Furuseth embraces 'science you can touch' philosophy as Headwaters Science Center director

After a long career in elementary education, Lee Furuseth is embracing his new role as executive director of the Headwaters Science Center. Submitted photo.

BEMIDJI -- Lee Furuseth was an elementary educator and principal for 40 years. He retired from that profession two years ago, but he’s still teaching -- and learning -- these days in his new role as executive director of the Headwaters Science Center.

“I don’t know much about science,” said Furuseth, 59, who has been on the job for six months. “We have a staff of eight people, and all of them are better at science than me. So I don’t need to be that person. When I get to do the science side, then I’m having a lot of fun. I held a snake one day. That took a lot out of me. I have an irrational fear of snakes.”

Furuseth grew up in Thief River Falls. After graduating from Moorhead State University, he took his first teaching assignment in Indus, Minn., where he met his wife, Jane, a teaching colleague. Lee moved from there to Warroad, where he taught for 13 years and spent his final year as a curriculum director and programs director while completing course work to become a principal.

That first principal position was at the elementary level in the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley district. After 14 years there, he moved to Bagley, where he served as elementary principal for six years until his retirement.

“Being a principal is marvelously fulfilling,” he said. “You know how important your job is, you go to work, you work as hard as you possibly can. At the end of the day you feel really fulfilled, but you also feel exhausted.”


As he thought about a next career, Furuseth focused on the word “fun.” He spent the 2018-19 school year in Bagley teaching physical education and early childhood, then worked four months as a caretaker for Farm By The Lake resort in Bagley.

When he saw an advertisement for the Science Center position, Furuseth thought it might be the perfect fit for someone who was accustomed to working with children.

“If a career is a bookshelf full of books, I have two very thick books on the shelf,” he said. “One is the teacher, the other is the principal. I retired at 58, but really what I wanted to do was figure out how to put another book on the shelf. Now this one’s probably going to be skinnier than the preceding two, but I’m saying is that enough time to really figure out another career.”

The Science Center opened its doors in 1993 under the direction of Laddie Elwell, a former Bemidji State University science professor. It was her dream to create a facility that offered “science you can touch,” and that’s a philosophy that Furuseth wants to foster.

“I got to spend about three hours with Laddie in my first two weeks here,” Furuseth said. “That expression, ‘science you can touch,’ that’s straight out of Laddie’s mouth. It is easy to fulfill the mission. It’s easy to understand.

“Most people who come here have a pretty good experience,” he added. “There is an area that we have left behind, and it is out there somewhere as a goal. The greatest way we could affect the largest number of people in science you can touch is if we became a resource to teachers and to schools. That’s an area that we currently are not doing, or doing in a very big way. I think I can see how that would look. I understand what it means to transform your classroom into something they touch.”

He also hopes to make more people aware of the center and get them in the facility.

“I wonder how many people out there know about the center, but have never entered the doors,” he said. “Because it is a pretty cool place. I think there’s a bunch of people who don’t quite get the idea that there’s (a Science Center) right here on the main street in Bemidji.”


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Sisters Isabelle Peabody, left, and Abigail Peabody play with the flow motion exhibit at the Headwaters Science Center’s 25th birthday celebration in March 2019. (Pioneer file photo)

Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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