The Garden Club of Jacksonville survived for 97 years as a volunteer-led organization. As the club prepares for its next century, the leadership sought to hire the nonprofit’s first executive director.
They identified Denise M. Reagan, whose extensive background in communications, nonprofits, media, education, and advertising makes her the perfect fit for a beloved Jacksonville institution ready to redefine itself.
“Denise embodies all the qualities we were looking for in an executive director,” said Garden Club President Bobi McGinnis. “She has developed lifelong relationships throughout the Jacksonville community and across the country that will help the Garden Club reach a more diverse audience.”
A Jacksonville native, Reagan worked at newspapers and websites in six cities before returning to her hometown as one of the top editors of The Florida Times-Union. She later served as editor of Folio Weekly, communications director at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, and senior manager of public relations at Brunet-García Advertising. Reagan was also an adjunct professor at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, her alma mater.
When she returned to Jacksonville 13 years ago, she planted a backyard garden as a way to spend time with her daughter. As they harvested dozens of vegetables, fruits, and herbs, her daughter’s palate expanded. When she travels, gardens and parks are always at the top of her itinerary, such as the Biltmore estate in Asheville, N.C., the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., and Belle Isle in Detroit. She often enjoys Memorial Park, the Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens, Tree Hill Nature Center, and the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.
“I have a first-hand appreciation of how green spaces can build community and sustain the environment,” Reagan said. “This knowledge fuels my desire to expand Jacksonville’s green spaces and increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables through community gardens. These projects can change lives.”
The nonprofit invested in a thorough strategic planning process with a grant from the Jesse Ball duPont Fund and emerged with clear goals that the board aligned with all of the Garden Club’s activities. The club hosts more than a dozen events a month, including educational programs, demonstrations, youth classes, and meetings of more than 30 garden circles. Situated on the St. Johns River next to the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, the Garden Club is the setting for stylish weddings and community events such as the Civic Orchestra of Jacksonville fundraiser on October 17 and the St. Johns Riverkeeper Oyster Roast on November 15.
Since she joined the Garden Club, Reagan has been busy rebranding the organization to better communicate the nonprofit’s commitment to environmental responsibility in addition to a deep love for garden, floral, and landscape design.
“We will use our collective voice to champion green spaces, encourage effective tree planting, build access to fresh fruits and vegetables, protect the health of the St. Johns River, and promote sustainability,” Reagan said.
The Garden Club is adding more evening and weekend events, so the space can be more inclusive and accessible to working parents and young professionals. The club is introducing a new membership program that will provide discounts to Garden Club events and other perks.
“We invite everyone in our community to build connections at this magical historic property,” McGinnis said.
Ninah Cummer founded the Garden Club of Jacksonville in 1922. The club raised money to buy the land on the St. Johns River and construct the original clubhouse, which was destroyed by fire. In 1948, the Club Room was built, including a large fireplace, a brass chandelier, and a small kitchen. In 1958, the grand Ballroom was constructed, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, six crystal chandeliers, and a stage. The campus also includes a courtyard, huge catering kitchens, offices, and storage space.
Reagan wants to elevate the Garden Club’s visibility as a destination for everything from corporate retreats and business lunches to weddings and celebrations.
“We want to collaborate with partners that share our mission and find those who want to join us as we donate our time and talent to build a better and more beautiful city,” Reagan said.
The Garden Club invites the public to an Open House at 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday, September 10, to meet Reagan and the Governing Board and hear about the nonprofit’s renewed vision for the future.
“Green spaces help give a city its identity,” Reagan said. “The Garden Club wants to underscore just how important these spaces are to the health and well-being of Jacksonville and the impact we all have on the natural world.”