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CEO of Cleveland Botanical Garden and Holden Arboretum stepping down

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Lisa DeJong
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After five years, Jill Koski will step down on Oct. 28 as CEO of the Holden Arboretum and Cleveland Botanical Garden. She returns to head the Morton Arboretum near Chicago, where she was vice president of development for a decade before coming to Cleveland.

The head of the Holden Arboretum and Cleveland Botanical Garden is stepping down after five years.

Jill Koski will depart Holden Forests & Gardens next month to join the Morton Arboretum, near Chicago, as president and CEO. She was director of development at the Lisle, Illinois arboretum for a decade before coming to Cleveland.

The Holden board is launching a national search for Koski’s replacement. Until then, her president and CEO duties will be split between the arboretum's chief of education, Joel Alpern, and CFO Kathy Heflin.

In a statement, Holden Forests & Gardens Board Chair Tom Anderson said, "Upon the successful integration of the Holden Arboretum and the Cleveland Botanical Garden; leading the development of a strategic plan, vision and comprehensive site plan; Jill’s guidance leaves the organization well-poised for continued momentum, growth and success with a talented staff team that will further advance the mission-critical work of the organization."

Koski is returning home to Chicago to be closer to family. Before her work at the Morton Arboretum, she spent a decade in development at the Shedd Aquarium. She calls her time in Cleveland "a great privilege."

"I am proud of the partnership with a wonderful staff team and the broader community," Koski said. "It has been an exceptional experience to be a part of Northeast Ohio’s commitment to ensuring the health and vitality of the community through the appreciation of plants, trees and the natural world around us."

The botanical garden celebrates its centennial in 2030. It merged with the Kirtland-based arboretum in 2014 under the guidance of then-CEO Clem Hamilton, who led the Morton Arboretum alongside Koski in the late 2000s.

At the time of the merger, Cleveland.com reported that the botanical garden was facing $10 million in debt and a dwindling endowment following the late 2000s recession.

The merged Holden Forests & Gardens was then the 13th largest public garden in the country. Today, it has more than 17,000 member households and an annual attendance of more 350,000. It recently launched the "People for Trees" campaign to plant and care for 15,000 trees, in partnership with residents of Northeast Ohio, by 2025.

Koski’s last day at Holden is October 28.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.