Jack London Park director moving on
Tjiska van Wyk helped create strong new park management system
Tjiska van Wyk stepped into an existential crisis confronted by Jack London’s eponymous state historic park in 2012 when the state – foundering in a major recession – threatened to close it, along with 70 other parks. Seven years later, van Wyk has decided to move on, but not without leaving a strong public-private park management system allied with a Broadway theater group that provides ongoing financial aid and generates oodles of public support for one of Sonoma Valley’s major parks.
“Tjiska will be sorely missed; she has been an inspiration,” said Mike Benziger, chair of the Jack London Park Partners board. “All of us on the board of directors will do everything in our power to fill her footsteps with an able and qualified replacement and make sure that her legacy and her passion live on at this park.”
Jack London State Historic Park was created in 1960 to preserve the legacy and lands of one of America’s most venerated literary icons of the 19th and 20th centuries, Jack London. A progressive landowner at the turn of the last century, London’s property houses the remains of many of his experimental projects in agriculture and animal husbandry, along with a museum and the ruins of a spectacular home that burned before it could be occupied. Jack and his wife, Charmian, are buried nearby.
London’s winery ruins are the stage for Transcendence Theater Company’s (TTC) Broadway Under the Stars, which has performed for thousands of people and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the park, while establishing itself as one of the premier outdoor theater venues in the United States. It features top Broadway and Hollywood performers every weekend during the summer, and has proved to be a huge magnet for new visitors to the park.
“When we took on the mantle of managing this amazing plot of land with the state, we set as our mission to do it in a way that would make Jack London proud,” Benziger continued. “No one I can think of has satisfied that mission better than Tjiska van Wyk.”
Justifiably proud of what she has accomplished, van Wyk still has goals to meet before leaving.
She is working to finalize a five-year contract with the State of California for the partnership to continue operating the park – with an option to extend another five years. While such a major undertaking with a large state agency can take time, she hopes to have the process finished, or nearly so, before her last day, Feb. 28, 2020.
Jack London Park Partners recently signed a letter of intent with the state concerning the new contract that will enable TTC to begin contracting with its stars for next year’s shows.
If van Wyk’s replacement can be found by December, she will have time to train and help that person “hit the ground running.”
“The really good news is that we have an incredible staff,” van Wyk said. “I think the transition will be easier, since it won’t be a brand new organization like I inherited. I hope we find someone to come in with a new contract (with the state) and have the energy to take this public/private model to the next level.”
The board of directors has formed a search committee and posted the job online on Sept. 3, according to van Wyk.
Meanwhile, besides wrapping up the state contract, van Wyk is planning for the park’s big annual fundraising gala on Sept. 21, and working up the 2020 budget.
“This has been a wonderful job,” van Wyk said, “promoting Jack London’s legacy and his dreams.”