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Rotary Gardens tabs Fanning-Penny executive director

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
March 7, 2012
— Continuing to build awareness, visibility and access to Rotary Botanical Gardens will be a priority for Mary Fanning-Penny, the gardens new executive director.

"I hope my communications background will enable me to do that," she said.


The board announced Tuesday it had hired the 31-year-old Janesville woman as its new executive director.


She will assume responsibility for gardens operations about April 10, when she replaces interim director Gary Smith, who has been filling in since Kelli Cameron resigned in January after less than a year on the job.


"I'm incredibly excited and absolutely thrilled," Fanning-Penny said.


"I think it's a great opportunity personally and professionally and am so excited to join such an incredible team. I've heard wonderful things about staff and volunteers," she said.


Fanning-Penny, who will leave her job as communications program manager for Alliant Energy in Madison, said she would tap into her marketing and public relations skills to enhance the visibility of the gardens at local, regional and state levels.


Describing herself as a "people person," Fanning-Penny said she also wants to sustain relationships at the gardens and forge new partnerships in hopes of cultivating new donors.


"We had candidates from many different vocations who wanted the opportunity to lead one of the Midwest's premier botanical gardens. While the decision is always a difficult one, Mary Fanning-Penny stood out due to her strength in communications, leadership and advocacy," said Mary Willmer-Sheedy, board chairwoman.


Fanning-Penny brings a dedication to the community through her years of service with United Way of North Rock County, the YWCA and other organizations, Willmer-Sheedy said.


She also led initiatives in the community through her work at the General Motors plant as communications manager, a member of the local United Way Brand Strategy and Networking Committee and as a United Way campaign account manager.


Fanning-Penny is a graduate of the Leadership Development Academy of Rock County and was operations manager with the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board before taking a job as communications program manager at Alliant Energy in February 2010.


"Rotary Botanical Gardens is growing into a major tourist attraction in southern Wisconsin. We believe that Mary has the ability to lead the gardens into the next stages of its life," Willmer-Sheedy said.


"Several major projects are being considered for the gardens, and we needed a director who has a strong business sense and ability to communicate well the vision of the gardens. She will fit well with our experienced team and will work especially well with Mark Dwyer, our director of horticulture, in designing and implementing our next phase of development," Willmer-Sheedy said.


Fanning-Penny graduated from Milton High School in 1999 and from Winona State University in 2004. She and her husband, Jake Penny, were married at Rotary Gardens in 2008 and are the parents of twins.



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