As the one-woman show behind the Nashville Parks Foundation, Louise Bryan’s lifelong love of the great outdoors comes full circle. From expanding and improving our city parks to coordinating the fundraising organization’s upcoming launch event, Louise’s role extends far beyond her job title. She and her husband John also own the Savannah Food Company, which distributes Savannah Classics Hushpuppies and Southern Casseroles to area grocery stores like Kroger. Please say hello to the multi-talented (and incredibly busy) President and Executive Secretary of the Nashville Parks Foundation, Louise C. Bryan!
How did you grow up and what inspired you to get involved with the parks?
I grew up in a large Irish Catholic family in New Orleans, where we all went to the same school, ate dinner together, talked chaotically, and were expected to do daily chores. Summers were spent on the Gulf Coast where enrichment activities included a library card, a set of watercolor paints, a fishing pole and a sailboat. On Saturday nights my dad took us to the roller rink, which had huge windows because there was no air conditioning. It was the best of times. The only expectation was that we would spend time outdoors. This seems like a radical idea compared to today’s summer timetables.
I have been involved in various civic leadership roles over the past 10 years including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Tennessee. Most recently, I served a two-year term as CEO. My journey with health justice reached a point where, despite being a lifelong supporter of LLS, I was willing to move on to other areas.
Several friends knew I was open to opportunities in the nonprofit sector and introduced me to the Nashville Parks Foundation. The move from board leadership to hands-on execution and management was something I always thought could go well with my energy. Given that the past three years have reaffirmed the role of conserved open space in our well-being, the ability to create open space for every resident of Nashville — a 10-minute walk to a park — is a realistic and impactful goal to achieve really inspires me.
Rumor has it that you’re a one-man office with a lot on your plate. What does your role entail?
Like any nonprofit leader, my role includes developing donors and managing the organization’s marketing, budget, and administration. I am very grateful for the support of my board of directors, who are deeply committed to improving public parks, promoting sustainable growth of the park system, and expanding recreational opportunities. For example, in 2015, several board members helped build the organization and gave me quality direction to set me on the road to success. In addition, Jenny Hannon (President, Friends of Warner Parks) and John Tumminello (President, Centennial Park Conservancy) are role models, having both built highly successful 501(c)(3) Friends Groups characterized by lean operational structures and dedicated benefactors . My role also includes advocating for NPF donors who make financial investments in parks while serving the needs of Metro Parks and Recreation. In this regard, I am fortunate to work with young, bright professionals in Finance, Kraft CPAs and Marketing, and Catalyst Collective who help me manage NPF.
The Nashville Parks Foundation is holding its first-ever fundraiser on September 24th. What can we look forward to?
We are excited to launch our first fundraiser, Picnic for the Parks, which will showcase the accomplishments of the Nashville Park Foundation, bring the Fort Negley community together and support Metro Parks and Recreation.
We are proud to spotlight Fort Negley for our first annual picnic for the parks, as the park recently completed the drafting phase of a master plan. This offers a unique opportunity to see Fort Negley behind the scenes and experience spectacular views of the skyline. Guests will enjoy a progressive event that begins with a walk to the top of St. Cloud Hill and ends on the Great Lawn with an open bar, picnic dinner and live music. Also at the event, two artists from Creative Girls Rock will create a painting honoring Cora Gordon, an entrepreneur who ran a successful BBQ business on the stone walls of Fort Negley in the 1930s.
The celebrations are the first of their kind in Nashville and will promote and celebrate sustainability with eco-friendly details, including reusable beverage containers, compostable food boxes, ethically sourced table linens from Turkish-T and decorations made from repurposed materials. The tablecloths will feature a custom design linen celebrating earth and sky and these will be available for purchase after the event. Guests are invited to take vases of wildflowers from each picnic table as the containers were donated to the event.
The ticket price is kept as low as possible to encourage fair access. We have numerous generous sponsors—old Nashville companies HG Hill Realty Co., Blevins Inc., Lipman, and new company Amazon Nashville—whom we thank for supporting the event. These companies responded enthusiastically to our goal of creating a low-cost fundraiser to strengthen our community and ensure our parks grow with our city!
SB note: We are excited to be attending this first annual event on September 24th from 4pm to 7pm. General admission tickets are only $50 and patron tickets are only $75. Please visit and support our Metro Parks! You can find tickets here.
In 2019, Fort Negley was named a “UNESCO Site of Remembrance”. Can you explain the historical significance of this title and what it means for Fort Negley?
Fort Negley is a local park of robust national importance. Krista Castillo, museum coordinator and site director, helps put this in context: “The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) created the memorial’s description in 1994 to help improve the understanding of slavery, promoting slavery sites and travel routes, slave trade and contributions from the descendants of African people. Fort Negley opened in 2021 as part of the Slave Route Project: Resistance, Freedom, Heritage. The project recognizes the forced and voluntary contributions of African Americans before, during, and after the Civil War. The inclusion of Fort Negley reinforces the story that while over 2,700 enslaved people were forced to build the fort, thousands more faced danger and lost their lives fighting to overthrow the slave system and personal liberty.”
Fort Negley is also part of the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, which honors, preserves, and promotes the history of resistance to enslavement during flight and flight. Fort Negley’s official NPS passport stamp is available at the visitor center.
You and your husband also own the Savannah Food Company. Tell us more!
We left corporate America for rural America in 2000 when John took over the day-to-day running of the Savannah Food Company. We’re a leading producer of hushpuppies, the delicious side dish that’s traditionally freshly made and fried. With a background in food science, John reformulated the recipe so the hushpuppies could be baked and were more suitable for home cooking. We worked together on primary packaging and photography to bring a retail product to market in three flavors: Original, Sweetcorn and Jalapeño. Our children have been working at the production facility over the summer holidays and our eldest daughter continues to work as a social media manager alongside her full-time job.
What’s your biggest challenge supporting such a large list of local parks? What is your greatest achievement?
With 178 parks and 27 community centers, it can be difficult to prioritize opportunities. I constantly have to balance the splendor of new riverfront parks with the patina of historic neighborhood parks.
Fortunately, city leaders have consistently prioritized the outdoors in local politics. In 2017, the Metro Board of Parks and Recreation passed plan to play, a master plan for parks and green spaces that influences the acquisition and development of green spaces. Recently, Mayor Cooper reiterated a commitment in his speech on the 59th state of Metro. He noted, “World-class parks and live work-play communities. This is Nashville.” Mayor Cooper also cited “becoming a greener, more sustainable city” as one of his six areas of focus for his administration on behalf of Nashville residents.
For the Nashville Parks Foundation, our greatest achievement has been securing public and private partnerships that acquire and expand parks, improve facilities at existing parks, and advance programming in community centers. Recently we successfully managed the collaboration by building a new pump track at Watkins Park, renovating the tennis courts at Elmington Park and adding a new music studio at the Hartman Community Center.
How do you nourish your mental and physical health when you have so much on your plate?
I’m going out. Most of my meetings are in parks and I hike every weekend.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My parents had a very streamlined philosophy: be good and do good.
Regardless of faith, family and friends, what three things can’t you live without?
The Warner Woods Trail. Parnassus Books Nashville. An upcoming trip on the calendar
Meet more inspiring Nashville women in our FACES archives!