Gretchen Saarnijoki Toles is known for her work as a national leader in the conservancy movement for urban parks. She was one of the founding members of the Friends of the Olmsted Parks in 1978, a not-for-profit organization committed to maintaining the legacy of Buffalo's public park system, which was designed by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux betweem 1868 and 1896. As the organization evolved, it was eventually renamed the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.
Born Gretchen Saarnijoki, she has been married to Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Tom Toles since 1973. The couple have two grown children, Amanda and Seth. From the 1970s through 2002, when Tom Toles left the Buffalo News to accept a position at the Washington Post, Gretchen and Tom were key figures in the Conservancy and on other fronts, achieving acclaim for their mutual work on behalf of the environment, social consicousness, and political activism. They have continued this focus since relocating to Washington, D.C.
Gretchen and Tom Toles are co-recipients of the 2016 Charles E. Burchfield Award, presented by the Burchfield Penney Art Center in recognition of their work on behalf of environmental sustainability and in support of the transformative power of the arts.