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The Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival has a special meaning for Kristi and Brian Bissonette. MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER

Festival provides spark for Bemidji couple

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BEMIDJI - It was a blistering Friday when Kristi and Brian Bissonette first met in August 2008.

"I had started volunteering at the Dragon Boat fest," she said, "and he's been a part of it from day one."

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Kristi Bissonette, recently appointed chair of the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce, started working for the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival five years ago, unaware that the man who would soon become her husband was sitting a few seats from her.

"We were in a committee meeting when we met," she said. "He had asked about me, and we ended up working in the Dragon's Den together in the evening."

Brian remembers the moment well.

"When I asked about her, I was told that I didn't have a chance," he said. "But I believe I asked her out that night."

One night was all that the two volunteers needed.

"We hit it off," Kristi said.

It didn't take long for the new friendship to develop into more.

"We met that year of the fest and we were married by the next year," said Brian, who has been an announcer for the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival since its origin. "There has been something going on every year since we met."

Each year, the Bissonettes celebrate their anniversary at the Dragon Boat festival. "On our one year, one of the steersmen serenaded us," said Kristi, adding that both her and her husband plan to volunteer at the festival for upcoming years.

"We do other events together, but this is our tie." she said, "This is just something we'll always be a part of."

The duo has indeed spent their time doing other events, with both currently serving as co-vice presidents of Bemidji's United Way.

Brian noted that the Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival always has a large volunteer base.

"We are pretty intricately involved," said Brian, "Kristi took the reins this year, and things are definitely going well."

"We'll be working at the Dragon's Den this year again," said Kristi, who instituted the popular Cornhole Tournament into the festival last year. "It's tradition for us."

Now in its seventh year, the festival will feature the second annual Cornhole Tournament, musical entertainment, the Relay for Life survivor race and race day breakfast before the Dragon Boat races begin Saturday morning.

Neither husband nor wife appeared nervous about the whirl of upcoming work that is needed for the festival.

"It's a good thing, Kristi said, "It makes us have something to do together." "This is easy," added Brian, "And it has paid off in more ways than one."

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