Written by Beth Rasin | Photos by Michael Butcher
As the fireworks exploded overhead on July 4 this year, Tess Newcome reflected on the conclusion of her first major event as executive director of Great Meadow Foundation in The Plains.
“I came in just a few weeks earlier, on the madness of the biggest event we fully host, and it was a huge eye-opener,” she says. “It was trial under fire. But it turned out okay; the fireworks were amazing, and families had a chance to come together with old-fashioned kids’ games, like sack races, where they could just get to be a kid in this open space.”
She spoke that evening with John Arundel, son of Great Meadow founder Nick Arundel, who told her his family used to throw increasingly large Fourth of July parties at their home. “Dad said when he bought this land that he knew where he could hold a bigger party,” Arundel told her.
“I think he’d be happy to see that we’re still doing it,” Newcome says.
Arundel bought the land that would become Great Meadow in 1982, when it was under threat to become a housing development. A framed print of the plans for that sidelined development hangs on the wall of the Summer House, just outside Newcome’s office.
Looking out the windows of the Summer House, the view of the Bull Run Mountains and open fields reminds Newcome of her native West Virginia. “This is a little bit of coming home for me,” she explains. “It fills my soul. I don’t know how anyone could not love this space.”
After earning a degree in psychology and business administration from West Virginia University, Newcome was recruited to work at an accounting firm in Bethesda, Maryland. She later worked for B.F. Saul, who she just recently learned was one of Great Meadow’s founding members. “It’s interesting how circles overlap, and you don’t realize it until later in life,” Newcome notes.
To her new role, Newcome brings a background in finance, auditing, and accounting. She has also volunteered for several nonprofits, including as president of the board of the Adult Care Center of the Northern Shenandoah Valley, which offers a place for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s to go during the day, and the Frederick County and Winchester Public Schools’ Special Education Advisory Committee.
“I’ve always wanted to be a useful part of the community and give back, and now I can do that for conservation and equestrian sport,” she says. “It’s truly heart driven, and I highly respect Nick’s vision of knowing what can happen to a space.”
As executive director, Newcome plans to offer more variety on the calendar, with both new events and the return of some old favorites.
“I’d love to build out more community events, get families here and participating,” she explains. “Ideas are flowing. We have a think board, and anyone can walk in and make a suggestion. Great Meadow should be a service to the community.”
She encourages locals to volunteer, too. “It takes a lot to maintain over 300 acres. Of course we have staff, but I want others invested in it to keep it this way and pass it on.”
Although Great Meadow is a private foundation, she says its doors are open. “You can come take a walk, learn about Great Meadow, and we want to bring back the dog walking program,” she expands. “It’s not a public space technically, but we love to have people as part of the space.”
In addition to Newcome, Great Meadow has a new director of operations, Kim Finnelle, and new marketing coordinator, Madi Hunter.
“So many people want this to succeed; we just need to bring it back,” Newcome shares, referring to a period of stalling during the pandemic. “COVID was hard for a lot of nonprofits. We’re running a business where our job is to be with a lot of people, shoulder to shoulder, and COVID had a real impact on that. The board of directors allowed time to pass with the intent to build out a strong team to take Great Meadow into the future.”
As part of her new role, she’s taking the time to learn the layout, who’s using it, and who might like to, and ensuring those uses align with the organization’s mission and Nick Arundel’s vision. “That’s going to take time and work with the board and the community and collaboration with other nonprofits,” Newcome explains. “It’s an exciting time for those who have visited Great Meadow. They love Great Meadow and will tell you their story of how they came to know it, whether by volunteering, or that their parents were friends of Nick’s. It’s nice to hear that. We want people to feel a part of Great Meadow, that they don’t just come to visit it.”
She shares a story of two volunteers who became engaged on-site decades ago, with the proposal taking place in the steward’s stand as the sun was rising. “And then someone came in more recently and asked if he could propose to his girlfriend. She said, ‘Yes!’ We were able to capture a picture of them and will always be a part of their story,” Newcome beams. “Those love stories are 35 years apart, but it’s heartwarming that couples still want to use this space to ask someone to marry them.”
She wants to ensure Great Meadow is always a part of the community, including working with local sports teams or involving schools to teach children about conservation and preservation.
“I’ve been very excited since day one.” She continues, “You look at this space and just feel inspired, and the whole team feels that way. I’m excited about what 2024 and the years to come [will] hold.” ML
Published in the November 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.