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The Board of Directors of Friends of the Verde River is composed of people who are passionate about our vision of a healthy, flowing Verde River system that supports our unique environment, vibrant economies, and quality of life for now and into the future.

  • Jeni O’Callaghan President

    Jeni O’Callaghan is a third generation artist: “for me, art has always been just there, like breathing.” Her art reflects much of the southwest desert she grew up in and still lives in today. Jeni has been coming to the Verde Valley since her grandfather bought Rancho Tres Brisas on the Verde River in 1963. Read more.

  • Jennifer Diffley Vice-President

    Jennifer Diffley is a junior partner in Culp & Kelly, LLP, where she practices in the areas of water and natural resources law, providing support to a variety of non-profit, government, and investment clients on environmental issues and water policy. Read more.

  • Tony Gioia Secretary

    Tony Gioia, a retired U. S. Postal Service worker and business owner, has also served on the Town Council and as Mayor for the Town of Camp Verde. Read more.

  • Jeanne Swarthout
    Jeanne Swarthout Tresurer

    Jeanne Swarthout, Ph.D. (Arizona State University, Anthropology) currently resides In  Camp Verde. Jeanne has a professional career divided between field archaeology and higher  education administration/teaching. Most recently she held various administrative positions  

    at Northland Pioneer College, a community college based in Navajo County AZ. She spent more than 20 years at NPC, the last 11 plus years as president. She retired from the college  as president but returned as Interim President in 2021-2022. Jeanne also served as Peer  Reviewer for the Higher Learning Commission, representing the Commission on regional  accreditation visits and reports for colleges and universities in seventeen states.  Additionally, she has served on numerous non-profit boards, most commonly as Board Chair.  She served as Board Chair for Arizona Women in Higher Education and Friends of the  Petrified Forest during the formative years of those organizations.



  • Brent Bitz

    Brent Bitz is a retired businessman whose career involved him in large scale commercial real estate projects throughout North America. Since moving to Sedona with his wife Dion in 2006, he has been an active member of the community. Read more.

  • Richard Lynch
    Richard Lynch

    Dick Lynch grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. He worked in a family trucking, warehousing, moving and barge operations over the course of many years. He graduated from Missouri Military Academy in 1975 and attended Rockhurst College Business school 1976-79. He has lived in Colorado (where he worked in the ski industry), the Alaskan  wilderness (where he served in the U.S. Army Airborne Infantry, worked in truck driving, and worked as a fishing deck hand), and moved to Sedona following a year-long bicycling trip and decided to stay to become a river guide. Dick has worked as a commercial river guide on many rivers across the western U.S. and has guided a variety of other activities in the Verde Valley, including for Pink Jeep Tours and Spirit Trails Expeditions and his own wine tours. In 2007, Dick established Sedona Adventure Tours (renamed in 2014 to Verde Adventures), the first company to operate and commercial guide anywhere on the Verde River. Dick has extensive experience on and guiding others along the Verde River and surrounding areas. 

  • Harry Sweet
    Harry Sweet

    Harry Sweet is the Board Director of Friends of the Verde River, and he is part of the advisory committee for the Business Conservation Partners program. Harry works in the wine industry and is also a river boating enthusiast.

  • Dean Pefanis
    Dean Pefanis

    Dean Pefanis joined the FVR Development Committee in January of 2022. Dean and  his wife Tammy moved to Arizona in 1995. The family lived in Chandler while Dean pursued  his IT career; Dean worked with Charles Schwab, then for an IT Consulting company JJ  Croney & Associates, then in 1999 he went off on his own and started Pefanis Computer &  Network Services. In 2010 the family moved to Scottsdale, where Dean started working for  Wells Fargo Bank in Information Technology as an Infrastructure Architect. Dean retired in  March of 2020. Dean has a strong history of volunteer activities and board service. Among a  long list of other volunteer activities, Dean served on the Board of the Chandler YMCA and  was a member of the Chandler Horizon Rotary Club, where he served as President in in  2005. In 2016, he was invited to be on the board of the Verde Valley Wine Consortium, where he was involved with marketing and events until June of 2021. 

  • Blythe Newell Stevenson
    Blythe Newell Stevenson

    Blythe Newell has lived in the central Phoenix area for just under 9 years. She has been  working in the nonprofit accounting field for 7 years; providing general accounting for mid to  large sized organizations. She has experience with capital campaigns, accounting best  practices, internal controls, audit and review, as well as nonprofit 990 filings. While Blythe  hopes her skill set may be of use, she also is particularly excited about the opportunity  because she feels the organization’s mission and values are directly in line with her own  personal values and interests. In her free time, Blythe spends as much time outdoors as  possible. And while she hasn’t spent time on the Verde river, she has spent a lot of time on  the Salt River and is quite familiar with the Verde and Salt confluence. She understands the  importance of a healthy river system and has a deep appreciation for the wildlife and  ecosystems they support. She is very much looking forward to exploring the Verde River!

  • Kim Knotter
    Kim Knotter

    Kim Knotter has worked for more than 30 years in the nonprofit sector in fundraising, operational management and capital fundraising in the Phoenix metro area. Kim currently is under contract with Rio Salado Foundation and Arizona State Park Foundation and has worked for the following organizations: Hospice of the Valley, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society, Planned Parenthood of Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum and Ballet Arizona. Read more.

  • Linda Stitzer
    Linda Stitzer

    Linda Stitzer is a long-time Arizonan and retired water resource planner who authored several studies assessing water demand and opportunities for water conservation and reuse in the Verde Valley to reduce groundwater pumping impacts to the Verde River. She is especially interested in the potential to “build-in” water use efficiency through land use planning. Read more.

  • Dimas V. Bejarano
    Dimas V. Bejarano

    As a young man growing up on a family farm and ranch in my native Arizona, I unknowingly became an advocate for the protection of our global resources and our shared humanity. Our Family share many memories experienced during our time on the Land, eight generations. Shared experiences of our Grandfather and Father building and rebuilding diversion dams on the Gila River and maintaining water wells for irrigation of crops which provided sustenance for the family and domestic animals. Read more.

Solute to Our Founders

The founding members of the Board of Directors comprised a hardy group of people dedicated to river conservation: Steven “Max” Castillo, Peggy Chaikin, Marsha Foutz, Tony Gioia, Diane Joens, Jane Moore, Delbert “Chip” Norton, Bob Rothrock. Others who have served in the past on the Board of Directors include Denise Lerette, Kim Schonek, Siera Russell, Susan Culp, and Shelley DiGiacomo.

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