Steven Johnson named Vesterheim’s Executive Director

Decorah, Iowa—The Board of Trustees of Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum has named Steven Johnson, Decorah, Iowa, as Executive Director of its world-class ethnic museum effective November 1. Johnson has been associated with the museum for over 30 years and has served as Interim Executive Director for the past seven months.

“The trustees are extremely impressed with Steve’s performance as Interim Executive Director,” Board Chair Sonja Peterson said, “and we feel that his service to the museum in many capacities over the past 30 years more than qualifies him for the position.”

“We look forward to great progress and stability under Steve’s leadership,” Peterson continued.

Johnson said that he was touched and honored by such trust. “It is a privilege to be asked to lead the institution where I have spent most of my life,” he added.

Johnson’s history with Vesterheim began in 1974, when he became the museum’s Architectural Assistant, after graduating from Luther College as a history major with concentrations in art history, anthropology, and museum studies.

He left Decorah in 1976 to work as Site Manager at the Museum of Medical Progress, State Medical Society of Wisconsin, in Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin, and then as Restoration Supervisor at the Heritage Hill State Park, Wisconsin State Dept. of Natural Resources, in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Johnson returned to Vesterheim in 1979 as the Jacobson Farmstead Curator, with a brief sabbatical to attend Western Kentucky University, where he received his M.A. in folk studies in 1983. During his 30 years at the museum, he also has served as Associate Director of Development, Internal Auditor, Director of Development, and Director of Historic Preservation and Facilities. He was promoted to Deputy Director in 2002, and assumed the interim Executive Director position last March.

Johnson has been active in preserving community history as a member of Nordic Fest, Inc., the Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation, the Winneshiek County Historical Society, Winneshiek County Tourism Council, Winneshiek County Civil War Monument Restoration, and the Winneshiek County Records Study Committee. He most recently became a member of the Decorah Board of Adjustment.

Johnson was given a standard renewable two-year contract and the search to fill the position has been closed.

Founded in 1877, Vesterheim is the oldest and most comprehensive museum in the United States dedicated to a single immigrant group. This national treasure includes a main complex of 16 historic buildings in downtown Decorah, and an immigrant farmstead and prairie church just outside the city. Vesterheim cares for over 24,000 artifacts, among which are some of the most outstanding examples of decorative and folk art to be seen in this country. Vesterheim uses the story of Norwegian Americans to explore aspects of identity and culture common to everyone. Come for our holiday festivals, special group tours, classes, or any time.

For more information on the museum’s exhibits, activities, and membership opportunities, visit Vesterheim’s website at

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