SFOS Board Member Bios

Jeff Harris, MD, PhD


San Francisco Orchid Society

Jeffrey Mark Harris, MD, PhD is a board-certified clinical immunologist who was on faculty at UCSF’s Division of Immunology, Rheumatology, Allergy and HIV in the Department of Pediatrics and a scientist at the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology where his clinical and research interests included assessment of human thymic function, HIV vaccine development and the diagnosis and treatment of immunodeficiency disorders. For the past 15+ years has worked in biotech most recently at Denali Therapeutics. He has been involved in new drug development for asthma and other respiratory and immune-based disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis.

Jeff’s interest in orchids arose over 20 years ago from friends who were already orchid fanatics, who gave him plants as gifts, as well as invited him to travel with them on orchid/hiking tours to various places including Costa Rica, Ecuador and Borneo. As his own collection of plants grew, he was compelled to set up a warm-intermediate greenhouse in his backyard where he could more successfully grow and bloom a variety of orchids – especially Vandas and Bulbophyllum. He also has a small outdoor cool-growing area under his back deck for Masdevallias and Draculas.

Jeff has been a member in AOS and SFOS since 2009, served as SFOS treasurer from 2012-2014, as SFOS Vice President and newsletter editor in 2017-2018, and currently serves as the SFOS President. Jeff hopes to see SFOS modernize, re-invigorate and grow it’s membership with an ongoing appreciation for the elegance and beauty of orchids and efforts aimed at conserving them and their natural habitats.

Erik Sayle

Vice President

San Francisco Orchid Society

Erik Sayle has been a member of SFOS for about 15 years. He is currently SFOS Vice President, after serving as secretary in 2017 – which was a return to the position he held for two years when he first joined SFOS. His interest in orchids has “grown” over the years and he now maintains hundreds of (mostly) species outdoors in his yard in San Francisco as well hundreds more in a 16′ x 16′ greenhouse at his family’s place in San Mateo, close to the Bay. He has been renting additional space from Dan Newman’s Hanging Gardens in Pacifica for the past 15 years. Erik is particularly interested in cool and intermediate outdoor orchids such as Himalayan Dendrobiums, Coelogynes and Pleurothallids. He likes warm-growing orchids like Bulbophyllums, though doesn’t have much space for them indoors!

Erik considers himself a naturalist and also has a degree in molecular biology. He has worked as a consultant in a variety of areas including biotechnology, computers, recruiting, nanotechnology, agtech and business.

Erik’s interests include all aspects of nature. Alongside his partner Josie, he enjoys scuba diving in the Philippines and other warm water locations, where he hopes to travel further in search of orchids. Other hobbies include cutting-edge science and futurist studies, catch-and-release fly fishing, mountain biking and martial arts. He is extremely concerned about climate change and frequently sounds the alarm on social media, or at almost any opportunity, about this imminent catastrophe that is destroying the nature we all love so much.

Faye Rabino

Treasurer (CFO) / Show Co-chair

San Francisco Orchid Society

Having lived in a country where farming is the main livelihood, plants were always a part of my life growing up. Our house was surrounded with fruit trees, veggies and flowering ornamentals.  I always admired the white flowered orchid which we in the Philippines generically call a Butterfly Orchid (as the flower looks like a butterfly). My love of orchids got deeper when I was in college. My late brother brought home one day different wild native orchids, species from the mountains where he was working at that time. He collected each kind and brought home around 10 of them. We tried to mimic the slow running water through the roots by placing a used dextrose bottle and tiny hose. We cleaned the used bottle and filled it up with water and suspended it on the tree above the orchids so the water will slowly drip through the branches of the tree where the orchids were tied and the roots get continuously wet.  They did survive for a while and I was loving their unique forms, leaves & roots, but there was nobody left at home when everyone went to school and work.  They eventually died as the lowland is warm and even with the humid the air, they easily got dried out. Around 1984 while I was rearing my first born, I began to collect orchids again.

I had many Vandas and Cattleyas, and some Phaleanopsis and Dendrobium species, but I can’t remember the names.  All were tied around dried tree trunks – about 30 of them with 3 or 4 orchids in each.  I was fascinated by the healthy roots every watering time. The root tips are really glossy green when actively growing, and the waxy leaves are beautiful too. The flowers for me were just a huge bonus then and to show off.  Now I have learned that the flower also  serves as one of the the best ways to identify what they really are – whether genus, family, or species.

I left all of those healthy orchids when I moved to San Francisco in 1995, but as soon as I settled in, I bought my first set of orchids here again – a set of 4 Phals and a “bellina” is one of them. I was able to rebloom the bellina twice until its roots were all eaten by slugs and eventually died. I learned to identify some of the orchids by going to orchid shows and attending the orchid classes and demonstrations during these shows and meetings.  I haven’t stopped acquiring orchids since and to date I have close to 300 orchids. Cold growers are kept outside in the backyard, and tropical warm loving orchids are growing inside.

I love all of them, though the orchids that I really like best are Paphs, Phrags, Masdas and Draculas. I am wishing for a Cypripedium soon too; their flowers for me are so unique and I am amazed by them all the time.  I have a small greenhouse for my orchids and hoping to put all of them all together soon.  I’d  love to have more plants, but space is getting overcrowded already.

Volunteering at every orchid event is another way for me to enjoy their beauty and to learn even more about them, and the SFOS monthly meetings are also really educational for orchid lovers like me to learn even more.

Jeremiah Chua


San Francisco Orchid Society

Jeremiah Chua is a content marketer and social media specialist for GetFeedback, a Salesforce partner that creates beautifully branded surveys. As a content marketer, Jeremiah creates blog posts and and uses resource articles to inspire people and generate interest in software products. As a social media specialist, he actively engages with a client’s online community through conversation and “think pieces.”

Jeremiah studied Marine Biology for a period in college in pursuit of making an impact on protecting the earth’s environments. However, he pursued a Marketing degree to be better able to communicate to the masses about the importance of environmental protection.There is sufficient evidence as to why the environment needs to be protected, but what drives Jeremiah is how to best relay this to the general public.

As a child, Jeremiah has always been fascinated by nature. His youth was mostly spent in his parents’ backyard catching critters and tending plants.

His love for nature persisted throughout his life, with plants being the main focus.

As a San Franciscan urban horticulturist, he tends to mostly miniature orchids and bromeliads, specializing in Neofinetia (Vanda) falcata, small Dendrobiums, Asian Cymbidiums and Tillandsias. However, he is always expanding his indoor garden – so no plant is off-limits to his interests.

As a member of the SFOS, Jeremiah hopes to bring in a more diverse group of people who can better share and inspire each other with their knowledge in growing orchids.

Dave Hermeyer

Past President

San Francisco Orchid Society

Dave Hermeyer has been retired for 28% of his entire life now, after a long and highly lucrative careers as an undercover CIA agent (don’t tell anyone), exorcist, and astronaut. It was so long ago in the last millenium that now he can’t even imagine how he ever managed to work full time. But that’s a good thing, because shortly after retiring, on one fateful day he bought a $6.99 Phalaenopsis traderjoensis on a whim (Ooh, it’s so pretty…). He took it home, determined to figure out how to keep it alive. And he did, which isn’t too surprising, since he had already been gardening for over 20 years before that, in one form or another. First organic vegetables (he was a Birkenstock-wearing down-to-the-earth granola guy in Eugene Oregon in the ‘80s), then some houseplants, then landscaping ornamentals, then even more ornamentals.

After being lured to San Francisco in ‘91, he and (eventual) hubby Sam bought a Victorian in the Haight with a “garden” of 1,500 square feet of masses of blackberries and weeds, and his eyes glazed over with thoughts of how many vegetables and ornamentals he could grow there. The present estimate is somewhere between 500-1000 species.

But back to that Phal. It thrived, so he figured he’d add oh, maybe one or two more orchids. About that time (this was 2000) he shelled out 15 bucks to see something called the “Pacific Orchid Exposition”, and was promptly gobsmacked by the size and awesomeness of the show. He went home with “one or two orchids”. One thing led to another, and before anyone could warn him, he had joined the SFOS. In 2005 he and Sam built a little greenhouse, where about 200 happy orchids live now. In 2013 he got roped into becoming got elected as a Board Director, and two years later became President, with all its attendant glory and perks.

He’s also been a volunteer at Strybing Arboretum for 1.5 decades, been helping protect baby sea turtles nests for a few years at Cape Hatteras and recently in Costa Rica, coordinating phone bank volunteers at the Hillary SF headquarters in the 2016 election, and fretting about Trump, climate change, and the state of the world in general.

Debra Vails-Qualters, RN, PNP, MSN


Membership Ambassador & Chair

San Francisco Orchid Society

Born and raised in Harlem, Debra Vails-Qualters migrated to California in 1970 to achieve her dream of becoming a registered nurse.  In 1975, Debra graduated from the University of California San Francisco School of Nursing with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Certificate.  In 1984, she returned to the University of California School of Nursing to earn a Master’s Degree in Community Health Nursing Administration.

Following graduation, Ms. Vails-Qualters held numerous clinical and leadership positions. In 1985-86, Debra was an Associate Clinical Instructor in the School of Nursing where she provided off-site instruction to graduate students, focusing on the integration of theory and community health nursing practice. In addition, she worked as a PNP and clinical nurse leader in Bay Area hospitals. After a long stint in the ambulatory care and outpatient arenas, Debra returned to UCSF to earn a Post-Master’s Degree as an Advanced Practice Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in 1997.

During Ms. Vails-Qualters’ long career, she is proud to announce that she was awarded Caregiver of the Year, Alameda County Medical Center, 2003.  In 2006, she was inducted in the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society, Alpha Eta Chapter and from 2004-2008; 2010-2011 Debra served two terms as President of the UCSF School of Nursing Alumni Association. In 1997 through 2003, Ms. Vails-Qualters was promoted from a Clinical Nurse III position to Obstetrical Services Program Administrator at Highland Hospital. She was responsible for marketing and outreach to specifically increase client volume.

Since retiring in 2009, Debra enjoys many hobbies and activities, including bicycling and camping with her husband (of 36 years), growing orchids and making quilts. Most important, she loves being a sports grandmother and taxi for 13 grandchildren (7 in the Bay Area).

Debra’s interest in the SFOS began about 3 years ago while attending and volunteering at the POE at Fort Mason.  From there she caught the orchid bug and loves tending orchids, often referred to now as her “pets.”

Lynne Murrell


San Francisco Orchid Society

Lynne was bitten by the Orchid bug 25 years ago, with the first Phal that miraculously rebloomed on her windowsill.  Today she grows over 800 Orchids in her Bolinas greenhouse, is an active member of 4 Orchid societies, and is in the fourth year of training to become a fully accredited AOS judge.

Christian Neitro

Director / Newsletter Editor

San Francisco Orchid Society

Christian was born and raised in Germany and relocated to San Francisco in 2016. He works as a self-employed Hair Stylist, in which he has over 16 years of experience. To his clients he is not only known as a Master Stylist & Colorist, but also as a plant and specifically orchid doctor. He lives with his husband and his cats in the Castro District.


His passion for Orchids started at a young age when he bought a book on Orchid genera and their growing. In Germany he grew mainly hardy ground and bog orchids and carnivorous plants in large artificial bogs and alpine flowerbeds, that flowered year round.

Christian now has a constantly growing collection of mainly Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilum species, focusing on miniature varieties, which he grows in a special grow room in his apartment. He also grows small Cattleya species and Asian miniatures, mainly Phalaenopsis japonica and Vanda falcata and their hybrids, as well as a few selected Cymbidium and Pleione outdoors in his garden. Although his main focus is on fragrant orchids, he also appreciates and loves green flowers and variegated leaves. To Christian well-grown leaves and the plant’s overall esthetic is as important as the flower. That is why he keeps his plants meticulous at all times.

He takes great interest in optimal plant nutrition and perfecting his potting media, which he either researches in his ever growing orchid library online, or through trial and error.


If you have any questions or concerns about your orchids potting, feeding or cultural needs, be sure to ask.

John McCallen


San Francisco Orchid Society

John McCallen graduated from Stanford University with a degree in biology, focusing on ecology and evolution, in 2009. He currently works at Google conducting design research for music products.

At 8 years old John encountered a pink Phalaenopsis hybrid in the small flower shop in Telluride, Colorado and was immediately captivated.  After reading up on the orchid family, he began a collection that’s moved with him from a Colorado windowsill, to a greenhouse in Washington state, to under LED lights in San Francisco.

John has a passion for Cypripedioideae and has received several American Orchid Society awards for Phragmipedium and Paphiopedilum clones from his collection.

Aside from orchids, John hybridizes Magnolias and keeps a collection of herbaceous, Itoh, and Chinese and Japanese tree peonies.