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 garnered 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.


Vacant position. Please contact us if you are interested in serving.

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).

Rocio Briseno:

Rocio has served as a Volunteer Ambassador at the Gardens at Lake Merritt, assisting volunteers at service events, since 2013. She interns at the Friends of the Urban Forest, works part time at Twice and studies at SFSU, where she is also an Outreach and Communications Intern for Sustainable Initiatives

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.

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

Tora is currently the Park Supervisor for all of Downtown and Lake Merritt Districts, which includes the Gardens at Lake Merritt. She has been landscaping for the City of Oakland Parks Services Department for 30 years. She is teaching her staff, the park patrons, and volunteers that landscapers are stewards of the ecosystem, not simply outdoor custodians, and that gardening is a blend of science and art. She has rehabilitated two of the City’s public gardens. Tora also started a vibrant master volunteer program “The Dedicated Deadheaders” at the Morcom Rose Garden. In 2009 the it was named one of the top 10 rose gardens in the U.S. by the All-American Rose Society.   Her newest passion is the non-profit she started: The Pollinator Posse of Oakland. The mission for the Posse is “Creating pollinator habitat throughout the Urban Jungle” through outreach and education on the plight of our local pollinators.

Part of that initiative is the garden’s Bee Hotel, which she had designed and built by Oakland city carpenters, and serves as a nesting habitat for local bees and other insects.

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.

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.

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:

A resident 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.