Seattle Rhododendron Society and Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens Separation
Past President, Seattle Chapter
During the years of 1999-2000, it became apparent to the Board of Directors of the Seattle Rhododendron Society (SRS) that a change was needed in the management of its "garden-in-trust," Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens (MRG). When the garden was bequeathed by Ann Meerkerk to the SRS in 1979, there were approximately 400 members and it was the only rhododendron chapter in the area. The trust fund that came with the garden was adequate to support one part-time caretaker. Over the years with the efforts of many Seattle members, the scope of the gardens grew to a budget of over $100,000 a year with a large public attendance. Major fund raising would be needed to implement the next stage of garden development. In addition to the full-time garden manager, Kristi O'Donnell, assistance was being provided by the Meerkerk Management Group which was made up of volunteers from Whidbey Island and ARS chapters of District 2, but participation by SRS members had waned. Meanwhile the SRS Board of Directors continued diligently to perform its oversight responsibility of MRG, at considerable cost of officers' time and resulting in less time spent on chapter affairs.
In June of 2001 a Meerkerk Fact Finding Committee was appointed to study the relationship of SRS and MRG. Chairperson Jeanine Smith held meetings with her committee members and the committee presented to the SRS Board of Directors its recommendation at the February 2002 meeting. It reads in part: "We recommend that the Seattle Rhododendron Society (SRS) approve that Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens (MRG) become a separate non-profit corporation for the purpose of continuing implementation of Ann Meerkerk's intent in her will. All Meerkerk assets from the original will as well as those accumulated since 1979 will be transferred to the new corporation."
SRS members were encouraged to submit their personal experiences with MRG development and at the February 2002 members' meeting an informal show-of-hands indicated approval of a separation. The process then began by contacting Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, the law firm that originally handled Ann Meerkerk's will, to begin drafting the documents necessary for the legal separation. Michele Osborne, lawyer at DWT, researched the history of the will, property deed, assets and other items to finalize the transfer.
In the following months, Don Lee, president of the Meerkerk Management Group, gathered and filed the documents required by the IRS and the State of Washington for non-profit status of the gardens, an arduous task. Also, the SRS Board of Directors held extra meetings to help draft the documents from DWT, another arduous task.
On May 7, 2003, the finalized Transfer Agreement was signed and on June 4, 2003, the actions of the Board were ratified by the SRS members. On June 14, 2003, the documents were presented by Diane Thompson, Past President, to Don Lee, President of MRG, at the District 2 picnic at Meerkerk.
MRG now stands alone as a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization with its Board of Directors responsible for the management of the garden. Both SRS and MRG feel this is a win-win solution for the garden. SRS can now focus its attention on chapter business and MRG will have a board to deal exclusively with the operations of the garden. The SRS wishes MRG great success in its future operations.