The Gardens at Lake Merritt

Board of Directors

Board of Directors


Donald Cooper (President): The Friends’ president, Donald Cooper, has called the city of Oakland home for over a dozen years. As Development Director with HandsOn Bay Area, a local nonprofit which encourages volunteerism, he has garnered nearly eight years of fundraising, donor cultivation, corporate outreach, and grant-writing experience to share in service to the Gardens. He leads Hands On’s regular community calendar volunteer project in the Gardens. In 2013, in recognition of his service to the Imperial Council of San Francisco, he was made Baron to The Imperial Family of San Francisco. He is a native of New York’s Long Island, and holds a bachelor degree in Theater Arts from Stony Brook University.

Carole Levenson (Vice President): Carole Levenson has served in various capacities on several non-profit boards through the years. She is currently Treasurer of the Oakland-East Bay Garden Center, Inc., Vice President of the Bellevue Club , Secretary of the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area and Smart Voter Coordinator for the League of Women Voters of Piedmont. She has served is the past as President of the League of Women Voters of Piedmont and Executive Vice President of the League of Women Voters of California.

Janet Nelson (Secretary):  Janet retired after 44 years with the Social Security Administration as claims rep, operations supervisor, Field Office Manager, Training Officer, Facilities Manager, Labor Relations Officer, Regional Teleservice Director, and Human Resources Manager. Served as fund-raising executive for the Bay Area Combined Federal Campaign and charity screening committee for 3 years. Bonsai enthusiast for over 20 years, past president of East Bay Bonsai Society, currently represents the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt on the FGLM board.

Pat Cahill (Treasurer ): An Oakland native, Pat currently resides in  Rockridge. She is long-time treasurer of the East Bay Bonsai Society; and  Treasurer of FGLM May 2014 – present.


Dick Austin: Since retiring from the business world, Dick has become a licensed landscape contractor, won medals at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, certified as an Aesthetic Pruner, served as president of Oakland-East Bay Garden Center, Inc. and was a founder of and president of Friends of the Gardens at Lake Merritt and vice president of Friends of the Japanese Garden (where he raised over $50,000 for improvements in that garden).

Ed Bantilan: Ed serves as President of the Oakland – Fukuoka Sister Cities Association, which curates the Torii Gate Garden within the Gardens at Lake Merritt.

Tricia Christopher: Tricia is a licensed landscape architect with over thirty years of professional experience designing gardens in the Bay Area. She also teaches classes in landscape design at Merritt College in Oakland. Her primary mission is to entice people to experience nature: to observe, to smell, and to feel the beauty and wonderment. She regards the Gardens at Lake Merritt as an invaluable resource for our community, and has been responsible for the redesign of the Sensory Garden and the Mediterranean Garden. She holds an undergraduate degree in Plant Science (University of Delaware) and a Master’s in Landscape Architecture (UC Berkeley).

Carol Laughlin: Formerly of HandsOn Bay Area, where in 2011 she coordinated the Bay Area’s 9/11 1oth Anniversary Commemorative Volunteer Events, Carol is currently Director of Community Engagement with the SF Botanical Garden. She participates in plant propagation. On MLK Day 2014, she served as co-project leader at the Nature Center.  Her background as a professional event planner has proven invaluable in her role as coordinator for the Friends’ 2014 Autumn Lights Festival.

Michael Mahaley: Born in Dayton, Ohio Michael moved to the Bay Area from Chicago in 2005. He works for Visa Inc. in Foster City. After living in San Francisco for 5 years, he moved to Oakland in 2010 and has loved living here since. He has a BA from Ohio State and a MA from the University of Chicago.

Lyle Oehler: Lyle  has lived in Oakland for 32 years. He retired in 2011 after working 32 years as a landscape architect for Caltrans and another 6 years as a project manager for the City of Oakland. While working for the City, Lyle had the privilege of being project manager for several projects around Lake Merritt, including the renovation of Lakeshore Avenue and the Municipal Boathouse / Lakeside Drive and the replacement of the East 18th Street Pier. Lyle also has been a volunteer at the GLM and a member of the Lake Merritt Weed Warriors since 2012.

Tora Rocha: Park Supervisor.

Michelle Singletary: An Oakland resident, Michelle assisted with 2013 Autumn Lights Festival, represented Friends at the 2014 SF Flower and Garden Show, and has been FGLM Board member February 2014 – present.

Jan Smith: Jan has lived in Oakland for 43 years. During all those years she has enjoyed the Gardens at Lake Merritt. She is a member of East Bay Bonsai Society and has served on their board. She is a registered civil engineer.

Susan Veit: Aresident of Oakland for over 40 years, Susan serves as President of the Oakland East Bay Garden Center, Inc. An active supporter of the Gardens at Lake Merritt and an original founder of the Friends, he has been a volunteer at the Sensory Garden for many years and served as Treasurer of the Friends of the Gardens at Lake Merritt 2012-2014.  Susan sold real estate for over 15 years, and is a member of League of Women Voters and liaison with the Hillside Gardeners of Montclair.

The Green Heart of Oakland for Fifty Years

Discover the hidden garden jewel on the shores of Lake Merritt in the city of Oakland. We are a seven-acre collection of themed gardens.

The Gardens are open daily:
9am - 5:30pm
Entry is free!

666 Bellevue Ave, Oakland, California
Read more about the gardens...
View map, directions, and parking info...

Connect with us

Donate Now!

NOTE: You'll be making a secure tax-deductible donation through Square Market to the Friends of the Gardens at Lake Merritt's fiscal agent "Oakland-East Bay Garden Center Inc."