Vero Beach, Florida – December 18, 2023: Following a comprehensive, five-month, nationwide search, McKee Botanical Garden is pleased to announce the appointment of Rochelle Ibañez-Wolberg as the new Executive Director. This position became available with the retirement of McKee’s longstanding Executive Director, Christine Hobart. Peter Benedict II, President of McKee’s Board of Directors, officially announced on December 18. Ms. Ibañez-Wolberg is set to assume her new responsibilities on January 16, 2024.

Well-regarded for her leadership in the realm of horticulture, Ms. Ibañez-Wolberg comes to McKee Botanical Garden from Mounts Botanical Garden, Palm Beach County’s oldest and largest public garden, where she served as the Curator and Director since 2017. In this role, she spearheaded strategic direction, and operational oversight for the 20-acre public botanical garden, and managed programming, community outreach, visitor experience, data collection, and plant displays.

Mr. Benedict, in coordination with search firm DovetailED, led the efforts of McKee’s Search Committee to identify a uniquely qualified candidate. Peter expressed, “Rochelle’s qualifications align seamlessly with McKee’s mission, and her vision for McKee’s development over the next 25 years ensures McKee Botanical Garden will remain the historic, community treasure that it has become since it was reclaimed, restored, and reopened in 2001.”

Addressing the pivotal task of continuing McKee’s historic development, Ms. Ibañez-Wolberg said, “McKee Botanical Garden is at an exciting inflection point in its legacy and evolution as an institution. The opportunity to strategize and plan for the existing garden spaces, architectural treasures, and outstanding collections of waterlilies and orchids does not occur often and is not to be taken lightly.  The Garden’s mission ‘to nurture and enhance a historic garden in a unique tropical setting’ tells an inspiring story of Florida horticulture and exemplifies the importance and unique beauty of the regional ecology.”

Ms. Ibañez-Wolberg’s early experiences on a hundred-acre coconut tree farm and her mother’s flower garden profoundly influenced her affinity for nature and gardens, ultimately inspiring her to pursue leadership in a public garden. Her journey began through education when, as the Palm Beach Day Academy Lower Campus School Psychologist, she was approached by Mounts Botanical Garden to become the Director of Programs and Volunteers, focusing particularly on building the Garden’s youth programs. Her success in this role led to her promotion to the position of Curator and Director three years later. Ms. Ibañez-Wolberg’s strategic vision, infectious energy and gracious self-confidence, contributed to the growth of Mounts Botanical Garden into an award-winning institution with national recognition and abundant resources for its various programs.

Ms. Ibañez-Wolberg will collaborate closely with McKee Botanical Garden’s Board of Directors in shaping her strategies for enhancing McKee’s organizational strengths, including staff development, increased botanical focus, enriched visitor experience, strategic local and national relationships, and financial and managerial stability. She joins McKee at an advanced stage in the development of the 25th Anniversary celebration, scheduled to commence in November 2026, connecting McKee’s venerable history with its original founders, the community that saved it, and the community that continues to ensure its future.

McKee Botanical Garden is a Florida Heritage Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Established in 1922 by early developers and conservationists Arthur McKee and Waldo Sexton, McKee operated as an internationally renowned 80-acre roadside attraction from 1932 until its closure in 1976.  Protected by a stipulation in the sales’ contract with the developer, the 20-acres that remain of the historic garden were valiantly preserved by an undaunted community.

Reclaimed, restored, and reopened to the public in 2001, McKee Botanical Garden now features 10,000 tropical plants, internationally renowned annual exhibits, the Children’s Garden, the Garden Café, and year-round educational programs for adults and children.  Supported by 7,800 members, hundreds of volunteers, and enjoying record-breaking visitor attendance year after year, McKee remains a testament to the resilience and dedication of the community it serves.

Press Release from FM