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Roholts, Ralls to be honored as Friends of the Arts

H.B. “Ding” and Ina Roholt have been part of the arts scene here for 50 years, while Ernie and Patt Rall have plunged head-first into it since arriving in Bemidji 14 years ago.

BEMIDJI -- Two couples who support and appreciate Bemidji's vibrant arts community will be honored Friday as recipients of the 2014 Friend of the Arts award from the Watermark Art Center.

H.B. "Ding" and Ina Roholt have been part of the arts scene here for 50 years, while Ernie and Patt Rall have plunged head-first into it since arriving in Bemidji 14 years ago.

The Roholts and Ralls will be honored at the 26th annual Friend of the Arts awards celebration Friday at the Hampton Inn & Suites. It is presented by the Watermark Art Center and First National Bank Bemidji. The event starts with a social hour at 5:30, with dinner at 6:30 and the program to follow.

H.B. and Ina Roholt

Art in all of its various forms has been a passion for this couple, and even into their 90s they continue to attend concerts, plays, movies, readings and visual art events.

"You talk about a community," H.B. says, "and you've got your clothing stores, your gas stations, your post office, your lawyers, your doctors. That's not the essence of a community. The essence of a community are the creative people who ... do what they do because they have to. You can't stop an artist from 'arting'."

The Roholts moved to Bemidji in 1964 and H.B. practiced medicine here for the next 21 years before retiring. Neither of them are artists, although Ina once performed in a high school play and H.B. enjoys taking photographs.

"It's quite an honor to be chosen (for Friend of the Arts), simply because I feel I haven't done anything," Ina said. "I'm not artistic in any way, so I can't contribute anything to the art world."

Her husband, who helped initiate the Friend of the Arts award in the late 1980s, expanded on that thought: "The idea was to celebrate the producers, the ones who made the art," H.B. said. "But it soon became apparent that there were other people who, though not artistic in the sense of producing it, appreciated it, celebrated it, enjoyed it and promoted it. And certainly Ina and I are that kind of people."

Lori Forshee-Donnay, executive director of the Watermark Art Center,

"Ding and Ina are very active in their patronage to the arts," said Forshee-Donnay. "Whether attending a concert, an exhibit opening or purchasing art, they are a fixture in the arts community, and their enthusiasm and support is an inspiration."

Ernie and Patt Rall

The Ralls left their native New Jersey and moved to Bemidji in 2000 to be closer to their daughter and her family. Both had been active in the arts scene back east, Ernie performing in plays and Patt managing the theater at a community college. They didn't know much about Bemidji's arts community, but it didn't take long for both to get involved.

"The weekend we came to close on our house we were sitting in a coffee shop on Third Street and they had a giant caterpillar thing (sculpture) out on the sidewalk," Patt recalls. "I saw it and said, 'This is home for me.' I love public art."

Ernie got into the theater scene after seeing a story in the Pioneer about a directors workshop. He called about it, and the late Dick Lueben was on the other end of the line. "Within a half hour Dick was over here with a membership form (for the Bemidji Community Theater)," Ernie said. "He had the bylaws, constitution and background. So I started helping him with the community theater and have been involved ever since."

Ernie serves as president of the BCT, and also has performed and directed many plays. He also helps with acting workshops.

Patt took on a part-time job in the newsroom at the Pioneer and in the fall of 2006 she began writing a weekly arts column. She continues to highlight the area's arts scene despite taking a short break while living with cancer and chemotherapy treatments during the past year.

"To this day I get comments about Patt and her column," Ernie said. "When her column didn't appear for a few weeks I got phone calls, I got emails, asking if something was wrong, if Patt was all right."

Patt enjoys the feedback she receives from readers. While working as a hospice volunteer, she recalls seeing her columns on patients' refrigerators with events highlighted.

"I am overwhelmed (by the Friend of the Arts award)," Patt said. "This came as a total surprise. The community has been very welcoming and it's been nice."

Forshee-Donnay praised the Ralls for their commitment to arts in the community.

"Ernie and Patt are a dynamic team that have given selflessly of their time and talent in support of the arts," said Forshee-Donnay. "Ernie's dedication to the Bemidji Community Theater has helped keep this tradition viable in our region and open to anyone with an interest in the art and craft of theatre. Patt's love of the arts is reflected in her writing. We have all benefited from her keen interest and kind spirit. Her stories about the arts and artists of our region is a wonderful legacy for those involved and the community as a whole."