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Board Chair Feature: Rosemary McIlhenny

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Board Chair Feature: Rosemary McIlhenny

Meet the Chair of the Board of Directors, Rosemary McIlhenny!

Chair of the Board, Rosemary McIlhenny, with her English Cocker Spaniel, Teenie.

McIlhenny grew up spending lots of time outdoors in south Louisiana on Avery Island where her family has been for generations. She met Liz McLaurin, President & CEO of The Land Trust, when their boys were in preschool together and the organization was just forming. McIlhenny became more and more involved in The Land Trust for Tennessee and has now sat as the Chair of the Board of Directors since mid-2023.

At this year’s Annual Celebration back in May, we pulled McIlhenny aside to chat about her connection to conservation and why she chose to take on a leadership role at The Land Trust for Tennessee.

From left: Board member Louise Beasley, President & CEO Liz McLaurin, Board Chair Rosemary McIlhenny at Once in a Blue Moon 2021.

Interviewer: What’s your connection to conservation or land or why did you choose to become involved?

McIlhenny: When The Land Trust was first forming, there was a young group of our friends who were involved, so I learned about The Land Trust very early on. Years down the road, Liz and I met. Our boys were in preschool together. I guess in 2013 or 2014, Jeanie and Liz approached me to chair Blue Moon and the timing didn’t work out but they understood my family’s legacy with land, which I’ll tell you about.

Interviewer: Please do!

McIlhenny: I grew up on Avery Island, Louisiana, where my family’s lived for over 200 years. So, for me, my interest in conservation comes from a natural appreciation of land and lineage. I’m locked into that. Knowing that our family’s cemetery is there and that I’ll be buried there, I don’t take it for granted and I’m so appreciative of it. It’s so foundational to me and it always has been in my life. So, it was a natural fit for me to come on board and engage with The Land Trust.

Interviewer: So, you grew up spending time outdoors in south Louisiana?

McIlhenny: Yes, I did. I grew up out in the middle of nowhere. We always say, “Come see us on your way to nowhere!” I’m also on a conservation board for waterfowl. I grew up hunting, I grew up outdoors, I love it. It’s a more comfortable setting to me than being in most places.

Rosemary McIlhenny spent a lot of time outdoors in south Louisiana growing up on Avery Island.

Interviewer: Tell us about your experience from when you first started working with The Land Trust and how you got to where you are now as the Chair of the Board.

McIlhenny: I don’t know if I had been on the Board a year or so when we started our Strategic Plan. That was a lot of fun. It was a great time to come on Board. You learn a lot about the organization, you get to take part in the direction that it’s going in. It’ll be fun to be a part of that next strategic plan as my term is coming to an end. I’ve been on board with the transition from Jeanie to Liz and really seen the organization grow. I appreciate both Jeanie’s work and Liz’s work. I’ve always been amazed at the dedication of the staff here and everybody’s always so approachable and passionate about what our cause is. It’s a strong organization, and it needs to be. Especially right now.

Interviewer: Is there anything you feel is a particular opportunity for conservation in this state?

McIlhenny: I think with so many people moving to Tennessee there are great opportunities to teach people what we do, so there’s that sort of natural progression that can happen. I think that’s something we’ll probably try to work on in our strategic plan. How to capture that. Let’s teach people what it is that we do, and some will want to join in. Progression is everywhere. You can’t stop it but you can be a good steward of it.

Interviewer: What would be the best way to support our work and what would you tell someone who’s considering supporting our work, whether that’s financially or otherwise?

McIlhenny: Hop on our website and look at some of our stories. Then, get in your car or on a bike and go for a drive and get 30 minutes away from where you are and see how that makes you feel and whether it drives you to want to support what we do. I think 30 minutes from anywhere in Tennessee you’ll see a lot of greenery and how beautiful it is and how important it is to keep that. Being outside is a happy place.

Previous Board Chair Mark Manner “passing the shovel” to Rosemary McIlhenny at the LTTN 2023 Annual Celebration.

McIlhenny: Another great thing you can do is volunteer and invite people to volunteer. We have this huge green space right in the middle of Nashville [The Land Trust for Tennessee’s 64-acre Glen Leven Farm]. That’s a great way to encourage people. Open space offers peace and serenity and it’s so important, but it can feel so intangible at times. We’re lucky enough to have Glen Leven so that if you don’t have a 40-acre or 120-acre farm to go to, you can come out there. It’s a great opportunity.

Interviewer: What are you looking forward to in the next 25 years of The Land Trust?

McIlhenny: I’m looking forward to having opportunities like this [gesturing around at Annual Celebration guests] for people with conservation easements to come back and tell their stories and seeing their pride and their impact in what they’ve done. That’s so much fun and so special. So, I think it’s going to be a year of a lot of looking back and letting that energize the launch of what we do next. And gaining stories to tell to scatter our message to generational Tennesseans and newcomers alike.

Find out how you can support The Land Trust’s conservation work!