Our Staff

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Meet our hard-working staff and learn more about their history with the park and Friends of the Smokies.

Dana Soehn

President & CEO

Dana joined Friends in 2023 after serving as an NPS employee for more than 30 years. She began her career at GSMNP and held several roles at the park. For the last decade, she served on the park’s leadership team as Park Spokesperson. Dana obtained her B.S. from the University of Tennessee and her M.S. from West Virginia University. She lives in Gatlinburg where she and her husband raised their two sons.

Nan Jones

Finance Director & CFO

Nan joined Friends of the Smokies in 2001. She attended Carson-Newman University and Walters State Community College where she studied accounting, computer science, and business management.

Marielle DeJong

Chief Development Officer

Marielle joined Friends of the Smokies in 2016. She earned her B.A. in American Studies from the University of North Carolina. Marielle enjoys trail running, fly fishing, and hiking. She has completed the Smokies 900 Challenge to hike every trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Lauren Gass

Philanthropy Director

Lauren has worked for Friends of the Smokies since 2002. She graduated from Samford University. Lauren enjoys spending time with her husband, Jim, and sons Anderson and Link.

Kathryn Hemphill

Special Events Director

Kathryn first worked for Friends from 2009 to 2013. After spending five years in New York, she returned to Tennessee and rejoined the Friends staff in 2019. She received her B.S. in Public Relations from the University of Tennessee and her M.S. in Childhood Education from Hofstra University. Kathryn and her husband love exploring the Smokies with their two children.

Jim Matheny

Communications Director

Jim joined Friends in 2024. His love for the Smokies grew while covering the national park for WBIR in Knoxville, where his journalism won several Emmys and National Murrow Awards. The Zebulon, N.C., native obtained his B.S. from East Carolina University and his master’s from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Jim and his wife enjoy live music, the outdoors, spoiling their dog, and spending time with loved ones.

Krista Heilmeier

Development Manager

Krista joined Friends in 2018. She earned her B.A. in Piano Performance from Carson Newman University. She and her husband, Frankie, enjoy the outdoors and spending time with their dog, Rudy.

Lindsay Howell

Special Events Manager

Lindsay joined Friends in 2022 with a professional background in events directing, hospitality, and sales management. She moved from Indiana to East Tennessee in 2005 for her love of the mountains. Lindsay and her husband have two daughters. She enjoys watching sports, gardening, and spending time with her family.

Debbie Speelman

Database & Accounting Associate

Debbie joined Friends in 2019. She is originally from Pennsylvania. After vacationing in the Smoky Mountains for years, she and her family made the move to Tennessee. Debbie enjoys camping, hiking, as well as spending time with her husband and their two children.

Olivia Wright

Outreach Coordinator

Olivia joined Friends in 2023. She grew up in Asheville, N.C., and has visited the park throughout her life. She graduated from Appalachian State University with a bachelor’s degree in Sustainable Development and is currently working on her master’s in Public Affairs at Western Carolina University. Olivia has worked at several environmental nonprofits. She enjoys mountain biking, kayaking, rafting, and spending time with her husband and two dogs.

David Aranda

Accounting Manager

David joined Friends in 2024. He earned an MBA and Bachelor of Accounting from Carson-Newman University. He also attended Walters State Community College. David’s background includes corporate accounting as well as experience in home construction with his father. David enjoys searching and exploring deserted places and imagining the grandeur they held prior to abandonment.