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The amazing Carolyn Altman retiring as Botanic Garden Director

After 16 wonderful years as Director of the Botanic Garden at GSU, Carolyn Altman is retiring. Here, she shares memories and successes from her tenure at the garden as she has watched the plants -- and our community -- grow.
Friends and colleagues gathered under the Heritage Pavilion to celebrate Carolyn and her impact on the Garden

After 16 years as Director of the Botanic Garden at GSU, Carolyn Altman is retiring. Carolyn’s colorful background includes an undergraduate degree in Biology, and experience as a dancer, choreographer, writer, and artist. An avid outdoorsperson, Carolyn loves to be in nature and loves to see how community and things grow together -- “whether that's plants or people," she says. She enjoys walking in the serenity of the garden trails and is also a cycler —traveling to all parts of the country to bike.

If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting Carolyn, you know her love of nature, community and the Botanic Garden radiates through her. She said the Garden became very important to her because she wanted to provide a space for people who had nowhere to experience being in nature. It was her motivation to build a beautiful space working alongside her coworkers and students. 

A group of elementary school children follow Garden Director Carolyn Altman (left) to the Oak Grove School in 2012 | Jean Dixon

According to Bob Randolph, Assistant Garden Director, Carolyn has impacted every aspect of their operation.

“She arrived as our Educator with amazing energy and a talent for connecting with the kids who came to learn about plants and nature," Randolph said. "She inspired our educational programs with her passion for nature and insights about experiential learning.”

Originally from Oregon, Carolyn moved to Georgia around 2006 and began her career in the Garden as the Education Coordinator. During her work in that position, she oversaw teacher training to help teachers utilize hands-on experience in the Garden. Thousands of children were educated about the coastal plain science and history of the Garden and region.

Altman leads school children in an ecology game at the Garden | Jean Dixon

According to Carolyn, “With the addition of the exceptional Botanic Garden Education team, these programs have evolved and continue to serve thousands each year, most notably through Project Eaglet, which brings every Bulloch County first through fifth grader to Georgia Southern's outreach units, where they experience some of the best Georgia Southern has to offer and can imagine futures as Georgia Southern students.” 

In 2008, Carolyn became director of the Garden. During her tenure as director, she oversaw construction of The Heritage Pavilion and courtyards, expansion of the native gardens, the addition of the Grow Zone and orchard, and installation of an urban forest, renovation of of the Bland Cottage and Kennedy Outdoor Classroom, and the addition of the Oak Grove One Room Schoolhouse.

Breaking ground on the Heritage Pavilion in 2008; Altman is third from left

Carolyn was also one of the founders of the Main Street Farmers Market, which began in the Botanic Garden's field. She brought public festivals and concerts to the Garden, planted trees throughout the area, and celebrated the Garden and Bulloch County on numerous boards and commissions.

Carolyn's baby, so to speak, is the permeable parking lot installed several years ago, which allows rainwater to percolate down through the gravel to help reduce flooding, erosion, and run off.

Showing off her other love -- dance -- with Georgia Southern sophomore Adrian Green at a Spring Festival & Plant Sale | Jean Dixon

“The parking lot was thrilling to be able to build, with the help of Bob Randolph, assistant director, and the President of GSU at the time, along with the help of grants,” she said. The parking lot has required zero repairs since its installation.

As Director of the Garden, Carolyn has used her skills as a writer to gain necessary grants, which the Garden relies on, along with donations from Garden members. Carolyn says all this would not be possible without generous donations from members. 

A radiant Altman visits with a patron at one of the Garden's Plant Sales | Jean Dixon

“It’s been a great privilege to work with such great people in this community who care about our Garden," she said.

She said she has always been an artist, as well. “[The Garden has] been a fabulous place to make art," she recalled. "It’s the been the perfect job for me. I got to do all the parts of me, and I have fabulous colleagues and a community to make this place what it is.”

Her co-workers would undoubtedly concur.

Altman riding in the Golden Gran Fondo bike race in Golden, CO in 2016

“Her influence and creative eye has left a mark on all aspects of the Garden from the plants to the layout to the events and programs offered to the public," Randolph said. "There will never be another Carolyn for the Garden, but we do intend to find a replacement that can use her many contributions to move the Garden to an even more prominent role in the region.”

Altman, far right, leading a garden idea tour in the spring of 2022 |. Shari Barr

Carolyn plans to continue cycling, traveling, and visiting family in her retirement. She says it has been lots of fun and lots of work. "What a thing to have as your life!” she said. “I feel so fortunate to know that I had the good fortune to be able to put trees and plants in the ground and to be part of making such a beautiful space. The Botanic Garden is very important to me; it’ a magical place, and I want it to maintain that magic.”   

A farewell celebration was held August 10th under the Heritage Pavilion at the Botanic Garden to wish Carolyn well on her new journey in life. Her last day at the Garden will be August 30, 2023.

Altman visits with friends and colleagues at her retirement party earlier this month | Aaron Cohen

For a virtual tour of the garden, click here.