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Pawlenty kicks off Capital for a Day in Bemidji

As Minnesota's honorary governor and lieutenant governor for the day, Brian Ophus and Robert Fraik embraced their new responsibilities.

"I have been getting a lot of phone calls, a lot of requests," Honorary Gov. Ophus joked Monday during Bemidji's Capital for a Day Ceremony.

"We're running mates," Honorary Lt. Gov. Fraik added.

Serving together is nothing new for the Bemidji men, who are both 25 years old.

"We were actually roommates together in Iraq," Ophus said following the ceremony at Diamond Point Park.

The two friends served two tours of duty together with the Bemidji unit of the Minnesota National Guard. The first was in Bosnia and the second was a recent two-year tour in Iraq.

"I thought it was special that they had a couple of National Guard guys representing the town for the day," Fraik said.

Originally from International Falls, Fraik, who has served in the National Guard for seven years, is a corrections officer at Beltrami County Jail and is scheduled to graduate from Bemidji State University with a degree in criminal justice this year.

Ophus, who has served six years in the National Guard, has lived in Bemidji all his life. A Bemidji High School graduate, he continued his education for a couple of years at BSU in between deployments.

"It's a real honor," Ophus said of his role as honorary governor. "Growing up in Bemidji, I love the community, I love the area."

"I'm very honored to be lieutenant governor for the day in Bemidji," Fraik added.

Online voters selected Ophus and Fraik as the honorary governor and lieutenant governor for Bemidji's Capital for a Day celebration Monday. Online voters also chose Bemidji as one of five rural cities to be honorary Capitals for a Day as part of activities to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Minnesota's statehood.

Voting for the cities was done by geographic region, or "biomes." Bemidji competed with 13 other nominated cities to win the honors for the "coniferous forest zone" -- the biome for northcentral and northeastern Minnesota.

Mike Smith, president of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, said it is a real special honor for Bemidji to be selected as a Capital for a Day.

Carol Olson of the Chamber of Commerce and Cindy Habedank of VisitBemidji wrote a statement nominating Bemidji as Capital for a Day.

Mayor Richard Lehmann read from the statement during the ceremony Monday.

"Since the early 1800s, the vast forests and plentiful waterways, including national and state forests and the Mississippi River, have provided economic growth and quality of life to the area's earliest inhabitants and present generation," he read. "Native American and Scandinavian cultures are woven together into the tapestry of the Bemidji area's history."

He continued reading, "Bemidji, as a regional center for education, medical care, arts, retail and transportation, offers services to a much larger population than the city census indicates. Based on the regional and ethnic influences that give character to Bemidji, we nominate Bemidji, the First City on the Mississippi, as Capital for a Day, to represent the coniferous forest zone."

Melissa Roberts, northeastern Minnesota representative from Sen. Norm Coleman's office, presented Lehmann with a resolution that the Senate passed May 6 to recognize Minnesota's 150th anniversary. The resolution was submitted to the Senate by Coleman, R-Minn., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn.

Earlier Monday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty helped kick off Bemidji's Capital for a Day celebration by having breakfast at the Bemidji Senior Center and addressing a crowd of about 200 people at City Hall. Before leaving City Hall, Pawlenty joked with Fraik about him serving as honorary lieutenant governor.

"He looked at me, shook my hand and said, 'Don't mess this up,'" Fraik said.

Larry and Cheri Reinarz of Bemidji were among the many community members who joined in Monday's celebration. They started out the day with one of the downtown history tours provided by the Go & Whoa Harness Club and then headed to the ceremony at Diamond Point Park.

"We really enjoy this history part of Bemidji," Larry Reinarz said.

"It's fascinating, especially when you live here," Cheri Reinarz added.

John and Lois Egelhof of Bemidji also attended the ceremony. Lois Egelhof said she liked how Bemidji's Capital for a Day brought various people together in celebration.

"You have people from all different walks of life," she said. "And that's what makes the state anyway."