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First Presbyterian to celebrate building's 80th year

First Presbyterian Church in Bemidji will hold a rededication and 80th anniversary celebration of the building at 501 Minnesota Ave. N.W. at 10 a.m. Sept. 20. Submitted Photo

On Sept. 15, 1929, members of Bemidji's First Presbyterian Church dedicated their new brick building at 501 Minnesota Ave. N.W.

The congregation had originally gathered for worship beginning in 1896 in a white frame church diagonally across the block at the corner of America Avenue and Sixth Street Northwest. That building is now the home of Headwaters Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

The speaker for the 1929 dedication was First Presbyterian member Manfred Deputy, president of Bemidji State Normal School from 1919 to 1938.

At 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, First Presbyterian members and guests will celebrate the 80th anniversary of the dedication with a rededication service featuring special music and speakers, followed by refreshments.

"We're patterning it after the original dedication," said the Rev. Jim DeSmidt, First Presbyterian pastor.

To mirror the 1929 event, he said Deputy's presidential descendant, Bemidji State University President Jon Quistgaard, will serve as one of the speakers. DeSmidt said Quistgaard grew up at First Presbyterian, but now attends a different Bemidji church.

DeSmidt said the impetus for the rededication and anniversary celebration came from a church member's discovery of the church's filing with the state of Minnesota as a corporation.

The church is part of the Presbytery of Northern Waters, which includes Minnesota from Brainerd to the Canadian border, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin.

The original part of the church is the sanctuary and fellowship hall beneath it. In 1968, another section housing offices and classrooms was added on the north side of the building.

"They modernized the downstairs in 2006 when I was first here," DeSmidt said. "It's an older building, but it's very serviceable."

As a downtown church, rather than a suburban church, DeSmidt said First Presbyterian is a hub for worship as well as social outreach. Boy Scout Troop 25 and a yoga group meet at the church. Members serve at the soup kitchen and with Meals on Wheels, and the building served as a day room for the Servants of Shelter homeless mission last winter.

"We are considering that for this winter's service project," said DeSmidt. "There is that need downtown. You can't just be open Sunday mornings."

He said many of the people who worship at First Presbyterian live in the neighborhood within walking distance and attend because they don't have transportation to go to out-of-town churches.

Before coming to Bemidji three years ago, DeSmidt ministered for 16 years in Iowa, 10 years in East Grand Forks and eight years in Wyoming. He said his wife, Jean, a music teacher, and her family own a cabin south of Walker, so they were familiar with northern Minnesota. When the position opened at First Presbyterian, DeSmidt applied and interviewed for the job.

He said anniversary celebration organizers hope the community will join in the events Sept. 20.

"We're hoping a lot of people come," he said.