Chelsea Gardens Foundation hires director

Richard R. Larkin of Stonington has been hired as the new part-time director of community engagement for Chelsea Gardens Foundation in Norwich. (Courtesy of Richard R. Larkin)
Richard R. Larkin of Stonington has been hired as the new part-time director of community engagement for Chelsea Gardens Foundation in Norwich. (Courtesy of Richard R. Larkin)

Norwich — A 40-year veteran professional fundraiser for an arboretum, museums, aquariums, colleges and cultural arts entities across the country has been hired by the Chelsea Gardens Foundation to raise money, membership and to get the long-planned project off the ground.

Richard R. Larkin of Stonington was hired in January by the Chelsea Gardens Foundation board of directors for the part-time position of director of community engagement. Larkin will work an average of 20 hours per week with an office at the new shared workspace facility Foundry 66 at 66 Franklin St. in downtown Norwich. The foundation, which is private, would not say how much Larkin is being paid.

Chelsea Gardens Foundation Vice President Brandon Hyde said hiring Larkin is an effort to get past recent controversies and move forward with the project to create a botanical garden on an 80-acre parcel in Mohegan Park leased from the city.

The project had moved slowly through environmental studies and planning permits for 20 years without opposition. But the foundation drew fire from neighbors and others in Norwich when the group cleared trees from a six-acre area at the proposed project center in fall of 2015 without funding to begin construction.

A legal challenge in New London Superior Court was dismissed, and a request by the Mohegan Park Improvements and Development Advisory Committee for the City Council to review the foundation's 90-year lease has gone unanswered.

Hyde and Larkin said the foundation will host a series of gardening lectures this spring and hope to arrange bus trips to botanical gardens and similar attractions in the New England-New York area. Larkin will launch a membership drive and hopes to partner with local museums and attractions to possibly offer members discounts.

Larkin also plans to hold a walk through the Chelsea Gardens property at the intersection of Judd and Wilderness roads in Norwich on Connecticut Trails Day, June 3.

Larkin last worked for a fundraising, membership and capital campaign drive for the Los Angeles Arboretum from 2011 to 2014. Prior to that, he was director of development for three YMCAs in the Pasadena area, and earlier worked as vice president of development for the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif.

Larkin said he and his wife, Laurie, wanted to retire on the East Coast, where they had maintained an Elm Street home in Stonington since 1984. The couple drove across the country in November 2015 and became active with the Friends of Stonington Crew to raise money to construct a dock and boathouse at what will be the new Mystic River Boathouse Park.

Larkin said his experience in Los Angeles gave him an appreciation for botanical gardens and the constant care required for a “living constituency” such as gardens and aquariums.

Larkin graduated from Yale University in 1977 as an aspiring poet with a bachelor's degree in English. While he did publish poetry, Larkin said he “fell into” a career in fundraising immediately by working for the Yale Alumni Fund from 1977 to '79.

According to his resume, Larkin crossed the country and back again working for institutions including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Mystic Seaport from 1984 to '88, Harvard University Art Museums, several major entities in California and then back east to the Farnsworth Museum and Wyeth Center in Rockland, Maine. He returned to Connecticut for a one-year stint as director of development for the Bruce Museum in Greenwich in 2007-08 before heading back to California.

Hyde said the Chelsea Gardens Foundation made its best progress when the volunteer board had a paid director to work on the project.

The entire master development plan would cost about $80 million, but a proposed first phase with a visitors' center, classrooms, a year-round butterfly pavilion and walking trails would cost about $20 million. Hyde said Thursday the foundation hopes to first build the butterfly pavilion as an income producer.

Larkin plans to hold office hours from about 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday at Foundry 66 and can be reached at the facility's main number, (860) 887-6964, or by email at chelseagardens@gmail.com. A public meet-and-greet is planned for 5:30 p.m. March 30 at Courtyard Marriott Hotel, 181 W. Town St., Norwich.

c.bessette@theday.com

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