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'A really great time' at Bemidji Women's Expo; Jackie Pflug shares compelling story of surviving airline hijacking

Elaine Lauderbaugh, left, and Julie Little, center, ask questions of keynote speaker Jackie Pflug Saturday at the Bemidji Women's Expo. Pflug told the story of how her life changed after she was shot in the head by hijackers and left for dead, and shared inspirations she learned from her experiences. She also signed copies of her book, "Miles to Go Before I Sleep: A Survivor's Story of Life After a Terrorist Hijacking." Pioneer Photo/Laurie Swenson

They came solo, in twos and threes, even in groups with red hats.

The Bemidji Women's Expo Saturday drew about 1,000 people to the John Glas Fieldhouse Saturday, many of them lining up well ahead of time for the third annual Expo, sponsored by the Bemidji Pioneer.

"It was another great day to be a woman in Bemidji," Pioneer Publisher Dennis Doeden said. "We were thrilled. The vendors seemed very happy with the people who stopped and visited them. We had local and regional vendors and a really good lineup of speakers. I think everyone had a really great time."

Unique Keepsakes, featuring colorful clothing, jewelry and ornaments, was popular all day in its first appearance at the Expo. Many shoppers checked out the "Magic Wrap" sari skirt, made from recycled saris.

Leo Desmond, who ran the booth with his wife, Christine, said he grew up in England with a lot of children of Indian descent, which provided some of the inspiration for the saris and other clothing.

"We only deal with free trade people," he said.

The Desmonds live in Brainerd, where they opened a store two weeks ago in the Westgate Mall.

The booth also featured the didgeridoo, a wind instrument developed at least 1,500 years ago by Australian Aboriginals.

"They reckon it's the oldest instrument known to man, apart from banging things," Leo Desmond said, noting that there's a saying in Australia: "If the earth had a voice, it would speak didgeridoo."

Olson-Schwartz Funeral Home & Cremation Service, another new vendor, was perhaps unexpected at first for Expo enthusiasts, but people were drawn to the selection of ornate cremation urns and stuck around to ask questions about a difficult topic.

"Death is so foreboding and so macabre that you want to stay away from it," owner Kirk Malkowski said, adding that he and his staff didn't quite know what to expect.

"It was nice to sit and chat with people on a one-to-one level," he said. "Women are the ones who think about these things. ... Women are the ones who take care of the family."

Next year, Malkowski would like to plan a presentation for the Expo, likely focusing on the process of cremation.

"The crowd turnout was phenomenal -- there were lines outside the door this morning," said Linda Dunphy of the Floor to Ceiling store.

She said next year the family-owned business will have a different look at its Expo booth to illustrate more of what it does. "We do all kinds of things we couldn't show."

Micki Bales and Miriam Osborn were friends in Indiana who were reunited when Osborn moved to Blackduck four years ago. Bales, who owns the Sleepy Hollow Resort, has lived in Northome for 11 years.

"We had a great time together" at the Expo, Bales said, noting that even though they live closer to each other now, they're so busy that it's hard for them to get together, so the Expo was a good chance to do that.

"I think I've been to every seminar I could get to," said Carol Bronson. "I liked them all." She particularly enjoyed Sue Doeden's presentation on "Skinny Dipping: Healthful and Fun-to-Eat Dips, Dippers and Finger Foods."

As for the vendors, "I discovered things I didn't know were in the area," she said.

A trio of sisters, Mavis Lundquist, Linda McGuirk and Elaine Lauderbaugh, along with friend Julie Little, carried signs that stated "I got my glasses at MeritCare," which had a booth where people could try on frames. Lauderbaugh's teal outfit perfectly matched her frames.

Also on hand were the Red Hats from Warroad.

"We had a great time with all the booths and the seminars," said Red Hatter Sharon Smith, adding that they planned to do some more shopping and eat before going home.

Compelling story

The Expo closed with keynote speaker Jackie Pflug, who in 1985 survived being shot in the head by hijackers and dumped outside an Egypt Air airplane.

Pflug told the audience how she lay for five hours on the ground, breathing shallow breaths so her captors wouldn't notice she was still alive, but her presentation was on more than survival.

"It's not about the story, but how you rise above the store," she said.

Pflug was left with impaired vision, loss of short-term memory and difficulty with expressive language. She sees what is straight ahead of her and has a little peripheral vision on the right, but does not have upper, lower or left peripheral vision. When she looks at something, she sees it in pieces.

"My vision never came back, but my adaption was great," she said.

Pflug suffered from a deep depression after her ordeal and wanted to lie in bed, watch television and cry, but forced herself to get up, eat, shower and go out and talk to people.

"I knew that if I didn't get out of my bed, I would get lost in it," she said.

She developed a commitment to succeed. Doctors said she would never drive, work or read above a kindergarten level. But she got her driver's license back within two years, then started a career as a motivational speaker. Within 19 years, she made the accomplishment that has made her the most proud: advancing from a kindergarten reading level to a 12th-grade level.

Her experiences have taught her to have a great attitude, to not worry about little things and to be grateful. She said she has a "grateful journal" in which each day she writes five things for which she is grateful.

"The key to being joyful is being grateful," she said.

Pflug signed copies of her book, "Miles to Go Before I Sleep: A Survivor's Story of Life After a Terrorist Hijacking," after her presentation.

Sept. 11 used to be a happy day for Deb Underbakke, but her birthday became a somber occasion after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Underbakke and her 12-year-old son Alex were among those who lined up to meet Pflug. Alex is also very concerned about terrorism, his mother said, noting that he read about Pflug in the Pioneer and was fascinated.

"It was pretty good," Alex said of Pflug's presentation.

Pioneer business manager Tammie Richter said the Pflug was a unanimous choice by the Women's Expo committee.

"She just had a compelling story," Richter said.

"I just think we picked a great speaker," Doeden said. "It's a horrible story, but that's not the message."

Doeden noted that there were similarities between Pflug's message and that of Debbie Drinkard Grovum, who spoke earlier in the afternoon on "Live a Lucky Life," focusing on how to make the most of unexpected events.

Pflug's story illustrates that this is possible even after horrific experiences.

"You can make those choices and survive something like that," Doeden said.

"It's the choices that we make that make or break us," Pflug said.

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