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Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival: Erpelding family brings team paddlers and spectators

The Erpelding family showed off their team shirts Friday night while walking in the Parade of Teams during the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival opening ceremonies. Pioneer PhotoMonte Draper

The dark gray clouds that hung ominously over Lake Bemidji Friday eventually gave way to a thunderstorm that postponed the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival Parade of Teams and opening ceremony for an hour.

Thunder boomed as Dragon Boat Festival participants hurried to shield themselves from the heavy rain. Many escaped the downpour by going into the Dragon's Den, the main refreshment tent of the festival.

The tent buzzed as people splashed around, talking among themselves and getting served by the festival volunteers.

The Erpelding family was part of the festival volunteer force, planning on working at the tent until it was time for them to change into their racing shirts and represent the Paddledings, a new family team that will be partaking in the dragon boat races Saturday.

Ten siblings, along with their spouses and children, will race together for the first time, although some siblings have been part of the dragon boat races in previous years.

"We decided in March that we were going to do it," said Susan Erpelding.

"It was at dad's birthday party," added her sister Sheila. "We had wanted a family team for years, and thought now would be a good time."

The Erpelding siblings have chosen to row this Saturday in honor of their mother, who was diagnosed with colon cancer three years ago.

Susan said it seemed like a good reason for the family to get together with a common goal. The team will don blue ribbons on the back of their shirts with their mother's initials on them.

The Erpelding family has been a part of Beltrami's Relay For Life for the past couple of years. Relay For Life will also honor the lives that have been affected by cancer at the festival.

The Paddledings will be on Lake Bemidji with 20 team members. However, the family doesn't stop there. About 50 family members will go to the Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival to support and cheer on the Paddledings.

Sheila said that the family is hoping to continue the Paddledings tradition at future Bemidji Dragon Boat Festivals.

"It makes sense," she said. "Our family isn't getting any smaller."