Lorie Reins Schweer:
Supporting Vesterheim’s Community-Focused Mission Through Planned Giving
If you ask former Vesterheim trustee Lorie Reins Schweer what brought her to Vesterheim, she’ll tell you it was the sense of community that she found when she introduced herself to the organization as a novice woodcarver nearly 20 years ago.
Lorie became interested in woodworking from watching her father, but he never taught her the craft. Lorie explained this was because she was the first person in her family to go to college, and her father thought her fingers were too important for woodworking. After he passed away, Lorie inherited his tools and she wanted to learn to use them. She searched for a woodcarving instructor and finally found Phillip Odden and Else Bigton of Norsk Wood Works in Barronett, Wisconsin. One day, Phillip encouraged her to do something nice for Vesterheim. Lorie called Vesterheim and asked if there was anything nice she could do for the organization. She was a practicing attorney at the time and had a background in banking, so she began her involvement by serving on Vesterheim’s finance committee, which eventually led to serving a full term of nine years on Vesterheim’s board of trustees.
As Lorie began lending her professional skills to Vesterheim, she also became deeply involved with Vesterheim Folk Art School. Lorie shared, “I’m drawn to the folk arts because of the connections with people and the community they build. I think developing skills with your hands is life-enriching, and those skills allow you to develop in a multi-dimensional way, rather than a unilateral way.” Touching on Vesterheim’s people and community-focused mission that she has come to feel so strongly about, Lorie continued by saying, “When there are stories of the people who owned them, made them, or immigrated with them, objects become people focused. The Folk Art School brings the objects in Vesterheim’s collection to life through new skills and connections.”
Vesterheim’s recent work to reframe the organization’s mission and vision to become more intently focused on people and community is what Lorie is most proud of accomplishing during her board service. She shared that while there have been major physical upgrades to Vesterheim’s campus during recent years, the real dramatic change has been in Vesterheim’s staff and their attention to audiences, community, and stories. Lorie said, “I’m proud of the ways the staff has grown and how from a programming and audience standpoint, they’ve become more skillful, professional, and focused.”
This growth in Vesterheim’s staff and their approach to fulfilling the museum’s mission is what inspires Lorie and her husband Keith to pledge a planned gift to Vesterheim. “I want employees to feel empowered and have the confidence and support to continue the impactful work they are doing. Receiving our legacy gift will help them to do just that.” By arranging a planned gift to Vesterheim, Lorie and Keith are part of Vesterheim’s Valhalla Society, which recognizes donors whose planned gifts provide a lasting legacy for the future of the museum.
Though Lorie’s tenure on Vesterheim’s board has come to an end, she looks forward to making regular trips to Decorah to continue the community-building experience she’s found with Vesterheim Folk Art School (when she’s not busy with her work as a professor of legal writing at the University of Iowa College of Law). She is also excited for the opening of Vesterheim Commons, a major milestone in the museum’s history that is coming up in the fall of 2023. Lorie expanded on what the milestone means to her, sharing, “Having a central space where we can gather, host demonstrations from artists in residence, have people from different folk art classes sharing work, and expand our digital outreach – these abilities made possible by the Vesterheim Commons building will all serve to enhance and magnify the community-building and connections that are already taking place!”