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 garnered eight years of fundraising, donor cultivation, corporate outreach, and grant-writing experience to share in service to the Gardens. He leads HandsOn’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.

Rocio Briseno (Secretary): An Oakland native, Rocio has served as a Volunteer Ambassador at the
Gardens at Lake Merritt, assisting volunteers at service events, since 2013. She was formerly involved with Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco where she led volunteers on tree planting service
events. She obtained her B.S. in Geology at San Francisco State University and currently works as a geologist at a geotechnical firm in Walnut Creek.

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.

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.

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.

Sean Bovell: In 2011 Sean started a volunteer club at Laney College, which in turn resulted in the gardens having an additional 25+ volunteers on EarthDay that year. His volunteerism has deep roots from being involved with public service groups throughout high school. Although he has transferred to San Francisco State where he now studies electrical engineering, he is still an ongoing volunteer for the gardens.

Tora Rocha: 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.