Susie Ralston, Board Chair
Business Development Manager, Wolf Star Technologies
As president of the Board, I am deeply committed to the mission of Victory Garden Initiative and bring that passion, plus a proven track record of success in leading organization to reach their goals, growth, and successful impact to the community we serve. My professional background is in urban real estate development, management recruiting and currently Business Development Manager of global software company, Wolf Star Technologies. My non-profit experience ranges from President of the Board at Tamarack Waldorf School to serving as a volunteer at many others such as Redline, The Alma Center, Great Lakes Waldorf Institute, Susan G. Komen, etc.
After raising 3 kids in a holistic way, I am fully committed to the value of growing our own food, creating a healthy community, and the awareness needed for this in Milwaukee.
Elizabeth Barthlama, Treasurer
Senior Financial Analyst, Baird
I live in the Story Hill neighborhood in Milwaukee with husband, Scott, daughter, Lola and two cats, Zenya and Ross. I am a Senior FP&A Analyst at Baird and have been with the firm for 5 years. Outside of work I enjoy traveling, good food, pilates and designing jewelry. I am passionate about the opportunity to serve on the board of VGI because I believe in VGI’s mission to get good food in the hands of our community. I believe everyone should have access to healthy food as it is the foundation of a healthy life…and I just really love kale!
Denise Domian, Secretary
Chief Human Resources Officer, Johnson Financial Group
While I wouldn’t consider myself a gardener, I love food. My husband and I are lucky that we get to buy good, fresh produce from local farms and grocery stores. But, I realize there are many who are not so lucky. I’ve volunteered at food pantries in my past, and while sometimes there is fresh produce, the majority of the basket provided is made up of canned or packaged foods. This is why Victory Garden Initiatives was an organization that I wanted to support and be a part of. Fresh food provides health and nutrition, but it also provides community. Gathering around a meal that is made with fresh food, well, there’s nothing better.
Most recently, I was the Chief Human Resources Officer for SHOPKO, but my husband is a baker in a farm-to-table restaurant and a local bakery. Food is a big part of our lives. We’re pleased to be a part of the VGI family. We believe in growing local and growing community. That’s what VGI is about.
Denise Coley, Board Member
Research Regulatory Specialist
Denise is a Research Regulatory Specialist in the Cardiovascular Clinical Trials department at Advocate Aurora Health Care. Her background is in bench research working in renal failure and neuro-oncology. After receiving her graduate degree in Physiology and Biophysics from the University of Louisville she returned home to Milwaukee. She found joy and admiration while observing her aunts plant and harvest their own food and quickly grew to appreciate fresh food and the importance of having it available for all. Denise is excited to be a part of the Victory Garden Initiative Board. As a lifelong learner she is sure that fulfillment of the initiative’s mission will also pave the way for learning many new things.
In her free time, Denise enjoys painting, watching movies with her husband and traveling with friends to see as many places as this lifetime will allow.
Chelsea Cross, Board Member
When Blacks were formally enslaved, they were only provided meager rations and the discarded parts of animals to eat. We had to create entire meals out of unwanted ingredients. Unfortunately, the consequences of these delicious dishes, also known as “soul food,” have created an epidemic of chronic preventable illnesses. Many Blacks living in Milwaukee are plagued with living in a food desert; there is no Whole Foods or CorePower Yoga for us to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Luckily, my mother educated me on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and diet ever since I was born. I majored in Public Health at Brown University and earned a Master’s in education from Johns Hopkins. I left the classroom to manage a hospital department whilst preparing for medical school. After moving back to Milwaukee, I forwent medical school and switched to politics to do what I can to end the ramifications that reverberate across mostly low-income, minority communities. I am passionate about so many issues and policies in our country that I am now dedicated to restoring democracy.
“Fat, wasted, and distracted. Might be a good night out but it’s not a way to live a life.”
Michelle Dobbs, Board Member
I am the owner of Sugarfoot, a consulting house specializing in Creativity, Community, and Culture. My professional experience spans working as an educator, nonprofit executive, author, and playwright and I have a degree in Communications and French from Howard University.
In pursuit of unearthing my family narrative, I began living the foodways and pathways of my people. I traveled to Senegal, the Gulf of Mexico, The Shawnee National Forest and The Badlands of South Dakota to explore and live my culture that it may be known and preserved. This search gave birth to my first novel, The Rock Island Line: Conversations over Chicken and Dumplings. As well as a play based on the novel, JUST A CONVERSATION OVER CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS, which was produced in the spring of 2019.
In addition to writing and consulting, I am an ardent foodie who raises vegetables, fruit, nuts and herbs at home with my husband, daughters, cats, dog and four chickens. I blog about all of it at thanksamen.wordpress.com/.
Davita Flowers-Shanklin, Board Member
Volunteer Program Manager, Urban Ecology Center
As a Milwaukee native, my love for nature comes from my time spent in Washington Park, the summers spent at camp, and visiting family in the Rocky Mountains. My dreams spanned from swimming with dolphins as a Marine Biologist, trekking into the great savannas of Africa as a big cat Vet, and breathing in lots of old dust as an Egyptologist. I receibed her B.A. from Macalester College and M.S. from the University of Oregon, both degrees in Environmental Studies with concentrations in Biology, Ecological Restoration, and Environmental Justice. As my dreams changed, my need for adventure didn’t. I love to travel, to explore the world around me be it in New Zealand or Jamaica where she studied abroad, or right here in Milwaukee. One thing that is certain, my work has always focused on Nature and Environmental Justice with a connection to water and waterways. I’m excited to part of VGI and connect deeply to the mission. I live with my partner and two cats here in Milwaukee and love going to the movies!
Hannah Harris, Board Member
Owner & Professional Organizer, Hannah Harris LLC
After a 20-year career in nonprofit fundraising, I am using my organizing skills in a new way as a professional organizer. I enjoy helping people simplify their surroundings by organizing their belongings. I make it my goal to help you find new homes for the items you no longer want and appreciate the items you choose to keep. I find it rewarding to empty a drawer, closet, desk or room and put it back together in an organized way. The goal is a simplified, streamlined and calm environment.
I have a particular interest in helping people downsize. I am efficient and nonjudgmental and have a can-do attitude!
Sandra Jones, Board Member
Dr. Sandra E. Jones retired from the faculty of the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2015. She specialized in African American and women’s literature, literary criticism and theory. Jones also taught courses in African American life and history. Born in Milwaukee, Jones has been active in the community in a variety of areas. She served as a commissioner on the Milwaukee Social Development Commission’s Board of Commissioners and on the Advisory Board of Public Allies Milwaukee. She looks forward to joining the Victory Garden Initiative board to fulfill its mission: “to create a community-based, socially just, environmentally sustainable, nutritious food system for all.”
Kathryn E Kamm, Board Member
American Institute of Architects
I am a licensed architect who primarily works with single-family residential remodels but I’ve had an ongoing interest in how cities change over time ever since studying Detroit in graduate school. I enjoy using my skill set to help non-profits fully optimize their limited resources. My husband and I have three daughters and in my spare time I like to run, bike, swim and hike. I’m not much of a gardener, I’d rather cook but really prefer to eat!
Angeline Koch, Board Member
Sustainability Project Specialist, Milwaukee Public School District.
I am a litigation attorney by training but recently graduated from the University of WI-Milwaukee School of Science with a Masters in Freshwater Science and Technology. While a big part of my life centered around the law and sciences, I found that my greatest joys (aside from being with my husband and our two children) are gardening and stewardship of the environment.
I am the garden chair at my children’s Milwaukee Public School and have spent the better part of the last nine years working to remove as much asphalt as possible and replacing it with rain gardens, an orchard, raised beds and a butterfly garden. I also thoroughly enjoy helping others with their gardening efforts and supporting other schools in their pursuit of installing green spaces for the benefit and enrichment of children and the environment. I grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, and nurture native perennials and have a house full of plants. I also enjoy canning, biking, reading, knitting, and weeding (yes, weeding!). I am very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Victory Garden Initiative, whose Mission and Vision are a perfect match for my passions and interests.
Larry Ponder, Board Member
I am a proud Father, Grandfather, and Great Grandfather who has resided in the Harambee neighborhood for over 25 years. This was my childhood home and eventually I purchased my own home here to raise my family.
From the age of 12, my parents groomed me for leadership, working in pre-school training, Christian youth leadership, working at the YMCA as a counselor, and was selected for the state of Wisconsin “Family Nurturing Development Program” which helped me land a job as Assistant Supervisor for the Foster Care Review Board. I have many facets to my professional life that will bring value to my board role/impact on VGI such as serving on the boards of UMOS (HIV) program, the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Prevention of Anal Cancer (PAC), Milwaukee Health Services, Diverse and Resilient, and Milwaukee School of Models.
Gretchen Mead, Director Emeritus
In 2008, Gretchen Mead was among a group of people pushing through opposition in Shorewood over planting crops in front yards and parkways. After winning this struggle, she went on to found Victory Garden Initiative and launched the first Great Milwaukee Victory Garden Blitz, installing 35 raised garden beds in a single weekend. Today, Victory Garden Initiative is a thriving community gathering place thanks to her vision and leadership. We’ve installed thousands of garden beds across the city, run a 1.5 acre urban farm that feeds the Harambee community and serves as an outdoor learning lab for growing your own food, trained 67 community Food Leaders, and has launched a comprehensive Youth Education Program that reaches over 700 local youth each year! Gretchen stepped down as Executive Director in 2019, passing the trowel on to new leadership.