Denise Lopez, the program director at HD SOUTH, Home of the Gilbert Historical Museum, has been named its new president and CEO.
She will be taking over from former president Kayla Kolar, who left for a new position at the end of last year.
“I feel elated,” said Lopez, a wife and a mother of four, a history lover and Gilbert resident since 2010.
Lopez joined the nonprofit in May 2019 and has been its interim head the past two months.
“When I started at HD South, it was a goal of mine to eventually be in this position, I just didn’t anticipate it happening so quickly. The best part is the potential of the organization and our campus and knowing that I will be an integral part in our success,” she said.
Jim DoBrunz, Gilbert Historical Museum board chair and chair of the selection committee, said a national search for the replacement received more than 60 applications and “went very well.”
“At the end of day, we narrowed the candidates down and interviewed a select group of highly qualified individuals,” he said.
Lopez was selected for a variety of reasons – among them, for doing “a fantastic job of running the show,” he said.
“When Kayla submitted her resignation in November, Denise stepped up without hesitation and continued the mission and day-to-day operations of HD South,” DoBrunz noted. Lopez joined HD South in 2019 as a museum assistant and in less than a year, also assumed the duties of programs director.
“You would be hard-pressed to find anyone that is as passionate as Denise is about HD South,” DoBrunz said. “Denise’s love of HD South, coupled her experience, really made her stand out.”
Kolar, who now works at House of Refuge in Mesa – a nonprofit that provides transitional housing and support programs to homeless families – said the board made the right choice.
“Denise has the heart for the organization and will do an amazing job,” Kolar said. “I’m really excited for her.”
Kolar noted that Lopez had been a longtime fan and supporter of the museum-turned-art-center and when an opening came up, she jumped at the opportunity to become programs director.
“She quickly rose to the top of the list of those who applied for that position. We were thrilled to add her to the team,” she said.
During the past two years, Lopez wore many hats: she managed marketing, facility rentals, volunteers and special events. When the program coordinator retired at the beginning of the pandemic, she took over programs as well.
“And it was an easy choice for the board to name her as the interim director when I left at the end of December,” Kolar said, adding:
“Denise is a very hard worker and will give the organization everything she has. She can always be counted on to get the job done. I’m sure HD South will thrive under her leadership.”
Lopez takes the reigns at a crucial moment in HD SOUTH’s future as the Gilbert Historical Museum is poised to be a new hub of Gilbert as an arts and culture center.
A $2-million capital campaign is in progress for renovations of the 100-year-old building, the construction of a new event facility and new infrastructure. This is in addition to being the safekeeper of the town’s historical records.
Asked if there is a learning curve for her, Lopez said, “absolutely.”
“If I already knew the job, that wouldn’t be much fun. Growth comes from learning and I am so thankful I have the opportunity to be at the helm during this exciting time,” she said.
“I am excited to hit the ground running and assist in the final phase of fundraising,” Lopez added. “Kayla left a tremendous legacy at HD South. She accomplished so much during her 15 years as president and, lucky for me, the foundation she laid will be easy to build upon.”
Originally from Colorado, Lopez grew up in New Mexico. After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado, she moved to Phoenix and eventually settled in Chandler.
Lopez worked as a senior marketing analyst for JP Morgan Chase in Tempe before moving to North Carolina, then Pennsylvania and eventually back to Arizona.
Now a resident of Gilbert, Lopez and her husband Anthony have four daughters ranging from 13 to 30 and a menagerie of rescue pets. Two children live at home.
Beyond her career, Lopez enjoys cooking, entertaining, scrapbooking, thrifting and antiquing. She loves to learn about local history and revels in travels throughout the Southwest.
It’s safe to add nonprofits to the list of what she’s interested in.
Lopez was a member of Gilbert Leadership Class XXVIII, and participated in the class project of upgrading and beautification of the Heritage Center, which houses the philanthropic operation, AZCEND.
This year, she was accepted to the Executive Leadership Program at Arizona State University’s Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation. The six-month program culminates in a capstone course and project in October.
The ASU Nonprofit Management Institute selects just 30 applicants to participate in the program each year.
“Being a part of this organization for nearly two years has opened my eyes and expanded my view of a completely different facet of business,” she said. “I love the peer networking nonprofit leadership provides, and the simple fact that it allows me to be a change-making practitioner in the social sector.”
If her plate seems full and life becomes extra stressful, Lopez has her ways of coping.
“I have an amazing group of friends whom I rely on to keep me grounded,” she said. “I also do yoga, which helps me to remember to breathe.”