IOWA DERECHO 2020

Trees Forever CEO stepping down to focus on 'planting hope' after derecho

Founder Shannon Ramsay will lead effort to replenish Iowa's lost tree canopy

MARION — After more than 30 years as chief executive officer, Shannon Ramsay will step down and transition into a new role at Trees Forever sometime next year.

Ramsay, the organization’s founder, will instead focus on the nonprofit’s efforts to rebuild Cedar Rapids’ and the surrounding area’s tree canopy following the derecho nearly two weeks ago and will work to expand other projects, including the Trees Forever youth employment initiative.

Marion-based Trees Forever focuses on tree-planting projects and conservation efforts through volunteer engagement across Illinois and Iowa. On average, the organization works with more than 7,000 volunteers and has helped plant more than 3 million trees.

Ramsay founded Trees Forever in 1989 and has served on its leadership team since. She does not have a specific end date, but plans to transition from her current role in early 2021.

“This has been part of a long-term plan we’ve had in place for five years,” Ramsay told The Gazette. “I have a lot of mixed feelings about changing my role, but I am looking forward to having less of a hectic schedule and less of the day to day responsibilities.”

Ramsay will retain her title as the founding president and will remain a trustee on the Trees Forever Foundation.

“(Ramsay) has been instrumental in shaping Trees Forever into the ‘boots on the ground’ volunteer organization that it is today,” board of directors chairman Dave Blankenship said in a news release. “She is passionate about the essential role that trees, forests and natural areas play in our daily lives.”

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The Trees Forever board of directors announced in a news release it is partnering with Cedar Rapids-based Overture Group, a recruiting and consulting firm, to search for a new executive director. Interested candidates are invited to contact Brandi Mueller with the Overture Group at bmueller@theoverturegroup.com.

In the face of the derecho, which resulted in the loss of half of Cedar Rapids’ tree canopy and damage in communities across Iowa, Ramsay said she needs to focus her time on fundraising for the recovery and replanting effort.

Ramsay hopes to have the new post-derecho campaign, called Planting Hope, well underway by fall, she said. She hopes to gather volunteers not only to plant new trees, but also to save the trees damaged in the storm.

Todd Fagan, Cedar Rapids city arborist, told The Gazette earlier that the city’s municipal tree population has a structural value of $112 million, and that the city will document the damage to determine total loss in the coming weeks and months.

Ramsay’s initial guess is that it would cost at least $5 million in donations for Trees Forever to replant trees locally.

The organization helped Parkersburg replant trees after the 2008 tornado and launched recovery campaigns after the 2008 floods in Cedar Rapids and other communities. However, Ramsay noted the full scale of the disaster will result in a long road to recovery.

“This storm, the width and the length of it was so damaging,” she said. “Normally a tornado wipes out part of one town, it doesn’t go through and take out half the trees in a huge area like this one did. It’s tough.”

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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