Quad-City Botanical Center Director Ami Porter is leaving her position in Rock Island to join her husband in Wisconsin, but the nonprofit's board hopes to have a replacement hired by the time she departs in May.
Porter has been director since 2010, joining the center in July 1998, just a month after it opened, as banquet manager, then advancing into fundraising and operations management.
Porter's husband, Marshall, retired as general manager of WHBF-TV, Rock Island, in May 2020, and in August, the couple purchased a cabin in the north woods about a six-hour drive north of the Quad-Cities. Meantime, though, the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect it would have on the center's operations became apparent in early spring, and Ami Porter was committed to staying another year to see the center through the "volatile time."
“While 2020 presented obstacles ... we have endured and are currently in a stable position for further recovery and growth," she said in a news release. "I am confident the botanical center will continue to thrive under new leadership.”
A search committee will look locally and nationally for a replacement, according to the release.
Under Porter's tenure, the center achieved stable financial footing, the first and second phases of the Children's Garden were built and, in 2017, the Winter Nights, Winter Lights display was launched, a project that was Porter's idea and which has become the center's No. 1 fundraiser.
Porter did the research, secured grants to buy lights and put out the word for volunteers to help install them.
This past season, even with ticketing to keep capacity within state limits and social distancing, the center made over $60,000 with the display, she said.
In announcing Porter's departure, board chairwoman Denise Kimler lauded Porter for these accomplishments but singled out the center's financial stability.
"When Ami became executive director, she inherited some financial challenges," Kimler said in the news release. "She quickly reorganized the focus of the organization to improve operational stability and steadily expanded the gardens and exhibits to provide a top-notch visitor experience.
"Without her vision and leadership, we would not be in the stable position we are today. Ami has been a champion to bring people and plants together in fun and meaningful ways. Her ability to connect with donors and the community is remarkable and genuine, and we will miss her passion. Nobody loves the gardens like Ami.”
Before joining the center, Porter worked in guest services for Deere & Co.
She is a graduate of Illinois State University, Bloomington-Normal, where she majored in English literature and minored in women's studies.
Although she knows it sounds like a cliché, Porter said her job at the center truly "never felt like work to me.
"It was an honor and a joy to do something so impactful."
She chokes up a bit when thinking about leaving "such an amazing organization and such a generous community."
In the future, Porter hopes to do creative writing, including a children's book that she already has outlined.
She also is going to continue working, checking out opportunities at colleges near their new home.
The Porters have three children and two grandchildren between them.