From The Executive Director
Spring greetings from OARS (aka Office of the American Rhododendron Society).
Next month I will enter into my seventh year as your executive director. My original interest in this position came about when I heard the rhody society needed a new database system and maybe a general office overhaul. My special friend Charles Briggs and I had worked on management systems for several membership organizations, and I knew we could do this job for you - but not without his talent as a computer scientist.
Because we had been involved primarily with new membership organizations, we were seldom questioned about the best way to get the job done. I was soon to learn that the ARS was 52 years old, and there were many ideas of how "rhody central" should be operated. As I learned to work with my new family, every day, week after week, month after month, Chuck and I would disappear into the back bedroom of the house and surface in the evening, a little closer to a solid system. We accomplished the routine jobs such as getting the quarterly reports to the editor, and mailing chapter monthly reports. We quickly established an electronic method for getting mailing labels to the journal printer. The daily accounting became much easier, crediting the modern software available for this purpose. Duplicate entries into membership database and accounting systems were eliminated by the summer of 1997, due to Chuck's magic skills - only two months after we started the project.
During the first two years, I did very little to nothing to assist committees, or monitor progress and calls for help within our vast network of volunteer projects. Committees had not previously utilized the office for assistance, and, at this point, routine clerical duties and technical development were taking all of our time. We did manage to get a credit card system going and offer the chapters a chapter liability plan. The office also started contacting all non-renewed members each summer to try and build our slowly declining membership. For the first time in our history, the office started accepting new members calling for information.
Communication with officers, directors and committees, as well as chapters was very cumbersome. By the end of 1997 we had only 37 email addresses in the database. Internet access was to grow exponentially over the next few years, with nearly 3,000 in place today. I had another friend, Bob Weissman, who was working for Hewlett Packard but was dabbling in website development for family projects. I met with Bob and explained our need for an administrative website. Today, www.arsoffice.org is an essential tool for our chapters. We no longer worry about whether or not the only person receiving the mail has shared it with anyone else. Postage and paper are saved, and today communication between OARS, chapter and Society is as available as one wishes to make it.
The public has total access to the ARS via our website www.rhododendron.org, also managed and maintained by Bob Weissman. Many people are now contributing to the work of developing a complete plant database, complete with pictures of all of the registered plants within the genus. R&A News will now be accessed through this site. Due to the overwhelming number of requests for information, we now have our Rhododendron Spider Web, consisting of over 30 members who accept forwarded email questions from the public. We have acquired many new memberships from people who have been impressed with this service. With ease, anyone can now join the Society over the Internet.
With the Internet, it is now possible for OARS to work closely with developing committees, and major committee projects requiring networking with other committees. Several committees have been activated in the last two years, due to the desire of President Ed Reiley to focus on public education, including the Proven Performers lists and the Rhododendron of the Year project. He also chose the right volunteer, Tom Schuetz, to revitalize the Display Gardens Program. The timing has been perfect. The websites allow easy access to our Proven Performers lists, bringing everything we can offer to everyone who looks for it. The timely gift from the Swisher Estate brought our Endowment Fund to an amount that finally lets us give back to the chapters and the Society for such projects as the Display Gardens Program. Bill Mangles and his committee are very busy selecting the successful grantees in this first year of our grant program.
Today we also have a Resource Development Committee in place. We have the capacity to help us succeed in this 21st century.
This little progress report would not be complete without the introduction of one more special friend of OARS. When I started seeking grant support for our projects, the concept was new to the Society. Faster communication, efficient and clean software utilization, and our desire to free up time for more and more demanding projects is all computer driven. It requires lots of equipment. Over $35,000 of your ARS assets are in the form of the wonderful equipment at OARS and at Sonja Nelson's office. It has all been made possible by grants from Jack and Ann Root.
And now as year seven unfolds, we have a wonderful part-time helper who can handle most of our data entry. I'm able to devote more time to assisting our 300 active volunteers, both in chapters and committees, and the "to do list" continues to grow. Each day is like living a new episode of Days of Our Lives!