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Georgia Hirt, in her first heavy, homemade curling sweater, and Ruth Howe display some of the souvenir participation pins Howe collected from bonspiels she competed in since she started curling in 1957. The pair have organized a women's curling celebration social from 1:30-4:30 p.m. March 12 at the Bemidji Curling Club. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

Bemidji Curling Club: Veteran women curlers to celebrate

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The Bemidji Curling Club was founded in 1935, but until 1951, it was a men-only outfit.

"The men did not want women involved," said Georgia Hirt, who joined the club in 1956 when the rink was in a shed on America Avenue. "My husband's mom, Carolyn Hirt, was the first."

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She said Carolyn's grandson, Chase Jackson, is now the president of the Bemidji Curling Club.

Georgia Hirt and Ruth Howe, another veteran member who joined the Bemidji Curling Club in 1957, have planned a celebration of female curlers from 1:30-4:30 p.m. Friday, March 12, at the Bemidji Curling Club with a wine-and-cheese social.

They said women began to informally infiltrate the club when men of the Canadian Border Patrol were stationed in Bemidji. Their wives enjoyed curling and wanted access to the rink. So, on Friday nights, couples curled behind locked doors.

In 1951, the men agreed to officially admit women to curling competition at the Bemidji Curling Club.

Curling remained fairly informal for several years with competitors wearing street shoes, various sizes of rocks and corn brooms purchased at hardware stores. And rink conditions were primitive.

"I still have a straw broom, but I use it for cleaning out the car," said Howe.

"The first year I started, I froze my feet," said Hirt. "I thought, 'This is awful. I quit.'"

But the next year, she was sliding rocks on the ice again.

"I remember the second year I curled, I got to curl twice because the ice melted," said Howe.

But building the modern curling club changed the character of the game.

"We've had the Scottish ladies here and the Canadian ladies," said Howe.

Hirt said curling opened a special social circle for her when she was teaching third grade in 1965 at a U.S. Air Force base in Goose Bay, Labrador. The teams there were required to include women, so because of the skills she acquired at the Bemidji Curling Club, she was in demand.

"I won a trophy," she said.

No one will actually be curling during the March 12 gathering, but they will sing, to the tune of "Onward, Christian Soldiers," the "U.S. Curler's Song," which begins, "Onward, all ye curlers, Form a might line, Curling one another, Friendships we will find."

From an all-male pursuit to both men's and women's Olympic teams drawing athletes from the Bemidji area, the Bemidji Curling Club's 75th year deserves recognition, Howe and Hirt said.

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Pioneer staff reports
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