Celebrating a Milestone: Annual Report 2021

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bemidjipioneer.com |

The Bemidji Pioneer | Saturday, May 22, 2021



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Celebrating a milestone Pioneer’s Annual Report takes readers through Bemidji’s 125 years


t was in the spring of 1896 when Bemidji was incorporated as a village. On May 20, 1896, to be exact. The Bemidji Pioneer was only two months old itself. Now, 125 years later, the Pioneer is celebrating that milestone with 24 pages of stories and photos that chronicle the city’s development. We’ve broken those years into five 25-year chapters, and with the help of local historians Cecelia McKeig and Sue Bruns, we’re bringing our readers on a journey from lumberjacks to high-tech entrepreneurs. We also appreciate assistance with photographs from Jim Aakhus, Larry Young and the Beltrami County Historical Society. We hope you enjoy this year’s Annual Report.

Leading the Way


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Saturday, May 22, 2021 | The Bemidji Pioneer

CHAPTER 1: 1896-1921 |


Rooms for rent Boarding houses filled a need in Bemidji’s first 25 years

By Cecelia McKeig Special to the Pioneer


s lumbermen and budding businesses descended on Bemidji in early times after the village was incorporated 125 years ago this month, housing was quite a challenge. Much of the housing during the first 25 years of Bemidji’s history consisted of boarding houses and small hotels that served a population eager for jobs and new opportunities. Urban scholar Paul Groth estimated that a third to a half of citydwelling Americans either boarded or took boarders at some point during the turn of the century. To rent a room in someone’s house wasn’t a lifestyle choice as much as a necessity. This village of less than 500 people in 1898 became a boom town by 1900 with some 10,000 lumberjacks within a 10-mile radius of the town. Bemidji’s resident population more than doubled from 1900 to 1910. The housing supply simply could not keep up with demand. Additionally, only a small number of Bemidji’s families had put down roots.

Many were still eyeing business and more risky adventures. C.J. Carlson, Bemidji’s first blacksmith, went with Frank Snyder and the Carson Brothers to Cape Nome, Alaska in search of gold in May 1900, but returned in the fall. Others also went west but returned and decided to stay in Bemidji. Bemidji had a large offering of hotels. Besides the Markham Hotel in 1900, there were the Brinkman, City, Dewey, French, Svea, LakeShore, Merchants, Palace, Scandia House and the Schultz House for a total of 11 hotels. Soon after came the Challenge, Dalton and Blocker Hotels. This was still not enough, so boarding houses offered an alternative and also served a slightly different purpose. As early as 1899, Mrs. James Doran opened a private boarding house in the Doran home. An advertisement read: “She desires a larger number of boarders by the day or week and will get them, if excellent fare and good treatment are any inducements to the hungry.” While timber

cruisers, company management and logging superintendents rented homes on Lake Boulevard and upper Bemidji Avenue in Ward 1, most of the laborers lived in small hotels and boarding houses. Residents like attorney Henry Funkley or banker Clyde Bacon could afford to build homes on Lake Boulevard, but their employees also needed decent housing. Boarding houses became the lodging of choice for young clerks, stenographers, dressmakers, and so on. They provided a respectable solution for the working class who The City Hotel was one of put in long hours and needed decent food and all hours.” a safe room to return to Breakfasts and evening at the end of the day. dinners were served Rooming houses family style in a were often the most common dining room. affordable option for Traditionally, the food lower-income working was put on the table, people. Women who and everyone scrambled operated the boarding for the best dishes. houses often would Those with a long, fast clean the rooms and reach ate the best. do washing for the residents, as well as Boarding houses provide meals. It was varied to be sure. also common to house Potential boarders and one or two elderly long- landladies soon learned term residents. The the subtleties of the phrase “boarding house venue and word spread reach” stems from an about the cleanliness of important aspect of this a place, the quality of rooming arrangement. the food, and the types


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Beltrami County Historical Society photo

11 hotels in Bemidji in 1900. It also served meals “at of clientele that lived in various houses. A family might insist that their young daughter, working as a clerk, might respond to an ad such as these in the fall of 1902: “For Rent: Furnished room, two blocks west of new courthouse. Boarders taken Rev. Benj. Iorns” or “Mrs. E. H. Cornwall, living in the W.F. Street log cottage on the lakefront, has decided to take a few private boarders.” However, many workers chose the

sociability and economy of living in less private circumstances in boarding houses. Mrs. A. Thompson’s boarding house, opposite the City Hall on Minnesota Avenue, was a popular choice. Mrs. Bertha Edd had a dozen boarders in 1910 in Mill Park, including five of her own sons, all employed by the Crookston lumber mill. At 211 Second St., Alfred Burke, proprietor of a

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Saturday, May 22, 2021 | The Bemidji Pioneer

CHAPTER 1: 1896-1921 |


CHAPTER 1 From Page C3

homes listed on the Hill on Second Street were clearly houses of illrepute. In 1910 as the census approached, residents were urged to help out those who were responsible for collecting the data. A.G. Rutledge, enumerator in the Fourth Ward, had nearly all the hotels and boarding houses to canvass, and in order to get all the tenants counted, he was up before 6 in the morning and after 6 in the evening to see that everybody housed in the various establishments was properly listed. Even though the population had stabilized a bit by 1910, there was still limited home ownership in Bemidji. There were 15 hotels in downtown Bemidji and two in Nymore in 1910. The Hotel Blocker advertised rooms for $1 per day with special rates by the week or month. Hotel Nicollet, with John Croon as proprietor, advertised a good table and comfortable rooms at $1 and $1.25 per day. “There’s No

Beltrami County Historical Society photos

Left: Racers kick up dust during an early Bemidji competition. The caption reads “Moberg in the lead.” Right: A bird’s-eye view of Bemidji in 1900.

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A parade of automobiles makes its way along Minnesota Avenue at the corner of Fourth Street in Bemidji’s early days.

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bemidjipioneer.com | CHAPTER 1: 1896-1921

The Bemidji Pioneer | Saturday, May 22, 2021



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Beltrami County Historical Society photos

Left: Tenants gather outside the Arthur Bell boarding house on Lake Irving. This was one of many such houses in the early days after Bemidji was incorporated. Right: Spectators line the Third Street dock to watch canoes in Lake Bemidji in 1903. Below: This 1917 photo shows businesses along Third Street looking west.

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servants. In Ward 4, which included Second

and Third streets, and lower Beltrami, Minnesota and America avenues, nearly all adults were renters, lodgers or boarders. The census

includes pages of boarders and boarding houses. Some of those buildings still exist on America and Minnesota Avenue. Spinning a tale on the

boarding houses of Bemidji — both respectable and suspect — could fill a book. They fulfilled a vital need for housing for a growing village.

As the first 25 years neared its end, Bemidji Normal School (now Bemidji State University) opened its doors in 1919, following World

War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic. As soldiers returned from the war and the town continued to grow, Bemidji was ripe for its next chapter.

For over 110 years we have been committed to our community!



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Saturday, May 22, 2021 | The Bemidji Pioneer

More than just lumber

CHAPTER 2: 1921-1946 |


Bemidji’s second 25 years saw growth in population, business and tourism

By Sue Bruns Special to the Pioneer


he second quarter century of Bemidji’s history was perhaps the most dynamic of any 25 years in the city’s development. Lumber had originally drawn people to the area, and sawmills continued to thrive, but the roughand-tumble town of the late 1800s had matured to the point of being the north central hub for railroads, bringing freight and passengers and taking huge loads of lumber away. Since its designation as Beltrami County’s seat in 1897, the city had seen the steady growth of schools and businesses. In 1920, Bemidji had a population of 7,086. By the mid-1940s, it was approaching 10,000. The 1920s brought men home from WWI, not all of them alive. In 1921, the body of Ralph Gracie, Bemidji’s first WWI casualty, was sent home for burial. Gracie had been flying with the American 17th Aero Squadron with the British Royal Air Force when his plane was shot down in August of 1918. His body, not recovered at the time, was later found, buried in a German cemetery, and was sent home. Bemidji’s American Legion Post was established in 1919 and named for Gracie.

Photo courtesy Jim Aakhus

In 1934, the Fireplace of States was built into an octagonal log cabin on Bemidji Avenue on the lake end of Third Street. The fireplace now can be seen inside the Tourist Information Center. Enrollment in Bemidji’s schools had grown quickly, school buildings filling faster than new schools could be built. Bemidji’s first high school graduates had completed their coursework at Central School. The first high school was built for

$50,000 between America and Irvine Avenues and Sixth and Seventh Streets. It opened in 1910 but burned on Jan. 17, 1921. A new, impressive Bemidji High School was built on 15th Street – then the north edge of town – on property

that had been part of the first county fairgrounds. It opened in September of 1922. In 1919, Minnesota’s sixth State Normal School had opened in Bemidji, and in 1921 it officially became Bemidji State Teachers College. Prohibition had

come early in Bemidji (December, 1914) with an 1855 treaty ruling that forbade the selling of liquor in Indian territory. Saloons closed. (There were 27 listed in the 1914-15 City Directory, but other counts almost doubled that number.) With

bars closed, people gathered in private homes to socialize. In the mid-1920s, after the Volstead Act made the entire country dry, improvements of highways through Bemidji allowed

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The Bemidji Pioneer | Saturday, May 22, 2021



An aerial view of the Lake Bemidji waterfront shows Paul and Babe between the Third Street dock and the armory.

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bootleggers and rum runners to pass through town. In the Lakeland PBS television documentary “Bemidji: Between the Wars,” produced by

the late Gary Burger, Buiford Qualle recalled “visitors” to his uncle’s garage, the People’s Oil Company, a place where travelers could park their cars overnight. Qualle described “big touring cars from Chicago, full of liquor. The drivers would pay my uncle or one of his

men a good tip to take care of the cars,” which were headed for the West Coast. Although saloons were closed, other businesses were just getting started. In 1920, Ira P. and Ira H. Batchelder, father and son, opened Bemidji Woolen Mills. In 1922, St. Anthony’s

Hospital closed when the Benedictine sisters were reassigned to other places, but the Northern Minnesota Lutheran Hospital opened at the same site on Dewey Street later that year. Fires at planers and mills on Lake Bemidji foreshadowed the decline of the big

lumber mills of Bemidji. On Nov. 8, 1924, a fire at Crookston Mill #1 destroyed 24 million board feet of select white pine. The lumber was valued at $750,000. The fire burned so hot that Midway Drive was shut down. Smoke and debris from the fire could be seen for miles,

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Photo courtesy Jim Aakhus

and people on the west side of the lake climbed on their roofs, trying to keep their homes from catching fire. The mill remained open until 1930, but then moved to Oregon, leaving hundreds of workers unemployed.

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THANK YOU BEMIDJI! It’s been a pleasure serving you for 55 years! Since 1966, Lueken’s has served the Bemidji area with an emphasis on building stronger employees, families, and community. It is through this belief that we will continue to grow and thrive, and it is crucial in making a difference in our communities and being a positive and supportive influence in every life we touch.

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Saturday, May 22, 2021 | The Bemidji Pioneer

CHAPTER 2: 1921-1946 |


Above: Before it was placed next to the Paul Bunyan statue, Babe the Blue Ox made appearances in parades on a truck, with the vehicle’s exhaust exiting through Babe’s notrils. Below: In 1932, Bemidji held its first Winter Carnival, complete with an impressive ice castle near the armory by the lake.

Beltrami County Historical Society photos

Ralph Gracie is pictured in 1917. Four years later, his body was sent home for burial. Gracie had been flying with the American 17th Aero Squadron with the British Royal Air Force in World War I when his plane was shot down in August of 1918. His body, not recovered at the time, was later found, buried in a German cemetery, and was sent home. Bemidji’s American Legion Post was established in 1919 and named for Gracie.

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With a major employer no longer in town, and with the growing popularity of the automobile and improvements in the highway system,

tourism became the focus, and not just for summer visitors, but year ’round. In October of 1929, the stock market crash sent the country into the Great Depression, but Bemidji was less affected than many parts of the U.S. In

“Bemidji: Between the Wars,” Chet Swedmark (1922-2011) of Bemidji shared his memories of the Depression era days. “We never went hungry – we did a lot of berry picking. We didn’t have a nickel to buy anything but always ate well – lots of venison.”


125 years, Bemidji!


Music and entertainment were still important. People hosted dances in their homes. The Kiddie’s Drum and Bugle Corps, made up of 5- to 13-year-olds, practiced weekly and traveled to perform in parades each weekend in the summer all across the state and

even in Wisconsin and Canada. Fundraising support from the Legion and its auxiliary provided travel and uniforms. Meanwhile, Bemidji’s efforts to promote itself as a vacation destination included some major undertakings with the building of the Fireplace

of States, a Civil Works Administration project. District Manager of the State Re-employment Office, Harry Roese, invited representatives from all 48 states, all National Parks, every county in Minnesota, and all Canadian

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s l a v i r r A w Ne from the

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The Bemidji Pioneer | Saturday, May 22, 2021



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Beltrami County Historical Society photos

Above: The Third Street dock and waterfront, with Paul and Babe and the armory in the background, was a popular gathering spot in Bemidji’s early days. Below: After Bemidji’s first high school was destroyed by fire in 1921, a new school was built on 15th Street -- then the north edge of town -- on property that had been part of the first county fairgrounds. It opened in September 1922.

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provinces to send rocks and stones to Bemidji for a “Fireplace

of States,” a unique structure that he hoped would draw visitors to Bemidji. Charles Budge, a local architect, drew plans for the fireplace and for the building that would house it. Mark

Morse, a local mason, who had recently built a rock fireplace on the college campus on the lake, created the Fireplace of States in 1934. It was built into an octagonal log cabin

on Bemidji Avenue on the lake end of Third Street and now can be seen inside the Tourist Information Center. Bemidji had been a summer destination since its early days, but

the growing popularity of the automobile and construction of improved roads brought more and more visitors to town. In 1932, Bemidji held its first Winter Carnival,

complete with an impressive ice castle near the armory by the lake. The 1937 Winter Carnival featured several days of sports and

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Saturday, May 22, 2021 | The Bemidji Pioneer

CHAPTER 2: 1921-1946 |


Buiford Qualle said his uncle’s garage, the People’s Oil Company, was a place where travelers could park their cars overnight in Bemidji. Qualle described “big touring cars from Chicago, full of liquor. The drivers would pay my uncle or one of his men a good tip to take care of the cars.” Beltrami County Historical Society photos

This aerial photo shows the Crookston Lumber Mill on the south shore of Lake Bemidji, with Nymore in the foreground.

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activities and the unveiling of Bemidji’s icon – Paul Bunyan. Babe, first built to ride atop a 1½-ton truck, led the parades and made appearances at other parades around the state, including St. Paul’s Winter Carnival. An estimated 10,000 people attended Bemidji’s 1937 Carnival. As the 1940s dawned, the Works Program Administration had contributed to much work

around the lake in the midto late 1930s, including Lake Bemidji State Park, continued until the U.S. became involved in WWII. Like the rest of the country, Bemidji was moving forward when the threat of war interfered with plans. On Dec. 20, 1941, five train cars full of materials for rural electrification were unloaded in Bemidji and were stored and assembled at the county fairgrounds. Soon afterward, rural Bemidji had electricity. On Jan. 9, 1942, the Bemidji Pioneer reported that 248 Beltrami County men were already in the service and a second group

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On Nov. 8, 1924, a fire at Crookston Mill #1 destroyed 24 million board feet of select white pine. The lumber was valued at $750,000.

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bemidjipioneer.com | CHAPTER 3: 1946-1971

The Bemidji Pioneer | Saturday, May 22, 2021



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Prosperous period

Like the rest of America, Bemidji experienced growth after WWII


By Dennis Doeden ddoeden@ bemidjipioneer.com

n the aftermath of World War II, America enjoyed strong economic growth and general prosperity. That certainly was the case in Bemidji. As the nation celebrated its war victory and affirmed its role as a worldwide superpower, it also experienced widespread prosperity, rising wages, and the movement of many farming families to its towns and cities. Charles Sattgast, president of what was then Bemidji State Teachers College, was among the many Bemidji soldiers who returned after the war ended in late 1945. Not only did Sattgast serve in the war, but so did his two sons, Morris, who served in the Merchant Marines, and Lawrence, who joined the Army at age 17. President Sattgast was one of about 345 soldiers known as “The Monuments Men” who fought to protect historical and cultural artifacts in Europe during World War II. Sattgast served as the college’s president from 1938 until his death in 1964. He died at age 65, two weeks after

undergoing surgery. It was believed that Sattgast had pancreatic cancer. Bemidji soldiers were involved in two more wars during the period of 1946-71. First came the Korean Conflict, a bloody, inconclusive war, from 1950-53. Then it was the controversial Vietnam War, which sparked nationwide protests and left those who served without the fanfare afforded their counterparts from World Wars I and II. On the homefront, Bemidji continued to grow. The city’s population had increased by 30% between 1930 and 1940, and it finally topped the 10,000 mark by 1950. “It was a great time to grow up in, and Bemidji was a great place to be,” said Karen (Kopischke) Schley, a 1958 Bemidji High School graduate whose family lived on Irvine Avenue near Greenwood Cemetery. “I didn’t really ever think about not being safe. We would walk around at night and The Bemidji Belle took passengers on cruises around not be concerned about anything. We walked carhop at the A&W and Beltrami Avenue, to school for the most hung out with 11 other part. We took in cowboy cruising around, just girls known as “The generally having what movies on Saturday Dozen.” Although some we thought was a great matinees, along with have died, the closetime.” dances. We did a lot of knit group has met for Karen worked as a driving up and down

Beltrami County Historical Society photo

Lake Bemidji for many years. a girls weekend for many years, even doing so via Zoom during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Television came

to Bemidji in 1948 through Midwest Radio Engineers, owned by the Langhout family.

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Saturday, May 22, 2021 | The Bemidji Pioneer

CHAPTER 3: 1946-1971 |


Beltrami County Historical Society photos

The Lake Bemidji waterfront has long been a popular gathering spot for locals and tourists.

The Paul Bunyan Amusement Park drew crowds from near and far.

CHAPTER 3 From Page D1

Later the family formed Midwest Cable Communications and had the state’s first 21-channel cable TV system up and running in 1971. By 1950, M.B. Taylor, a court agent who had years earlier helped organize Beltrami Electric Cooperative, called a public meeting to explain the country’s new telephone program under the direction of the Rural Telephone Administration. That marked the beginning of Paul Bunyan Telephone, which would later become Paul Bunyan

Communications. The cooperative now is the region’s largest all-fiber optic network covering more than 5,500 square miles. Back before kids were kept busy by technology, Dennis Burgess and his Bemidji buddies used to cruise around town. Burgess, a 1964 BHS graduate, recalls a childhood free from worries and filled with fun. “We had a route,” Burgess said. “From the high school it went down Beltrami Avenue to Third Street, then west a block and looped around, back up Beltrami Avenue. We’d go by places like the movie theaters and the Melody Shop. On up to

the high school, take a right, then slow down as you went past Jake’s Drive-In, to see who was out there. Continue on down 15th Street to Birchmont Drive, then take a left and go down to Diamond Point. Go past the swimming area and snack shop to see who was down there. Then back up Birchmont to 15th and that kind of completed the loop. If you didn’t run into anybody you might make that loop two or three times before you saw somebody to hang out with.” Burgess was part of Bemidji’s most popular wintertime attraction: Lumberjacks basketball. After the program had won its first two state

Herb’s Popcorn wagon was a popular attraction for Bemidji folks, young and old. championships in 1936 and 1948, Clarence “Bun” Fortier took over as head coach in 1950, and during his 19 seasons at the helm, the Jacks went to state 14 times, including

seven straight years starting in 1953. The old gymnasium was packed for every home game. Burgess and his wife, Cheryl (Odegard), Burgess, a 1967 BHS graduate, remember the

crowd chanting before every game: “Fortier, Fortier open the door. Let our Lumberjacks on the floor.” “There were no

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bemidjipioneer.com | CHAPTER 3: 1946-1971

The Bemidji Pioneer | Saturday, May 22, 2021



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Submitted photo

Jake’s Drive-In, located across 15th Street from Bemidji High School, sold lots of Little Shaver shakes along with its food offerings.

The Lodge at Diamond Point Park was surrounded by tall pines.

CHAPTER 3 From Page D2

sports for girls,” Cheryl Burgess said. “If you weren’t a cheerleader, you just sat in the stands and cheered. After games everybody would chip in their dimes and quarters and we’d go to Dave’s for pizza and pop.” She added, “Bemidji was a wonderful place to be. There was always something to do. Nobody was afraid of anything. It was just a wonderful place to live. Beltrami County Historical Society photo Still is.” Men and women served as ground observers at the While basketball was Beltrami County Courthouse during the Cold War still the biggest game years of the 1950s. in town, ice hockey

got its start in the late 1940s, setting the stage for what would become a Bemidji tradition. In January of 1947, Bemidji State College Vice President John S. Glas announced that the school approved $100 for hockey sticks, found some old football jerseys, and with Ed Johnson donating some goalie pads, the Beaver men’s hockey team hit the ice. Even though that first season is not included in the official records of BSU hockey history, 1947 saw the Beavers play six games ending with a 0-5-1 record. Ken Johnson scored the first Beaver goal in history, although the Beavers

Beltrami County Historical Society photo

lost that game to Itasca. Although the hockey program was suspended for 11 years after the Bemidji Sports Arena’s roof collapsed in 1949, the stage was set for a program that would eventually capture 13 national championships. The Minnesota Vikings expansion football team was formed in 1961, and the National Football League upstart chose Bemidji as the site of its first five pre-season summer training camps. The rookies arrived at the Bemidji State College training facilities on July 7, 1961, but when the veterans arrived July 17, Bemidji locals were amazed at the size of the men who seemed

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to rival the 18-foot concrete lumberjack on the shores of Lake Bemidji. A highlight for Bemidji came on Aug. 4, 1962 when 5,503 fans attended a controlled scrimmage between the Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys at what is now Chet Anderson Stadium. It was a source of civic pride, and the event brought together the community and region. “It was a great event and still the most people I think ever gathered for one event in Bemidji,” said Gale Falk of Bemidji. “The stands were full and on the lake end of the stadium there were people 20 deep behind the sideline.”

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Saturday, May 22, 2021 | The Bemidji Pioneer

CHAPTER 3: 1946-1971 |


Beltrami County Historical Society photo

Nymore Engine 1 makes its way up Beltrami Avenue in one of the many parades it appeared in.

Photo courtesy Jim Aakhus

U.S. Highway 2 ran right through town in Bemidji until the bypass was built.

Beltrami County Historical Society photo

Beltrami County Historical Society photo

Bemidjians got to watch pro football workouts from 1961-65 when the Minnesota Vikings held their training camps on the campus of Bemidji State.


A trail ride at Arndt’s Riding Academy in 1967, on the site of the current Bemidji High School.

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The Bemidji Pioneer | Saturday, May 22, 2021



| D5

Submitted photos In May 1984, dozens of people gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony of Ground is broken for Bemidji’s downtown revitalization project in May 1984. In the Bemidji’s downtown revitalization project. This photo was taken at Second Street background is the old Markham Hotel. Project leader Pat Campbell is pictured and Beltrami Avenue. The Paul Bunyan Sub Shop was located at the site of what second from right. is now Frizzell Furniture Gallery.

Expanding its reach

As northwest side developed, Bemidji became more of a regional center By Dennis Doeden ddoeden@bemidjipioneer.com


xpansion was the theme for Bemidji’s fourth quarter century starting in 1971. For 75 years, the town had grown and developed a personality of its own, but much of that was centered around downtown Bemidji. And while it had long been a destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, Bemidji’s reach also expanded in the 1970s and ’80s as development moved from the city’s core. The Paul Bunyan Mall opened in 1977 along what was then U.S. Highway 2 on the city’s northwest side, taking JCPenney out of downtown. The Bemidji

it home after retiring as finance director at Beltrami Electric Cooperative, remembers quite a different scene on that stretch of road. “From where the mall was built it was basically country going out to the Highway Host (now Super Buffet),” Sletten said. “There was no four-lane highway. The grain trucks came right through town. And it seemed like it took forever to get to Wilton.” Larry Young, former city planner and retired economic development director, said the expansion added to Bemidji’s diverse economy. “Bemidji has been blessed over the years with a fairly diversified economic base which continues

Community Hospital and Bemidji Clinic built new facilities, leaving downtown for the northwest. Car dealerships moved out of downtown. Banks expanded to that part of town. Other new businesses sprung up on what had been the wooded outskirts. In the mid 1980s, the Highway 2/71 bypass was built, paving the way for Paul Bunyan Drive through the expanded northwest side. Then the big box stores arrived, starting In 1996 with Target. Walmart opened in 2002. Home Depot, Menards, Hobby Lobby and Kohl’s followed. Chain restaurants also set up shop on Paul Bunyan Drive. Sid Sletten, who grew up in Bemidji and still calls


I.H. Batchelder 2nd Generation

CHAPTER 4: Page D6




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you going to do for us?’” he recalled. “That was the beginning of the downtown project.” Spearheaded by the late Pat Campbell, owner of The Melody Shop on Third Street, a plan was developed to revitalize the downtown area. “We got a group together and decided maybe it’s not just the merchants’ responsibility to make something happen,” Young said. “So we started looking at the city staff, the merchants and consultants that we worked with. It took awhile to get our ducks in a row, get money lined up. Once that happened it really


to be part of

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today,” Young wrote in a chapter for the Beltrami County Historical Society’s upcoming book on the city’s 125 years. “It includes retail sales, manufacturing, timber processing, medical services, education, tourism and advanced telecommunications – economic drivers that will continue to build a bright future for the Bemidji area.” But after the Paul Bunyan Mall was built, while Young was still with the city, concerned downtown business owners paid him a visit. “Literally the day the mall opened the downtown merchants came to my office in the city and said, ‘OK, Mr. City Planner, what are

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Saturday, May 22, 2021 | The Bemidji Pioneer

CHAPTER 4: 1971-1996 |


Pioneer file photo

Pioneer file photo

The Bemidji Community Hospital moved from its longtime location on Dewey The Bemidji Clinic was located at Sixth and Beltrami until 1979 when it moved Avenue to a new facility on the city’s northwest side in 1979. next to the new hospital in northwest Bemidji.

CHAPTER 4 From Page D5

changed the whole relationship between the downtown and the rest of the community, I think.” The Downtown Development Authority (now Bemidji Downtown Alliance) was formed. “Pat Campbell was the mother hen of the DDA,” Young said. “She had a lot of respect from the downtown merchants and the bankers. I give her a lot of credit. Also we were very fortunate that a young landscape architect had moved into town a couple years before the project happened, and that was (the late) Dick Rose. He aligned himself with Stewart Walker Engineering, and between Dick and Stewart Walker we

had some really good engineers and landscape architects. The image of what you see downtown with the trees and planters, that was primarily Dick Rose’s vision.” The vision began to become a reality in May of 1984 when a large crowd of townsfolk gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony. “At the time we started that project there were 17 vacant storefronts downtown,” Young said. “The hospital and clinic had moved out of downtown. The bypass was under construction. They were really scared to death that downtown was going to go. When we got the project done it really turned things around for the downtown area. It put them in a much stronger position when the big

CHAPTER 4: Page D7

Photo courtesy Jim Aakhus

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The Bemidji Pioneer | Saturday, May 22, 2021



| D7

CHAPTER 4 From Page D6

boxes started coming in.” Between the sprucedup downtown and the expanding northwest corridor, Bemidji became even more of a regional center. “There’s no question that the downtown project brought a lot more people in from farther away,” Young said, “but the same thing happened as the mall opened up, too. The mall brought more people into the mall, but it also brought more people into the downtown area.” Sletten agrees, adding, “I’ve always called Bemidji the northern hub of central Minnesota. People from Grand Forks are coming over, Brainerd, St. Cloud, Baudette, International Falls. It’s become even more of a hub because of the medical services.” Ground was broken for the new Bemidji Community Hospital on Aug. 29, 1977, and it opened for business on Oct. 29, 1979. The new hospital had a medical staff of 25 and more than 350 employees. In December, 1981, a new corporation, North Country Health Services, was formed, operating North Country Regional Hospital, North Country Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, North Country Housing and the North Country Health Services Foundation. It remained that way until 2011 when NCHS merged with

CHAPTER 4: Page D8

BSU Photo Services

Coach R.H. (Bob) Peters and his 1983-84 undefeated Bemidji State men’s hockey team celebrate the national championship they won on home ice at the John Glas Fieldhouse.

Pioneer file photo

Bemidji High School won its third state boys basketball title in 1974.


Pioneer file photo

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Saturday, May 22, 2021 | The Bemidji Pioneer

CHAPTER 4: 1971-1996 |


CHAPTER 4 From Page D7

Sanford Health. Meanwhile, the 1970s saw a period of real growth for the Bemidji Clinic. The number of physicians grew from 10 to 16 and the downtown building at Sixth and Beltrami became too small. If all of the physicians showed up for work on the same day, someone had to be sent home; there was not enough space for them. In December of 1979, 16 physicians moved into the new and present clinic building next to the new hospital. In 1988 it merged with the Fargo Clinic, and in 1998 its name changed to MeritCare, which eventually merged with Sanford. Sletten has been in bands since he was a teenager, playing with Tomashock for three years, This Side Up for three years, and Power Play for about 30 years. He and his son, Michael, now run DMS Entertainment, performing at weddings, dances and other celebrations in the area. “Up until the 1990s there were probably 15 places just in the surrounding area that carried live music,” Sletten said. “And people went to every place. It was amazing how many places had music. The Blue Ox, that’s where the Markham Hotel was, they ran music seven nights a week. The Holiday Inn ran music

Photo courtesy Larry Young

The city-owned Tourist Information Center was built in 1995, and the Fireplace of States that had been in the old log visitor center was relocated in the TIC. five nights a week. The Elks, Moose and Legion all had music on Fridays and Saturdays. It was just a matter of what you wanted to hear.” Also during this time, Bemidji High School won its third state boys basketball championship (1974), the new Bemidji Middle School was built (1986) and Bemidji State was winning most of its 13 national championships in men’s hockey.

First National Bank Bemidji, which began in 1897, expanded from downtown to the northwest part of town in 1978, then built its new main bank on Paul Bunyan Drive in 2008. Pioneer file photo


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bemidjipioneer.com | CHAPTER 5: 1996-2021

The Bemidji Pioneer | Saturday, May 22, 2021



| D9

Connected to the world

Advances in technology, health care, recreation spark Bemidji’s last 25 years By Bria Barton bbarton@ bemidjipioneer.com


ith the rise of consumerism and the internet, the last 25 years have seen Bemidji demonstrate significant growth and interconnectedness with the world, placing it in a position of influence as a complex regional hub in northwestern Minnesota. The changing times have seen some Bemidji businesses come and go while others have risen to the occasion and persevered through a new consumer landscape. The unprecedented internet speeds of Paul Bunyan Communications’ GigaZone, along with the rise of social media platforms like Facebook, have also shown Bemidjians that the rest of the world really is just a click away. “We’re seeing more people from more cultures, more nationalities, and different backgrounds moving to the community,” said Jorge Prince, Bemidji’s mayor. “The internet has driven so many different types of commercial opportunities, and plenty of people can now work from home that never could prior to that, which I think has also fuelled some of the

Submitted photo

Sanford Health and North Country Health Services merged in 2011, creating Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota, a regional hub for health care. diversity we’ve seen in our community. It really has connected Bemidji to the world.” In the early 2000s, recreational opportunities became more plentiful with the city’s rejuvenated focus on developing and accentuating Bemidji’s parks, trails and natural

resources. Following a $3.3 million renovation in 2008, Diamond Point Park once again became the crown jewel of the Bemidji city park system after years of wear and tear left it in desperate need of an update. “In the last 25 years, the city has made a

very large investment in parks, trails and recreation, and I think we’ve seen the fruit of that,” Prince said. “Certainly, as I became a father and raised my kids in the community, I started really valuing using the trails, fishing on Lake Bemidji and being in any one of our

29 parks.” Nate Dorr, who grew up in Bemidji and now works at the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, said the parks and trails are some of the city features he utilizes most. In 2010, Dorr spearheaded the Bemidji Skate Park, one of the first concrete skateboard

parks in Minnesota. He said the project is one of his fondest memories from that time, as he helped give local youth a recreational outlet. “The skate park has been really big because, in the past, people were getting tickets

CHAPTER 5: Page D10

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D10 |



Saturday, May 22, 2021 | The Bemidji Pioneer

CHAPTER 5: 1996-2021 |


Pioneer file photo

Anchor stores Kmart and Herberger’s have left the Paul Bunyan Mall in recent years. Kohl’s took over the Kmart space and Hobby Lobby opened next door.

CHAPTER 5 From Page D9

and skateboarding where they shouldn’t be in public,” Dorr said. “They just didn’t have a place that they could call their own in order to have that sense of identity.” Prince said the city’s redevelopment of the lakefront around Lake Bemidji was a precursor to the development of the Sanford Center, which broke ground in April of 2009 and officially opened its doors in October of 2010. The venue was renamed from the Bemidji Regional Events Center to the Sanford Center after Sanford Health purchased naming Pioneer file photo rights. Sanford continued In June of 2015, after six years of collaboration from Native and non-Native committee members, a to leave its mark on bronze statue of Shaynowishkung (Chief Bemidji) the community when was dedicated in Library Park. Two previous wooden Sanford Health merged carvings of Chief Bemidji were moved to the Beltrami with North Country Health Services in 2011 County History Center.


Pioneer file photo

The Sanford Center, which opened in October 2010, has hosted a variety of sporting events, concerts and community celebrations such as the Bemidji High School graduation. and created Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota. “We went from having a smaller, more rural hospital and clinic to now hosting Sanford and all the different types of medical services that it’s brought to our community,” Prince said. “We were always a hub, but I think we’ve really become a serious medical hub thanks to the growth of Sanford, which has been good for our citizens because now they can receive different types of treatment and supportive services, where before, maybe they had to go to Fargo or the metro.” A continued expansion of retail on the northwest side of town also sprung up, with popular big box stores like Target opening

CHAPTER 5: Page D11

Larry Young / Special to the Pioneer

While big box stores and other businesses set up shop on the city’s northwest side, downtown Bemidji has flourished with small local businesses and restaurants taking up residence and offering unique flavors, clothing and specialty items.

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bemidjipioneer.com | CHAPTER 5: 1996-2021

The Bemidji Pioneer | Saturday, May 22, 2021



| D11

Pioneer file photo

Pioneer file photo

Bemidji State University President Faith Hensrud speaks at a kickoff event for the school’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2019.

The Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon, which began in 2013, attracts runners from throughout the region. In this 2018 photo, half marathoners run through Diamond Point Park.

CHAPTER 5 From Page D11

in 1996 and Walmart opening in 2002. “To see development of the big box stores, it shows Bemidji really is becoming a regional economic center and retail center,” Dorr said. However, with intense competition among big box retailers and the rise of online shopping, some businesses ceased to prosper in Bemidji. Paul Bunyan Mall saw

a retail downfall with Kmart closing its doors due to poor performance in 2012 after 35 years of operation. Its closing marked the second large retailer in town – Pamida was the first – to liquidate that year. On the opposite side of town, Bemidji’s downtown area flourished with small local businesses and restaurants taking up residence. Appealing to residents and tourists alike, they offered

CHAPTER 5: Page D12

Thank you, Bemidji, for the last 28 years of growing with us!

Trampled by Turtles, a bluegrass/folk-rock band from Duluth, is one of many groups that have performed at the Sanford Center. This photo was from their 2019 concert in Bemidji. Photo courtesy of Iconic Images

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The first graduating class of Oak Hills Christian Training School in 1949 being presented with the very first diplomas conferred upon Oakies.

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D12 |



Saturday, May 22, 2021 | The Bemidji Pioneer

CHAPTER 5: 1996-2021 |


Riders make their way around Lake Bemidji in the Pioneer file photos annual Loop the Lake Festival. Mayor Jorge Prince The Bemidji Skate Park was built in 2010, giving youngsters another outdoor recreational option. says, “In the last 25 years, the city has made a very large investment in parks, trails and recreation, and I think we’ve seen the fruit of that.”

CHAPTER 5 From Page D11

unique flavors, clothing and specialty items not found on the town’s more chain-centric northwest side. “Our downtown went through a period of modernization, where you saw some of the more longstanding businesses that had been there leaving and new types of businesses taking their place,” Prince said. “I think our downtown has actually become pretty vibrant for a community the size of Bemidji.” Dorr said places like Bemidji Brewing, which opened its doors in 2013, immediately encouraged a sense of community among locals. “It’s a place for socializing and for people to meet each other,” Dorr said. “I think having a place like a brewery is that quality of life aspect where you’re able to connect and build social networks. And for me, that’s the place to go hang out.” Various new events cropped up that motivated additional community togetherness. Some of them include the Bemidji Sculpture Walk in 1999, the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival in 2006 and the Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon in 2013. Educational opportunities that brought youth together in new ways expanded in the area as well with charter schools like TrekNorth High School, Voyageurs Expeditionary School and Schoolcraft Learning Community

all being founded in the early 2000s. Also during this time, the new Bemidji High School was unveiled.The old BHS was demolished in 2008, although one of its two main archways was preserved and is being resurrected on the new high school grounds. “There is that sense of community identity because everybody went to that old high school for generations,” Dorr said. “I think seeing that school torn down gave us a sense of wanting to preserve things in our culture and our community.” Bemidji State University, which celebrated its 100th year in 2019, has adapted to new technology in the past 25 years with expanded distance learning and updated majors based on changing workforce needs. While 2020 was a year of challenge for Bemidji – and the world – because of the coronavirus pandemic, it also marked the town’s first presidential visit, a landmark occasion that further illustrated Bemidji’s expanding influence in Minnesota and the country. “Bemidji certainly has a heritage, and a lot of what’s happened over the years has been built on that heritage. We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us,” Prince said. “A lot of the work that was done decades ago really set the stage for much of what’s happened in the last 25 years, and I’m thankful to those who have come before us and created the foundation that we’ve continued to build on.”


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