Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation has announced a change in leadership. Dakota Russell, executive director of the Powell-based foundation, will leave his position May 31, 2022, to join the Seven …
Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation has announced a change in leadership. Dakota Russell, executive director of the Powell-based foundation, will leave his position May 31, 2022, to join the Seven Gables Settlement Association in Salem, Massachusetts.
Aura Sunada Newlin, secretary of the foundation’s board of directors and a descendant of Heart Mountain incarcerees, will take the helm as interim executive director.
Russell, who leaves the foundation in a position of strength, joined Heart Mountain in 2016 as museum manager. He became executive director in 2018. Russell led the foundation’s restoration of the original 1942 barrack and 1943 root cellar and expanded its national and international outreach activities. He also made significant progress in the foundation’s capital campaign to build the Mineta-Simpson Institute at Heart Mountain. Named after former California Congressman Norman Y. Mineta and retired U.S. Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), the institute is a testament to bipartisan leaders working together to advance the common good.
Mineta, a Democrat who also served as secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation in the George W. Bush administration, was the son of Japanese immigrants. He and his parents were interned at Heart Mountain during WWII. Mineta, who was born in the United States in 1931, passed away on May 3, 2022. Simpson is scheduled to give the eulogy for Mineta on June 11 in Washington, D.C.
The Mineta-Simpson Institute will host workshops and create programming designed to use the lessons of the past to build a better future. Groundbreaking for the new wing will take place July 30 at the annual Heart Mountain Pilgrimage.
“It is bittersweet to be leaving,” Russell said, “but I am proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in my time here. Heart Mountain is now a national leader in educating about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and telling that story is more important than ever.”
Sunada Newlin, a foundation board member since 2013, is a Wyoming native and teacher of Asian American studies at the University of Wyoming. She was previously a tenured faculty member in anthropology and sociology at Northwest College and is a longstanding board member of the National Consortium on Racial & Ethnic Fairness in the Courts.
Sunada Newlin said she is resolute in her commitment to Heart Mountain’s continued success. “I take this responsibility seriously and will do what it takes to advance the foundation’s mission,” she said.
Of Russell’s tenure, Shirley Ann Higuchi, chair of the foundation board, said: “I’m forever in Dakota’s debt for his multifaceted contribution to our foundation and museum, and we are thrilled that Aura is taking on this post with her considerable accomplishments.”
Douglas Nelson, vice chair of the foundation board, said Russell made “huge contributions to building our future, and we’re grateful for Aura agreeing to step in. She’ll do a wonderful job.”
The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation preserves the historic site where some 14,000 Japanese Americans were unjustly incarcerated from 1942 through 1945. The stories of those incarcerees are told within the foundation’s museum, Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, located between Cody and Powell.