A new executive director is starting at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center on Nov. 7.

The center’s board of directors announced Dustin Heckman, coordinator of the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums, will take on the role.

Heckman steps in as the current executive director, Hayes Scriven, finishes his 2½-year tenure at the helm on the museum that celebrates the history of military service in the Northland. Scriven’s last day is Nov. 8.

“He’s going to come up here Nov. 7, which is the day of our auction,” Scriven said. “It’s a good baptism by fire on a big event. Then we’re going to spend the 8th going through that process so he sees how the whole auction runs from start to finish. He’s been in the loop on this for about a week now.”

Heckman is a 2007 graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato with a degree in history with a minor in political science.

During his tenure with the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums, which started in 2018, he has grown membership by 305% and increased attendance at its annual spring conference by 93%. Prior to that, he served as the executive director of the Mower County Historical Society in Austin, Minn., and Goodhue County Historical Society in Red Wing, Minn.

“Dustin emerged as a leading candidate because of his impressive background in leading regional history organizations,” said Terry Lundberg, Bong Center board chairman. “We are excited to see how his new ideas and energy will take the center to the next level.”

Heckman said he enjoys being involved with activities that support tourism, history, community engagement and education. He previously served on the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau board of directors and community education advisory councils for public schools in Austin and Red Wing.

“I’m excited and honored to have the opportunity to lead the Bong Center going forward,” Heckman said. “The organization is thriving and has been one that I’ve admired from a distance the last few years. What is so cool to me is having the ability to share Richard Bong’s story as well as the story of our Northland veterans with visitors.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center

Heckman said he married into a military family and had an uncle who served in the Navy when he was younger.

“I’ve always had a great respect for the military and veterans,” Heckman said. “So for me, the opportunity to kind of combine that to my work life also is what kind of attracted me to it.”

In school, Heckman said his focus was colonial and revolutionary America, studying the Revolution.

“I have an appreciation for the service and sacrifice of our veterans and military families, and I look forward to getting to know many more through the Bong,” Heckman said.

Heckman plans to work part time for the Bong Center in November while he finishes some work with the alliance, then plans to move to full time in December, once he moves his wife, Lynn, and their children, Nora, 6, and Garrett, 7 weeks, to the Twin Ports shortly after Thanksgiving.

Scriven said he is still planning to help with the transition and will offer a few hours a week, whether on-site or by phone, when he takes over as site manager for Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore.

Hayes Scriven
Hayes Scriven

“I’m not going anywhere too far away that I can’t talk to him,” said Scriven, who said he's excited to be at Split Rock for its annual lighting Nov. 10 in remembrance of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank Nov. 10, 1975.

Heckman said he is going to take some time to explore opportunities for the Bong Center to grow to the top destination in the area. However, he said there are many great things Scriven has built up that will continue.

“Meeting a lot of the volunteers and the staff at the Bong already, it’s just a great group of people, and I’m excited to be working with all of them, and seeing what we can do to take the institution to another level,” Heckman said.