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Heart Mountain Foundation’s Executive Director Resigns

Naoko Ito holds up her quilt, “Letting Go,” with Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation Executive Director Brian Liesinger during last year's Heart Mountain Pilgrimage.

Naoko Ito holds up her quilt, “Letting Go,” with Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation Executive Director Brian Liesinger during last year’s Heart Mountain Pilgrimage.

POWELL, Wyo. — The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (HMWF) announced Sept. 9 that Executive Director Brian Liesinger will formally step down from his position in mid-November.

Liesinger’s departure comes after more than three and a half years of distinguished service during which he advanced many of the HMWF’s goals and expanded its vision. The decision has been motivated by a family opportunity involving career advancement for his wife. Emelee Volden, formerly of Northwest College, recently accepted a key leadership position with the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse.

During his tenure, Liesinger strengthened operations at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center and assembled an acclaimed and dedicated staff. He oversaw a steady growth in visitation to the National Historic Landmark site, and ushered in more than half a million dollars in grant funding to support new programs, building acquisition and preservation, as well as several high profile special exhibitions.

“I’ve had the great privilege of working for a tremendous board of directors and with a great team of colleagues — all some of the finest people I have ever met,” Liesinger said. “Together we have transformed a site of former injustice into a place of education and community engagement which is fostering a much deeper understanding of the World War II Japanese American incarceration experience. I will always be an enthusiastic teacher of this unique history and a passionate advocate for the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.”

Under Liesinger’s direction, the HMWF has undertaken projects with a local scope, like the “Fabric of Memory” exhibition, as well as programs like the Confinement Site Consortium, which brought together key organizations to create a shared vision of how best to tell the powerful stories of all the World War II Japanese American confinement sites across the country.

Brian Liesinger

Brian Liesinger

Perhaps Liesinger’s most visible legacy has been the return of an original barrack to the Heart Mountain site, an achievement that earned the foundation a Leadership in History Award from the American Association for State and Local History earlier this year.

Liesinger was instrumental in securing the donation of the camp’s extraordinary incarceree-built root cellar through a generous gift from the neighboring Jolovich family. He also wrote grants that will enable the foundation to stabilize the 300-by-34-foot underground structure, with the long-term goal of providing public access.

While Liesinger will leave his post on Nov. 15, he has graciously agreed to serve the board as an active operational consultant until his successor is named.

“Brian has been one of those rare leaders who brought to his work at the foundation both superb organizational skills and a profound personal commitment to our mission. He leaves us with a strong foundation for continued growth and success,” said Shirley Ann Higuchi, chair of the HMWF.

The board will soon launch a search for a new executive director. In the meantime, activity will continue as usual at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, including a new exhibit entitled “The Power of Place,” which explores the evolution of the historic site over the past 20 years.

In early 2017, the center will open a special exhibition of the photography of Heart Mountain incarceree Yoshio Okumoto. The exhibit, funded in part by the Wyoming Arts Council, will compare photographs of daily life at Heart Mountain to those of the famed photographer Ansel Adams taken at Manzanar.

The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center is located between Cody and Powell on Highway 14A. It is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the summer and Wednesday through Saturday in winter. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, free for members and children under 12. For more information, call (307) 754-8000 or visit

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