Edina company captures and preserves life journeys for generations to come.
It’s not easy for most Minnesotans to talk about themselves. Even more complicated is to get them to share their feelings. But that’s exactly what Edina resident Dietrich Nissen, founder and CEO of Inherited Stories, does. With a listening ear, video camera and a mission to uncover and preserve stories, he helps people connect with and remember people they love.
Graduating from University of St. Thomas in broadcasting and communication studies, Nissen’s video storytelling career spans 17 years as a TV news reporter, film and commercial actor, on-set producer and internal communications executive.
By 2019, he was ready for something different—launching Inherited Stories to provide a platform for people to share their life stories, presented through videos he’s trademarked as “Vimories.”
Nissen says he was inspired to start his company after working on a “Beyond the Badge” story for the city of Edina. “I sat down with two of the original officers of Edina Police Department, and they shared how Southdale Center changed policing,” Nissen says. “I realized how many stories out there haven’t been shared—mostly because people haven’t been put in the position to be asked about them.”
However, it’s his late grandma, Peggy Nissen, who was his most significant muse and inspiration. After her husband, Delbert “Louie” Nissen, M.D., died, she raised five boys on her own in Edina.
“Growing up, after we moved to Edina from Chicago, it was wonderful to hear her talk about all these stories from the Great Depression, her childhood and the things she had to do to make it on her own,” Nissen says. “It became one of those fun things she would share with me on our Sunday lunches. She was this natural storyteller, and for years, our family would joke about getting a giant VHS camera and recording her stories.”
But they never did. By the time they got serious about doing it, Peggy developed Alzheimer’s and dementia and it was too late. She died in 2015.
“We lost our opportunity to record all those fun stories and her ways about her, and that’s been one of the biggest regrets in my life,” Nissen says. “I want to offer families a chance to do what we didn’t get to do.”
Nissen serendipitously inherited Peggy’s gift for storytelling and it inspired his company name. “I love the word inherited—something that’s passed down,” he says. “I’m adopted. A lot of people think family [traits] might just be from a blood relative to blood relative, but I inherited a lot of her personality and storytelling traits, so to me it’s a way of respecting her.”
And how does Nissen get modest Midwesterners to open up? He puts people at ease with empathy, the right questions and a little laughter. As it turns out, it’s OK to talk to strangers.
“I believe it’s easier to talk with strangers than it is to talk with people you’re emotionally tied to,” Nissen says. “There’s all this history that comes with it. When it’s a stranger and their intention is just to listen and to be with you, it sets up no expectations, no fear of being judged.”
The most difficult part has been convincing people their stories are worth saving. It especially shows up when he talks to groups of seniors. They have fascinating stories, but when asked if they are interested in recording them for their families, Nissen says 99 percent respond with something resembling, “Aw shucks, they don’t want to hear that.”
Making a Vimory
Nissen offers three types of Vimories: Legacy, designed to tell an individual’s story; Betrothed, designed to tell a couple’s story together; and Origin, designed as a celebratory gift to a child.
Nissen helps clients identify what they want to talk about and helps uncover what photos and videos to use alongside the interview he conducts. Together with Nissen, they develop stories for their Vimory, ensuring the video is what they want to pass on for generations. He then films the interview in the comfort of a client’s home.
Once produced, Nissen presents each client with a digital copy of their Vimory and a USB drive in a wooden case with a spot for that family member to pen their signature.
As he focuses on forming connections with people from all walks of life, Nissen shares a few standout moments:
After being interviewed by Nissen, World War II vet Jim Heymer called his granddaughter and said, “I love you.” Heymer’s granddaughter said it caught her off guard because it was out of character, and she’d never heard him say it. When Heymer moved into assisted living, many staff members and residents watched his Vimory. When he passed away in 2021, Nissen received a card from Heymer’s family. “They said how awestruck everyone was during the memorial service—that they could watch this video of him talking about his life and showing all these awesome memories of where he’d been and what he’d done and it was something that brought them joy even though they were grieving,” Nissen says.
Here’s when Nissen felt this work is worth it: “I had a client in Iowa whose daughter wrote to me and said, ‘My dad shared how you made him feel important during the interview, and he teared up and said you have this talent of making people feel like they matter.’ And then she said, ‘It touched my heart to know he experienced that.’”
Nissen notes that, if stories, mannerisms and memories aren’t preserved somehow, they can be lost forever. “There’s really not one person who has said they regret learning more about their loved one’s story,” Nissen says. “It’s about connecting with people we love. That has honestly been the most difficult part, because getting people to see the value in themselves is hard.”
Hear from people who treasure their visual memory from Inherited Stories.
When Mark and Deb Hanson’s son Will was a senior at Edina High School, they knew they wanted to give him something special as a graduation gift. They decided to hire Nissen to make an Origin Vimory.
“[Nissen] made the process incredibly smooth and easy,” Deb says. “It’s a lot to sift through. When you are creating a video story of someone’s life and you’re condensing highlights in a 10-minute video, it takes someone with professional experience and knowledge to make it a meaningful and beautiful end product, and that’s exactly what Dietrich accomplished.”
With the aid of Nissen’s worksheet and story prompts, the Hansons compiled stories, photos and videos highlighting Will’s first 18 years.
“The process of going through it brought back a lot of memories,” Mark says. “Eighteen years is a blur—these kids grow up so fast. This makes you stop and think and really appreciate all the experiences you went through with your child.”
The Hansons share the sentiment that Nissen knows the right interview questions to ask to get the information.
“It turned out to be a really cool meaningful gift for Will that he’ll treasure for the rest of his life,” Deb says. “He was surprised. I think he’ll appreciate it even more as he gets older.”
Once Nissen interviewed 89-year-old Shelby Andress, she said he recognized “Minnesota Nice” was laced throughout Andress’ story. But it was deeper than nice.
“What he liked was my talking about being in a family where there was no such thing as feelings,” Andress says.
Nissen sorted through her photos and stories to create her Legacy Vimory, which takes an in-depth look into her life’s journey. It covered everything from raising her three children to exploring where she came from—how her mother grew up on a farm and how her grandpa was a pioneer who came to North Dakota by covered wagon and broke the soil with one ox and a heavy fork.
What do her children think? “The main thing I’ve heard from them is there were stories they did not know about their grandparents and how they grew up,” Andress says. “They didn’t know my dad’s family went out West, started a ranch and broke wild horses.”
Her video ensures the Andress family history will last for generations. “For the grandchildren, this tells something about the families into which they came,” Andress says.