Lisa Thomson, President & CEO
The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) appointed Lisa Thomson as President & CEO in January 2015. A lifelong conservationist, Lisa’s previous experience includes 28 years at The Nature Conservancy, serving in leadership capacities in conservation land management and fundraising. In 2010 she was recruited as Associate Vice President for Development at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, she helped lead their recently launched capital campaign and built major gifts and planned giving teams. Lisa earned her BA at Stetson University, with a degree in biology and art, and an MS from Florida State University in design. Lisa relocated to Asheville, NC after living in Central Florida for 45 years.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1109
Email: lisa.thomson (at) acf (dot) org
Betsy Gamber, Chief Operating Officer
Before joining TACF National Office in September 2009, Betsy worked for the Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte-North Port Realtor’s Association as Director of Professional Development where she designed and established a professional educational program for the organization’s 1200+ members in addition to implementing all fundraising and public relations activities. Prior to her position there, Betsy served as Executive Director for the Bon Secours-St. Joseph Hospital Foundation in Port Charlotte, FL where she developed and implemented a comprehensive development program, including fundraising campaigns, special events, planned giving seminars, a grantsmanship program, and a volunteer program for over 400 hospital volunteers. Betsy received her BA in Business Management from Eckerd College in Florida.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1110
Judy Antaramian, Membership Coordinator
Before joining TACF in 2010, Judy worked for the Collier County Tax Collectors in Marco Island, FL. Judy’s expertise includes nonprofit administration, database management, and membership services. Originally from Massachusetts, Judy and her family spent 20 years in Florida before moving to Asheville, NC.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1103
Samantha Bowers, Director of Philanthropy and External Affairs
Joining TACF in 2016, the common thread of Samantha’s nonprofit and governmental work helps bridge the chasm between needs and resources. Through fundraising and outreach across varying mediums she promotes TACF’s conservation mission. She manages the external grants program where research grants are awarded to universities across the U.S. and 60 formal partner agreements to avoid duplication of efforts. With her prior career at the Asheville Housing Authority, she led an energy efficient, multi-million dollar renovation of a large, community facility. She’s led a nonprofit through a founding leader transition while serving as Board Chair and acting as Interim Executive Director. Becoming a mom during the shutdown of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she now has a daughter. With her husband, they maintain a pollinator-certified garden that’s been featured in Home-of-the-Week and garden tours. She holds a BA in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and completed Leadership Asheville in 2016.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1104
Kendra Collins, New England Regional Science Coordinator
Kendra joined TACF in 2008 as Regional Science Coordinator for the New England region, which includes the ME, VT/NH, MA/RI, and CT state chapters of TACF. She received a BS degree in Environmental Conservation Science from the University of New Hampshire and an MS in Natural Resources: Forestry from the University of Vermont. Her Masters research focused on American chestnut restoration, which led her to become involved with TACF and the formation of the VT/NH chapter. Kendra worked previously with citizen scientists through New Hampshire’s Volunteer Lake Assessment Program.
Phone: (802) 999-8706
Sara Fitzsimmons, Director of Restoration, North Central Regional Science Coordinator, and Regional Science Coordinator Supervisor
Sara Fern Fitzsimmons has worked with The American Chestnut Foundation at Penn State University since 2003, assisting chestnut growers and researchers throughout the Appalachian Mountains. Born and raised in southern West Virginia (Hinton), Sara studied Biology at Drew University in Madison, NJ. She then received a Master’s degree in forest ecology and resource management from Duke University’s Nicholas School. After a short stint as an editorial assistant at All About Beer Magazine, Sara returned to the forestry field, where she has been ever since. Sara hopes her research and professional work will facilitate long-term conservation and restoration of native tree species at risk from exotic pests and diseases.
Phone: (814) 404-6013
Eric Jenkins, Meadowview Farms Tree Breeding Coordinator
Eric joined Meadowview Research Farms in April 2014. He received his MS in forest resources from the University of Georgia and a BS in biology from East Tennessee State University. As a Tennessee native, his interest in the American chestnut tree developed early in life. His father lived in a house made of wormy chestnut. It was built around the time the blight killed most of the chestnut trees in east TN.
Eric has experience with land conservation programs as well as GIS-based planning and analysis. His primary responsibility at Meadowview is managing the production of containerized chestnut trees for research purposes as well as establishing and assessing progeny tests.
Phone: (276) 944-4631
Lily Kingsolver, Meadowview Farms Nursery Manager
Lily joined TACF full time in January 2020 as nursery manager at the Meadowview Research Farm after interning part time for several years. Having grown up in Meadowview before getting her degree in Environmental Science at the University of Virginia, she has a notable investment in the culture and history of Appalachia as well as the importance of sustaining and restoring native ecosystems. Her undergraduate research was on the long-term effects of the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis on anuran population diversity, a plight which holds many similarities to that of the American Chestnut. Prior to beginning her job at TACF, she worked as an interpretive ranger at Hungry Mother State Park, sharing her love of the Appalachians and their incredible diversity with visitors from all over the world. She hopes her research on invasive fungus and her experience in interpretation will allow her both to aid in the restoration of the American Chestnut and to communicate the TACF mission.
Phone: (276) 944-4631
Vasiliy Lakoba, Director of Research, Meadowview Farms
Vasiliy joined TACF in June 2021 as Director of Research at the Meadowview Research Farms. He works with the staff at Meadowview, the Science Leadership Team, and the Science and Technology Committee to plan and implement breeding studies, orchard and forestry trials, and external research collaborations.
His past work includes forest restoration at the Arboretum at Penn State and a science policy fellowship with the Weed Science Society of America. He holds a PhD in Plant Ecology from Virginia Tech, where he studied invasive species’ interactions with land use and climate change.
Phone: (276) 944-4631
Cherin Marmon-Saxe, Office and Business Systems Manager
Cherin joined TACF in May 2017 after relocating back to the United States from England, where she lived for 14 years. Her professional career spans more than 30+ years, specializing in project management, process improvement and systems integration across a multitude of countries and markets. Prior to joining TACF, she owned a hotel in the beautiful Northern Lake District of The United Kingdom, one of her bucket list items.
Cherin holds a BS degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management with a secondary Degree in Human Resources. She joins the TACF family with great enthusiasm to expand her involvement and experience within the non-profit sector.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1105
Dan Mckinnon, Director of Meadowview Farms Operations
Dan joined TACF in 2014 as Seed Orchard Supervisor at Meadowview Research Farms. He has a long history of agriculture and Appalachian forest work, ranging from trail conservation to forest management. As a local native from Marion, VA, much of his experience was acquired working in the mountains in the surrounding areas. His expertise covers farm and facilities maintenance, field crew training and supervision, with an emphasis on workplace safety, and coordinating volunteer groups. Mckinnon has a degree from the Virginia Highlands Community College in Horticulture Technology and Landscape Management. He has held positions with the US Forest Service, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the US Marine Corps.
Phone: (276) 944-4631
Tom Saielli, Mid-Atlantic Regional Science Coordinator
Tom joined TACF in 2012 and is based in the Virginia Department of Forestry’s Central Office in Charlottesville, Virginia. Tom oversees the organization’s Mid-Atlantic region which includes the TACF state chapters of KY, MD, VA, and WV. He received his MS in Forest Sciences from the University of Vermont in Burlington after earning his BS in Biology and Environmental Science at the University of Colorado in 2007.
Tom comes to TACF with significant hands-on experience with the Foundation’s breeding program, having worked as a research technician with New England Regional Science Coordinator Kendra Gurney. In this role, he investigated chestnut cold-tolerance at the University of Vermont. Upon leaving New England, Tom accepted the role of TACF’s Southern Regional Science Coordinator in Asheville until 2016. Prior to joining TACF, Tom served as a Crew Leader with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers in Colorado, where he managed dozens of large-scale restoration projects and spent nine years as a medic and firefighter with the Nederland Fire Protection District.
Phone: (828) 450-9100
Jules Smith, Director of Communications
Though originally from East Tennessee, Jules moved to Asheville in 2010 from Cambridge, MA where she was the Communications Associate at Episcopal Divinity School. Prior to accepting the job at TACF, she was the Webmaster and Communications Specialist at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville. Before switching career paths, Jules worked as a videographer and editor in the television news industry. She loves living in Asheville because of its mountains, progressive values, farm-to-table eateries, and support of local businesses & non-profits! Jules has a BA in Communication Arts with an emphasis in Television Broadcasting.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1102
James E. Tolton - Meadowview Farms Maintenance Technician
Jim joined TACF in April 2017 after retiring from Ball Corporation where he was employed for more than 30 years as a line technician. Prior to Ball, Jim was employed at Cape Hatteras National Seashore for four years as a lifeguard/park technician. After that, he served as a recreational forester for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado. Being an avid outdoorsman and having an enduring love for nature and its sustainability, Jim joined TACF in Meadowview, Virginia where he assists staff at Meadowview Research Farms in developing blight-tolerant American chestnut trees. Jim aids in maintaining the farm through equipment operation and maintenance, seed and pollen collection, and processing. He enjoys his role as an advocate for American chestnut restoration and believes in the ecological benefits it will bring to an entire ecosystem.
Jim has a BS in Recreation from Radford University.
Phone: (276) 944-4631
Dr. Jared Westbrook, Director of Science
Jared joined TACF in January 2015 as the organization’s new quantitative geneticist. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jared earned a BS in Environmental Science from the University of Michigan, an MS in Botany, and a PhD in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Florida. His dissertation research studied the genetic enhancement of resin production in loblolly pine stems for use in liquid biofuels. Jared works extensively with the Meadowview Research Laboratory and commutes from Asheville to take TACF’s breeding program to the next level.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1106
Brandon Yanez - Breeding, Meadowview Farms Research Technician
Brandon joined TACF as a seasonal employee in the fall of 2015, only to return in 2016 for another season. In 2017, Brandon rejoined the TACF staff as a full time employee at the Glen C. Price Research Farm in Meadowview VA. Brandon graduated in 2015 from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University with a BSA in Landscape Architecture. His thesis defense focused on the redevelopment of a rail to trail project, with a focus on educating the public of the historical, natural, and infrastructural importance of the site; and its relationship to the larger landscape. Working in Meadowview, Brandon assists the Seed Orchard Supervisor with any and all tasks needed to fulfill the day to day and long term operations of the research orchards.
Phone: (276) 944-4631
Paul Wingenfeld - Chief Financial Officer
Shana Zimnoch, Gifts and Records Specialist
Shana comes to TACF with expertise in donor databases and a deep understanding of the challenges and inner workings of non-profits. Before joining TACF in October 2017, she worked at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center and the Noyes Museum of Art in southern New Jersey. Shana has a sincere interest in conservation, human emotion and working towards a common goal. As someone who loves to hike and all things nature, she looks forward to being an integral part of TACF’s work. Shana holds a BS degree in literature with a secondary degree in art and anthropology from Stockton University in New Jersey.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1101