Debra Peckumn started her new role with the Greater Des Moines Botanical Center just after the facility reopened its doors in September after completing the first phase of its $11.6 million renovation plan. Now, Peckumn - the first development director for the Botanical Garden - is looking ahead to phase two of the facility’s capital campaign. Peckumn has had a diverse career. She worked as a radiologist in La Crosse, Wis., and Des Moines before getting a degree in interior design. Her path then led her to an architectural firm before her passion for music earned her the position of executive director of the Civic Music Association. Peckumn spent the past eight years working for the Mercy Medical Center Foundation, helping the organization complete a $10 million campaign to renovate the hospital’s pediatric unit. 

Describe your role with the Botanical Garden. 

As the Botanical Garden’s first development director, I will oversee membership and annual fund development initiatives in addition to the capital campaign. There is so much passion and community synergy for this project that $12 million in support was raised prior to my employment through the brilliant leadership and efforts of some of Des Moines’ community giants. The phrase has been coined that they are the “leadership dream team,” and after several weeks in this new role, I must concur. 

What made you decide to take this job? 

Des Moines is such an incredibly different community than it was when I first moved here. The vibrancy and energy it exudes are possible because this is a community where people care. They step up and own making projects like the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden a reality. I’ve been blessed to be a part of projects that put Des Moines on national lists. So, when I was asked to consider the opportunity to join the team at the Botanical Garden - a project that is going to continue to elevate Greater Des Moines not only to Central Iowa, but to the region - it felt like the perfect segue in my career. 

What will your immediate focus be in this position? 

The $6.2 million We Are a Garden Now campaign marks the second phase of fundraising, and that is our primary development focus. The campaign will raise money for the development of two additional gardens and expansion of the Botanical Garden’s curation and educational activities. Concurrently, we are under construction with the funding secured from the first phase of the renovation campaign. 

What new ideas do you hope to bring to the Botanical Garden’s capital campaign?  

The importance of a public garden in Des Moines reaches far beyond what may be obvious. Botanical gardens add unique elements to the quality of life in the city. Add to this the many platforms and opportunities for collaboration with other cultural institutions for education, our proximity to the Principal Riverwalk and our connection to recreational activities, there are multiple touch points that resonate with potential donors. Engaging those touch points and inviting our donors to share in this with us will propel the campaign to a successful result. 

Aside from the campaign, what goals have you set?

We are a young team at the Botanical Garden. A year ago, this organization had three employees. Today we are a team of 17. We are, understandably, experiencing growing pains and are “building the muscle” of what it means to work together effectively and to harness the passion of this talented group of individuals. The Botanical Garden reopened its doors to nearly 2,700 visitors on Sept. 28 after a three-month construction closure. It’s a new beginning, and we are a garden now. Long-term, we aim to be a community resource for public gardens, provide educational opportunities for students of every age, be a collaborative engine for cultural activities, and be the one “must-do” on your activity calendar. 

So far, what does a day in your job look like?  

That, perhaps, is one of the most exciting aspects of this position. No one day looks the same. I have had the privilege of meeting volunteers who have dedicated countless hours to this institution, and I am learning new aspects about friends and acquaintances I have known for years, who are able to share their passion for horticulture with us and help us realize a dream that, today, still exists on a set of construction documents. I am also able to feed my passion for lifelong learning as I step into the world of horticulture.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? 

I enjoy reading and the time spent with friends to share and discuss the books we read. I have been involved in the community with boards and other volunteer positions since I moved here. I’ve volunteered with the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute, Central Presbyterian Church, the Des Moines Art Center and Above and Beyond Cancer. Those experiences have made me feel like a part of the fabric of Des Moines because they touch and impact every aspect of our city’s population. I enjoy hiking, swimming, yoga and occasionally venturing into new territories with paddleboarding and training to trek mountains in the Himalayas.