provided to The Santiva Chronicle
“Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS) has advanced Associate Executive Director Ann-Marie Wildman to the position of executive director, the board of directors announced last week. Former executive director Birgie Miller-Gresham will step into a new position as senior philanthropic director and continue serving as a mentor to the team. Since Hurricane Ian, she has moved from the island and will continue to work remotely and travel back for events and meetings.
“The Society needs an executive director with ‘boots on the ground’ – on the island full time with her heart fully engaged in the refuge day-to-day,” said Miller-Gresham, who has led DDWS for the past 12-plus years. “While my heart is fully with ‘Ding’ Darling, I recommended to the board they find a new executive director, letting them know we have a perfect candidate on our staff already.”
Wildman first served on the board of directors and volunteered in other capacities for a couple years before, in 2018, she accepted the position of manager for the Refuge Nature Store in the “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center.
Wildman moved to Sanibel some 15 years ago with her husband, the late Don Wildman, also a former DDWS board member. She had previously lived at The Whistler Ski Resort in British Columbia, Canada, where she owned and managed a fine-art gallery for 16 years. Prior to that, she worked in Honolulu for 20 years at a major art gallery, where she represented such celebrity artists as Tony Curtis, Anthony Quinn, and Red Skeleton and used her entrepreneurial skills in marketing, sales, and management.
She brings knowledge and understanding of the non-profit community through her work with DDWS and as a volunteer and board member for other non-profit organization on the islands.
“My work for ‘Ding’ Darling has been fulfilling in so many ways – working with such great staff for the benefit of wildlife and to keep alive the refuge’s art legacy, set in motion by Darling himself,” said Wildman. “I am so honored and excited to build upon Birgie’s groundwork growing ‘Ding’ Darling Wildlife Society from three full-time employees to eight with an internship program. I’m so thankful she will continue on with our philanthropy efforts, where she excels as a true genius at fundraising.”
Under Miller-Gresham’s leadership, the refuge has gained nearly 137 acres of Sanibel land through capital campaigns and partnerships and has seen massive expansion in facilities and programming – ranging from the WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) mobile classroom and Wildlife Education Boardwalk to The Roost outdoor pavilion and America’s Best Restrooms.
“We have complete confidence that Ann-Marie will move DDWS forward as the ‘Ding’ team continues to recover from Hurricane Ian and we fulfill our mission to support the refuge where federal funding falls short,” said DDWS President Wendy Kindig. “We are so happy to have Birgie’s exceptional talent and forward thinking continue to work for the society. Together, Ann-Marie and Birgie have proven to be a formidable team.”
DDWS supports the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island as its not-for-profit arm.
“Our friends group has been invaluable to refuge operations since its conception in 1982, but Birgie truly brought it to its full potential,” said Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland. “We already love Ann-Marie, so we know this will be the smoothest transition possible in the relationship between the refuge and DDWS, which is held in the highest regard throughout the 568-refuge system.”