Skip to content

Combined Donation Totaling $50,000 to Tony Wise Museum of the American Birkebeiner

Hayward, Wis. (September 1, 2016) – The history of the American Birkebeiner, North America's largest cross‐country ski race, dates back to 1973 and the support of Johnson Bank (Johnson Financial Group) and the Samuel C. Johnson family has been a cornerstone of the event since the earliest days. It is in that foundational spirit that Johnson Bank and the Johnson Family Foundation continue their support as they aid in preserving the legacy and history of this American treasure with a combined $50,000 donation, $25,000 each respectively, to the recently opened Tony Wise Museum of the American Birkebeiner.

The American Birkebeiner Museum celebrates the origins of the race through lively, state‐of‐the‐art exhibits hands‐on activities, a three‐dimensional Birkie Trail model, electronic race scrapbook, numerous race artifacts, and memorabilia. Visitors will find a compendium of historic race film, photographs, and view oral history stories as told by founding skiers, longtime volunteers, and past Birkie staff. With something for all ages, youth can even reenact the Birkebeiner legend by donning historic replica costumes in front of a diorama of the Norwegian mountains.

The now iconic American Birkebeiner ski race, the Birkie, started with very humble beginnings when 35 lone skiers lined up at the starting line. Five short years later, Johnson Bank became an official sponsor of the race. In fact, Samuel C. Johnson was a founding member of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF). Over the years, Johnson Bank and the Johnson family, through the Johnson Family Foundation, have provided support to the ABSF with sponsorships, volunteers, donations, land access, and much more. Their sustained engagement with the ABSF is nearly as longstanding as the race itself. Now in its 44th year, over 250,000 participants have skied in Birkie week ski events.

“Since 1978, Johnson Bank has been a part of the American Birkebeiner. Founder, Tony Wise built a community of support in the early years that lives on today. He wouldn't take no for an answer. I proudly served on the Board for 15 years,” said Walt Jaeger, retired Regional President of Johnson Bank. “As a 37‐year sponsor of the event in some capacity, it made sense that we would support a museum created in Tony's honor.”

“And, so many good things have derived from the Birkie at the local, regional, national and even international levels,” continued Craig Hokanson, current Regional President, Johnson Bank. “The Lumberjack World Championships (LWC) were also founded by Tony Wise. Events like the LWC and the Birkie have increased tourism in the region, putting the communities of Hayward and Cable on the map.”

Even in the race's leanest early years, Johnson Bank and Samuel C. Johnson recognized the potential of the American Birkebeiner as a community‐building event for Hayward and the surrounding areas. Today, the economic impact of silent sports provides an infusion of nearly $26 million dollars to Bayfield and Sawyer counties each year; at the core, ABSF events can certainly be counted as contributing to the healthy, active, outdoor sports lifestyle.

“Simply put, we would not be where we are today without the support of Johnson Bank and the Johnson family. Their legacy will forever be tied to the success of ABSF events and now to the museum that will keep the Birkie spirit alive for generations to come,” said Ben Popp, Executive Director, ABSF.

The Birkie has grown to encompass a variety of year‐round, silent sport events that promote a healthy, active lifestyle for thousands of outdoor fitness enthusiasts. In addition, the ABSF acts as steward of the legendary Birkie Trail, providing year‐round grooming, mowing and maintenance to all 107 kilometers. A nonprofit organization, the ABSF is fiscally responsible for maintaining 100 percent of the Birkie Trail system in Sawyer and Bayfield counties. The ABSF is funded through race fees, membership dues, sponsorships, and donations; it receives no local, state, or federal tax money.

Read the press release by Birkie News