Jeff Ward,of Dover, won three awards for his knife and spoon-making in the annual National Norwegian-American Folk Art Exhibition at the Vesterheim, the national Norwegian- American museum and heritage center in Decorah, Iowa.

Ward's passion for spoon and knife-making is just as strong as his commitment to the organization which has helped him hone his craft.

The Vesterheim is more than a museum. It is home to an internationally recognized folk art school, and the exhibition is much more than a competition. All of the judging is videotaped and later shared with each individual competitor.

Ward likens it to "sitting down with your grad school advisor and thesis," sharing that all artists are provided with both praise and constructive feedback. It is not just a contest but a learning experience. "I have gained so much from them," Ward said regarding the Folk Art School.

The Vesterheim Folk Art School’s director, Lea Lovelace(whose husband, Mark,is a Rochester native) said of Ward, he is "one of those amazing passionate supporters who keeps on coming back to further his skills in our classes. He is humble about his craftsmanship when it comes to woodcarving, but his work is quite accomplished and also he represents what we hope for our future related to folk art. He is very interested in learning about the history of these folk art traditions, inspired by objects from our collection and other collections in Norway, but he is also finding his own artistic voice moving the traditions forward in interesting ways related to his own passions and experiences."

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The school has much to provide beyond competitions. For more than 50 years, classes have been offered to youth and adults in everything from rosemaling to fiber arts, woodworking to music, Norwegian language instruction to jewelry-making. Instructors from both Norway and the United States serve over 900 students each year, some from our surrounding areas, others who travel cross-country to immerse themselves in folk art and Norwegian culture.

Lovelace said, "I think it is most important to note that the thing that has always set the Vesterheim Folk Art School apart from other folk art programs is the museum’s vast collection of historic and contemporary folk art objects which is here to inform and inspire our participants."

Mueller's an honored alumnus

Kurt Mueller, of Austin, recently received the 2019 President’s Award from the University Wisconsin–Eau Claire.

Mueller, who earned a degree in marketing from UWEC in 1979, served as senior vice president of sales (consumer products division) at Hormel Foods in Austin until his retirement in February 2019.

Mueller’s career at Hormel spanned nearly 40 years, and during his professional tenure there he was recognized for his brand management, receiving Brandweek Magazine’s "Marketer of the Year" award.

In addition to his professional accolades, Mueller also devotes significant time to his alma mater, UWEC. He was motivated to speak on campus and recruit students (Hormel employs more than 60 UWEC graduates, and when Mueller retired, four of Hormel’s vice presidents were among them) while reflecting on the education he received from the College of Business. Mueller serves on the College of Business Advisory Council and 17 years ago helped develop an annual on-campus sales competition, an event with participants from across the nation.

"My commitment continues as I now am traveling to UWEC to lead discussions with students pursuing business, leading a session the university calls the Student Professional Development Program," Mueller said. His sessions address the business professional, business etiquette, and professional image. His real-life experiences provide excellent preparation for business students entering the workforce.

Mueller may have retired from the workforce, but he remains committed to people beginning their journey in the business world.

"l have loved working with people," he said. "I have taken great pride in the mentoring I provided individuals who have worked for me. The satisfaction I get is seeing those that have worked with me advance their careers. I get that same satisfaction by getting involved with the students at UWEC."