After 25 years of leading Stratford Ecological Center as its executive director, Jeff Dickinson is ready to relinquish the title. Recently, Dickinson announced he hopes to find his successor by the end of September so that he may direct his focus to other aspects of the business.
Dickinson began working at Stratford on a part-time basis in 1992 while working on his Ph.D. at The Ohio State University. After completing his Ph.D. in 1995, Dickinson was hired as the director at Stratford and has maintained the position ever since. Now, he says it’s time to identify and establish new leadership for the Stratford Ecological Center, which will allow him to put all of his efforts into being the full-time farmer at Stratford.
“It’s the administrative stuff that’s bogging me down,” Dickinson told The Gazette. “We’re getting so big and the fundraising efforts are getting so large that I’m putting not all but half of my time into running the organization. The farm deserves a full-time farmer, and there are things that I want to do yet, including teaching.”
Over his time at the helm, Dickinson said he’s seen considerable growth in the center, saying they were happy to have 3,000 kids at Stratford over the course of the year when he first began. Currently, however, Stratford sees approximately 16,000 kids each year. “It’s been exponential,” Dickinson said of Stratford’s growth.
Among some of the various programs Dickinson wants to create is a Beginning Farmer program for both Stratford and the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, which he said would span both campuses, as well as an agroforestry program at Stratford. Dickinson said he would like to begin identifying his farming successor over the next five years through the Beginning Farmer program, although he added that if he’s “having fun and remaining healthy,” he’ll extend the timeline for stepping down altogether.
In addition to the programs, Dickinson said he hopes to “refresh and codify the present infrastructure for the long haul.”
At 67 years old, Dickinson said it’s time to think about what comes next for him, although he still has plenty left to give to Stratford.
“I want to be here for the transition,” he said. “I have too much invested — 30 years — here to just sort of walk away from it. I want to help with the change … I still have a lot of energy in me, so I want to do the things that are most passionate to me.”
Asked what he has most enjoyed about his years spent leading Stratford, Dickinson pointed to the relationships he’s had with the people he’s worked alongside.
“The people that I work with. It’s an incredible board, an incredible staff, and an incredible team of volunteers,” Dickinson said. “I’ll still get to work with all of them, but it’s just that the attention will be directed more towards the executive director for a lot of things instead of me.”
Dickinson said the community can expect an announcement soon from Stratford that will officially announce the open position, as well as a business manager position, and include the job descriptions, which he said he is currently working on. Dickinson said finding an executive director will include a national search, but he would like to hire locally for the business manager opening.
As for where the job listings can be found, Dickinson said he plans to post them in The Gazette and through the various nonprofits in the community that list available jobs.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.