Koski President

The Morton Arboretum in west suburban Lisle, Illinois announced on Tuesday, September 6, A.D. 2022 that Jill C. Koski will become President and Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.) effective in the last week of November.  She will be only the fourth leader in the arboretum’s 100-year-long history and the first woman to lead the organization.  Ms. Koski will be succeeding Gerard T. Donnelly, Ph.D., who is retiring at the end of September after thirty-four years in office.

The Morton Arboretum Board of Trustees felt Ms. Koski was qualified to succeed Dr. Donnelly because she is a former Morton Arboretum executive who has been President of the Holden Forests & Gardens in northwestern Ohio since November of 2017.  She oversaw completion of the integration of the 3,500-acre Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio, a northeastern suburb of Cleveland, and the eleven-acre Cleveland Botanical Garden, in Cleveland’s University Circle, as a single organization.[1]  She led the development of a strategic plan and a comprehensive site plan.  

Figure 1 Credit: The Morton Arboretum Caption: This is Jill C. Koski, President of the Holden Forests & Gardens, who will become President & C.E.O. of The Morton Arboretum at the end of November.

This will mark her return to the Chicago area and The Morton Arboretum because previously she had served as Vice President of Development at The Morton Arboretum for over ten years from March of 2007 to October of 2017.  In that position, she led fundraising efforts for the Growing Brilliantly capital campaign, which raised $70,000,000.  According to a press release, this money was needed to “deepen the organization’s scientific and conservation work, expand new tree development and improve core facilities to meet its strategic vision as one of the nation’s foremost botanical gardens.”

Ms. Koski has also held leadership positions at the John G. Shedd Aquarium and the Chicago Academy of Sciences (C.A.S.).[2]  She was Senior Director Campaign at the Shedd Aquarium from November of 1997 to March of 2007.  At the C.A.S., she was Director of Annual Fund from September of 1993 to October of 1997. 

She earned her B.A. in political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Ms. Koski is on the boards of ERC and University Circle, Inc.  Other boards and committees on which she sits include the Clean Ohio Natural Areas Resource Council, the Cleveland Tree Coalition, and the Holden Parks Trust.  She was named Community Leader of the Year for Environment and Sustainability by Cleveland Magazine.

“Jill Koski brings the vision, professional qualifications and personal characteristics needed to effectively lead The Morton Arboretum into its future,” stated Stephen C. Van Arsdell, Chairman of the Morton Arboretum’s Board of Trustees (and former Chairman and C.E.O. of Deloitte & Touche, L.L.P.).  “Additionally, Jill’s career focus and achievements emphasize her commitment to environmental protection, public engagement and education.”

In the gap of nearly two months between when Dr. Donnelly retires (on Friday, September 30, A.D. 2022) and Ms. Koski assumes office (on Monday, November 28, A.D. 2022), James S. Fawley, The Morton Arboretum’s Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer (C.F.O.), will serve as Interim President and C.E.O.  According to The Morton Arboretum, “Donnelly will leave a legacy of transformative impact on the organization, greatly expanding its public outreach and programs in science, conservation and education, aligned with its world-renowned tree collections.”

Dr. Donnelly, who met Koski when she joined The Morton Arboretum staff the first time, stated, “Jill is a tree advocate who strongly values the scientific work of The Morton Arboretum.  She believes in the power of nonprofit organizations to change the world and continues to dedicate her career to such causes.”

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The Morton Arboretum, located in Lisle, Illinois (a western suburb of Chicago in DuPage County), was the brainchild of Joy Morton (1855-1934), the founder of the Morton Salt Company and eldest son of U. S. Agriculture Secretary Julius Sterling Morton (1832-1902).  Julius Sterling Morton had created the civic holiday of Arbor Day in Nebraska.  In 1921, Joy Morton began the process of converting his estate in what is now Lisle, Thornhill, into an arboretum.  The Thornhill estate became the core of what is now a 1,700-acre arboretum.  For this project, he sought advice from Dr. Charles Sprague Sargent (1841–1927), Director of The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University for fifty-four years.Read more of this content when you subscribe today.

At the time the Encyclopedia of Chicago was written, The Morton Arboretum was home to about 3,300 kinds of living plants.[3]  Today, it is home to approximately 222,000 plant specimens that represent 4,650 plant kinds.  Visitors can explore sixteen miles of hiking trails and nine miles of roads, the Children’s Garden, the Maze Garden, educational programs, exhibits, the Sterling Morton Library, a Visitor Center with a museum and restaurant, special events, and seasonal exhibitions.  These days, visitors must obtain timed-entry admission tickets prior to arrival.  Click here to purchase tickets.

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The Morton Arboretum is north of Interstate 88 and south of Butterfield Road in DuPage County.  While the larger part of The Morton Arboretum is east of Illinois Route 53, a smaller part is west of 53.  The East Branch of the DuPage River flows across the property.  It is northwest of downtown Lisle. Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, which belongs to the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, is contiguous with The Morton Arboretum.  Visitors pay by the car.  The address is 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, Illinois 60532.  The phone number is (630) 968-0074.

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[1] The Boards of Trustees of The Holden Arboretum and the Cleveland Botanical Garden had voted to merge their organizations in 2014 and in the fall of 2016 the two organizations created the parent organization Holden Forests & Gardens, which Ms. Koski was to lead.

[2] The press release states she worked at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, but that is an error.  The Chicago Academy of Sciences (C.A.S.) opened the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in 1999, whilst she worked for the C.A.S. from 1993 to 1997.  Her own Linked-In profile clearly states Ms. Koski worked for the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

[3] Riva Feshbach, “Morton Arboretum,” The Encyclopedia of Chicago.  James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin King, and Janice L. Reiff, editors. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press (2004), p. 543

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