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Montana Natural History Center welcomes new director as 25th anniversary nears

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“I’ve just always been a big student of, and fascinated by, the natural world,” says Thurston Elfstrom who will take over as executive director of the Montana Natural History Center Tuesday as the center prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.

The Montana Natural History Center, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2016, welcomes a new director this week as it looks toward the next quarter-century and the challenges that come in the digital age.

Thurston Elfstrom follows Arnie Olsen as executive director, beginning Tuesday. Elfstrom previously worked for the Montana State Office of Tourism as its digital marketing manager.

“It’s really such an incredible honor,” Elfstrom said. “This organization has been such an amazing success.”

Elfstrom will take over after a three-month interim led by Lisa Bickell, the center's education director.

He spent the last 20 years building the digital marketing program in the state tourism office. He was hired part-time in 1995 and quickly saw he had a knack for the digital side of the job.

“I basically worked on and saw our first website for the office of tourism launch,” Elfstrom said.

Since then, Elfstrom has learned and led in how the office uses social media and the Internet to sell Montana as a destination across the country and inside its own borders.

After eight years telecommuting from Missoula, Elfstrom said he's very excited to return to an office environment full time at the natural history center.

Finishing construction of its Hickory Street headquarters gives the MNHC freedom to look forward, Bickell said. The center can now focus on programming and growing its name recognition and brand, with a new director leading an experienced staff.

“We have a very skilled and talented and mature staff right now,” said Bickell, who spoke for the staff during the hiring process. “What the staff really wanted was someone who could provide vision and leadership.”

Elfstrom became the top choice after his interview with the hiring committee, Bickell said. Digital experience, along with an anthropology degree and short career working in cultural resource management, helped his application stand out.

The board’s goal, according to Bickell, is for the natural history center to be known throughout Montana in the coming years. Elfstrom has connections in the public and private sector statewide that can help fundraise, promote and grow the center.

“He brought some things that floated his application to the top,” Bickell said. “He had a really dynamic interview.”

Elfstrom and his wife Suzanne live in Missoula with their six birds. Their “flock” includes parrots and cockatiels, and slowly grew as friends and acquaintances passed on the pets.

“For a while, we’ve had a bit of a bird rescue,” Elfstrom laughed.

“I’ve just always been a big student of, and fascinated by, the natural world.”

In addition to Elfstrom, MNHC will welcome four new staff members this week. Amy Howie will take over as ID Nature coordinator, Stephanie Laporte Potts will be the new programs coordinator, Drew Lefebvre comes on as a teaching naturalist and Holly Klier will take over as the office manager.

An open house and welcome party is scheduled 4:30-6:03 p.m. Tuesday at 120 Hickory St. Suite A. Refreshments will be provided, as will the chance to meet Elfstrom and the other new hires on MNHC’s staff.

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