There is little that happens at Vesterheim without the support of wonderful volunteers who share their skills and enthusiasm throughout the entire year. For the past 18 years, the volunteer program has been expertly guided by Vesterheim Volunteer Coordinator Martha Griesheimer, and it is bittersweet now to wish Martha well as she retires. She will be greatly missed by volunteers, visitors, and staff alike!

Martha came to Vesterheim in 2003, taking over for Doris Barnaal who had held the position for the previous 18 years. Those were big shoes to fill, but she continued Doris’s program while adding her own interests and expertise. Over the years her tasks have included volunteer recruitment, scheduling, and record keeping, plus special training for Vesterheim tour guides. Her efficiency and warm communication skills made her the perfect fit to add event planning to her list of duties, including the large Vesterheim signature events of Syttende Mai, Norwegian Christmas, and Nordic Fest.

During her time at the museum, Martha has been responsible for some important shifts in communication systems. She implemented digital record keeping for volunteer hours, using Volunteer Reporter, a volunteer management database, which improved the consistency of volunteer statistics. She also connected Vesterheim to the national Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), which has brought new volunteers and connected Vesterheim to a wider volunteer community. She says that there is always so much going on at Vesterheim that every day has been different. She’s still learning after almost two decades.

Martha doesn’t describe her work at Vesterheim as a job – it’s been a calling. She says, “There is an art to getting that ideal match for a volunteer – something they want to do and that also helps the organization. Volunteers need to know they are part of a bigger project, that what they do is meaningful, and that they can always say no. It’s important to listen to their interests, and it’s a joy to get that perfect match. That’s what brings them back.”

Martha can’t say enough about how much Vesterheim volunteers bring to the organization. Ask her what she’ll miss about her job and, without hesitation, she’ll say it’s all of the fantastic people she has met. In her experience, people associated with Vesterheim are endlessly interesting and fantastic to work with. They enhance the museum’s possibilities and give life to all of the great ideas. There are many activities at Vesterheim that would never happen without the support of volunteers, including programs for area schoolchildren, special events like Norwegian Christmas, receptions for exhibit openings, guided tours for museum visitors, and so much more. She pointed out the tour guides as a special group of volunteers. Vesterheim could not offer enhanced tours and deep access to the stories of the exhibits and artifacts without these specifically trained and dedicated individuals. Once they sign on, they tend to stay because they enjoy their interactions with the public. She plans to become an official volunteer Vesterheim guide in retirement.

Another special interest that Martha has been able to pursue and support at Vesterheim is her appreciation for traditional Nordic music.

When the Finnish-American duo, Kaivama, contacted Vesterheim in 2011 hoping to present a concert, Martha was unsure whether it would work. She wondered – Can we do this? Will people come? This experience opened a window on the world of contemporary Nordic Roots Music, and sent Martha forward with confidence. Many other concerts and workshops followed, including groups such as Baltic Crossing, Gangspil, JPP, Haugaard and Järvelä, The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, and more. Now the Folk Art School is continuing that program and reaching out to organize online and on-site music opportunities for all ages. Martha was also instrumental in starting the Vesterheim Music Jam, a monthly informal group of musicians sharing Scandinavian tunes and skills. She plans to continue participating in the jams in her retirement.

What’s up next for Martha? She has observed that volunteers are busier and busier these days. They have many opportunities to contribute to their communities. She intends to join their ranks, finding different ways to be of service and contribute to organizations that are meaningful to her, including Vesterheim.

Martha Griesheimer
Photo courtesy Charlie Langton.