In November 2016, the Lyons Vineyard was donated to a new Island nonprofit by Tim and Julie Lyons. While the Lyons were searching for the right owner, five people connected with each other through their shared interest in Washington Island and sustainable living; from diverse backgrounds in education, entrepreneurship, and land stewardship, Sue Dompke, Margaret Foss, Laurel Hauser and Russell and Alessandra Rolffs began a conversation about agriculture and sustainability and formed the founding board of directors of Gathering Ground: Planting for the Future.
The Current Board
Casey Dahl, Farmer, Folk Tree Farm and Feral Farm
Casey Dahl is an experienced farmer and tree enthusiast, especially fond of chestnut and apple trees. A graduate of Michael Fields, he has been working with trees for more than 15 years in a variety of settings, including planting his own chestnut and hazelnut orchard, Feral Farm, in Southern Wisconsin. He works at Island Orchard Cider, managing their orchard on the Island.
Karen Yancey, Land Trust Executive
Karen Yancey is a conservationist and journalist. For the last five years, she has worked as executive director of the Geneva Lake Conservancy helping the organization to protect almost 1,000 acres of land and earn the Wisconsin Land Trust of the Year award in 2020. She served for 16 years on the Door County Land Trust board of directors and led the land trust’s Washington Island Project Committee from 2000-2010. Ms. Yancey has also worked as a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Chicago Tribune and Gannett Wisconsin Media. She currently serves as the President of the Washington Island Observer and as a member of the Washington Island Literary Festival Committee. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Duke University and a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She and her family have enjoyed spending summers at their Washington Island farmhouse for almost 30 years where she loves to work in her garden, read on the front porch or kayak with her husband, John, to Rock Island.
Margaret Foss, Educator at the Island School
Margaret became a full-time, year-round island resident 40 years ago, when she married Kirby, a life-long islander. Together, Margaret and Kirby raised their daughter Lydia on the island, where Margaret taught in various capacities. Margaret is especially devoted to Gathering Ground because of its commitment to education and partnership with the Washington Island School. Now, with grandchildren also growing up here, she looks to maintain and grow the island’s long history of strong ties to preserving its beauty and bounty. Margaret is proud to be a member of Gathering Ground; an organization dedicated to sustainable practices intended to simultaneously protect and utilize what these beautiful lands offer, while continually studying, learning, and disseminating knowledge to the entire community. She hopes this work will benefit the island’s people, lands, and waters for many generations.
Jean Kokes, Hotel Washington Owner
Jeannie Kokes combines two loves as a founding board member of Gathering Ground: her deep connection with our environment and a passion for volunteer service. In her earlier years, she directed a nonprofit organization of over 300 volunteers supporting parents in crisis. Later as a clinical psychologist with a private practice in the western suburbs of Chicago, she taught and supported sustainable practices in communication between people. Like emeritus board member Sue Dompke, a friend and fellow widow, she initiated a wholly different career about seven years ago when she purchased Hotel Washington. With a team of kindred spirits she created a space to reconnect people with nature, themselves and each other. Gathering Ground is another way to connect to the Island community by supporting a land ethic and practices that balance preservation with progress for generations to come.
Alessandra Rolffs, Executive Director & Board Secretary of Gathering Ground
Alessandra Rolffs has her PhD in English, creative writing with an emphasis in ecoliterature. With her husband she grows vegetables, herbs and cut flowers at Hoot Blossom Farm on Washington Island. Raised in California, Alessandra has lived in the midwest for more than a decade and yet, the changing seasons still surprise and delight her every year. As Gathering Ground’s first executive, she is excited to be a part of Gathering Ground’s growing educational and community programs and offerings. When she is not working in her garden or Gathering Ground, you can find her taking long walks with her son around the Island.
Russell Rolffs, Farm Manager & President of Gathering Ground, Hoot Blossom Farm
Russell was recovering from completing an MA in philosophy from the University of Chicago when he discovered that he needed to be outdoors more to feel fulfilled. He taught high school for over ten years and misses the classroom at times. Russell is passionate about growing good food and pondering how humans can live within the ecological bounds of the earth.
Board Advisors and Directors Emeritus
Sue Dompke, Owner of Sweet Mountain Farm
Laurel Hauser, Executive Director at Crossroads
Steve Lynch, Retired Art Teacher
Jessica Dennis, Science teacher