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‘The award is really for Elachee.’ Andrea Timpone honored as Rotary Club’s Woman of the Year
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Andrea Timpone, former president and CEO of Elachee Nature Science Center, was recently named Gainesville Rotary Club's Woman of the Year. - photo by Kelsey Podo

When Andrea Timpone received the Woman of the Year award from Gainesville Rotary on Monday, June 21, she asked those who have served Elachee Nature Science Center to stand.

Timpone, retired president and CEO of Elachee, said she watched as dozens of people rose from their seats.

“The award has my name on it, but the award is really for Elachee,” she said. 

She credits the birth of the nonprofit to the vision of five women — Becky Geiger, Rosemary Johnson Dodd, Sissy Lawson, Ellen Odegaard and Julia Cromartie. 

Timpone, who has a master’s in science education, said she started at Elachee as its first staff member around 35 years ago when the nonprofit didn’t have a building, just the Ed Dodd Trail. She was hired as an educator and worked six years out of an office in downtown Gainesville, before moving into the nature center in 1991. Timpone said she remembers being told that the organization only had enough to pay her for a year.

“I moved into an office full of seeds and vines, where they’d make and sell decorations just to fund the position,” she said. “Then, the school systems (Hall and Gainesville) started supporting Elachee with contracts, and that’s what really gave us some stability starting out.”

Timpone said the nonprofit began welcoming 10,000-12,000 students annually from Hall and Gainesville schools, and expanded its reach to 35 different school systems.

Timpone shifted from her role as an educator to Elachee’s executive director in 1988. During her time in the organization, she has helped grow the nonprofit into a destination for over 70,000 annual visitors. Timpone retired in March 2021 and was succeeded by Sarah Bell, former deputy superintendent of Gainesville City Schools. 

The center currently resides in the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve in Gainesville as a part of the 6,000-acre upper Walnut Creek watershed. Timpone said Chicopee Woods — which encompassses 1,440 acres —- is 10% of the land mass of the city of Gainesville.

And thanks to Timpone and many other volunteers and supporters of Elachee, the property won’t be touched by billboards and developments, remaining the green entrance to Gainesville. 

“I think the thing I’m most proud of and pleased we got done, was putting almost 2,000 acres in conservation easement,” she said. “That means that property under a legal document has to be kept as greenspace in perpetuity.”

Kim Marks, Elachee’s director of development and communications, said she nominated Timpone for Woman of the Year a few years ago when the nonprofit was nearing its 40th anniversary. Marks said the former CEO and president created an environment for “everybody to benefit,” making her worthy of such an honor.

“She will be the first one to tell you that it was a team effort,” she said. “However, teams need a leader. She has been a constant leader and unwavering believer that it’s all about the environment.”

Last summer, Timpone received the 2020 Leadership Award for her “exceptional commitment and contributions to the nature center as a whole and her invaluable leadership at Elachee.” This national honor is presented once a year by the Association of Nature Center Administrators.

Now retired, Timpone said she plans to soon spend a few months volunteering at Yosemite National Park as a campground host. She intends to also look for more national and state park opportunities. 

But, wherever her environmental passions take her, Timpone said she’ll never forget the view from her old office where she’d see children hopping off the bus to enjoy new adventures in the forest. 

“I’m just so grateful to everybody that made it (Elachee’s growth) possible,” she said. “How many people do we know that are able to do what they love?”

Timpone said she compares the way Elachee has developed to the recent evidence of trees sharing nutrients and water through a huge underground system of connections. 

“It’s this giant network of people that have worked and supported it,” she said. “We’re all just part of that life web. Our lifestyles put us at such a disadvantage to feeling that connection (to nature). So, being outdoors, to me, is the best way for children to develop that connection and appreciation.”