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 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.
Dick Lynch grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. 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.
Dean Pefanis and his wife Tammy moved to Arizona in 1995 and currently lives in the Verde Valley. 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 in2005. 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 lives in the central Phoenix area. She works in the nonprofit accounting field 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. She understands the importance of a healthy river system and has a deep appreciation for the wildlife and ecosystems they support.
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
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.