After nine years as executive director of the Pemaquid Watershed Association, Donna Minnis announced she would be resigning from her post in early 2016.
“I just felt it was the right time,” Minnis said. “It’s the perfect time for the organization to make a transition.”
Born and raised in Ohio, Minnis earned her doctorate from Michigan State University in 1996. She then went to work at Mississippi State University where she spent four years on faculty of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. It was during her time in Mississippi Minnis learned she was a “Northern girl” at heart.
“Back when I was a teenager in Ohio, I had these two posters on my wall that always resonated with me of nature and the northeast woodland,” Minnis said. “I’ve always been drawn to the northeast, and I knew that’s where I wanted to move next.”
Minnis moved to Maine in 2000, where she began working in managing and marketing jobs, including a three-year stint as office manager of Mount Desert Island Real Estate.
In 2006, Minnis read the Pemaquid Watershed Association had hired a new executive director. Minnis remembers being disappointed when she read the article, as that was a job she thought she would be able to do. Months later, she had a chance encounter with a member of the board, who told her the position was open again.
“I learned on a Monday they were looking for a new executive director, and the application was due on that Thursday,” Minnis said. “I went home and got everything together for the application, turned it in and the rest is history.”
Since taking the position in December 2006, Minnis said her time with PWA has been filled with highlights, from picking up litter during Coastal Cleanup to doubling the acres PWA protects. Minnis said two of the highlights of her tenure have included the rebuilding of the PWA website and the creation of the “Wings Over the Pemaquid River” educational video.
In 2014 PWA was named an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful Inc. Keep America Beautiful is a national nonprofit that provides educational material and funding for environmental beautification and litter prevention. PWA was the first Maine affiliate of Keep America Beautiful.
“I have been an avid litter picker upper for my whole life, and so to be able to link our nonprofit with Keep America Beautiful has just been so fortunate,” Minnis said. “We’ve already seen a huge benefit from the affiliation, and people on the peninsula are already benefiting.”
Board member Joan Panek, of Damariscotta, was one of the of the six PWA members Minnis chose to be on the steering committee of the Keep America Beautiful. Panek said Minnis’ knowledge of the PWA members’ strengths will be missed.
“I don’t know what (Minnis’) thought process was when she chose the six of us, but she did it very well,” Panek said. “We all brought different skills to the table, and she just created this effective and strong committee.”
Minnis said she also enjoyed participating in the PWA Rubber Ducky River Race. In her office, Minnis has a rubber ducky collection inspired by the annual event.
“There’s this energy of craziness at the ducky race that is just unlike anything else,” Minnis said.
Board member Peter Lawrence, founder of the annual Rubber Ducky River Race, said Minnis’ enthusiasm and support helped to make the race a success.
“She gives 120 percent all the time, in everything she does,” Lawrence said. “On race day, she’d be the one dressed up, standing on the bridge leading the countdown. She’s just delightful to work with, and I will really miss that.”
The PWA has also faced challenges during Minnis’ tenure. In 2013, a conversation began about a possible merger of Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association, Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association, Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance, Hidden Valley Nature Center, and PWA.
Following months of discussion, the PWA membership voted against joining the merged conservation group Aug. 31.
“Some people would look at conflict and think it’s bad, but ultimately, if we hadn’t debated and discussed the issue, PWA wouldn’t have the awareness it has now,” Minnis said. “Now more than ever, the membership of PWA is aware of the challenges facing the organization, and has the prime opportunity to rally behind the cause they love.”
Looking back on her nine years as executive director, Minnis said the true highlight has been serving the Pemaquid Peninsula alongside some “truly wonderful people.”
“None of what was accomplished in the last nine years could have been possible without the teamwork of our donors, our volunteers, our partners, and our staff,” Minnis said. “This truly is an organization made up of amazing people doing important work.”
Minnis’ last day has yet to be determined but she plans to leave in the spring of 2016. Minnis said she does not have firm plans for her immediate future.
The PWA board of directors is currently in search of the next executive director for the nonprofit. The job description is available on the PWA website at pemaquidwatershed.org/about/employment. The application will close Jan. 15, 2016.