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Prime Time: 'But, but there's nothing to do up there'

"I am still learning." - Michelangelo.


Two neighbors in the Twin Cities were planning future locations as both were on the verge of retirement.

They both agreed that they wanted to leave the city but disagreed on where they wanted to live next, the one opting for a smaller city and the other considering moving up north to lake country. Both neighbors were very interested in the arts.

While the one thought Rochester was just about right, the other thought the area around Bemidji seemed inviting, to which the first one responded with bewilderment but assurance: "But, but there's nothing to do up there!"

The decision to retire to someplace desirable came in the form and formula agreed upon by both, namely the three "musts," for good, rich living anywhere requires the near availability of 1) a college, 2) a symphony orchestra and 3) live theater. If those requirements are met, then it has to be a pretty good community.

Despite meeting this criteria, the one neighbor still pooh-poohed the Bemidji location, noting sarcastically: "There seems little positive for the arts in a community where the town's top radio station plays nothing but Billy-Barnsmell music all day and all night, and those much-needed artists."

Romantic landscapes are filled with pickup trucks. So there.

With headshaking more in sorrow than anger, her firm response noted: "You may not believe this, but Minnesota Public Radio really reaches way up North!"

As to artists? "There's enough superb outdoor scenery to satisfy any and every artist owning a paintbrush." She concluded "I'll let you know in a couple of years who's right."

Stalemate. To each his own.

Whatever, the choices of both neighbors' moves were eventually made, as planned.


There was another couple who decided to retire to the North Country, but came not from the Twin Cities but from New Jersey. Patt and Ernie Rall arrived in Bemidji 10 years ago.

"When we moved here, Patt and I were looking for some ways to become more familiar with and involved in the community," Ernie said. "I saw an item in the paper regarding a presentation sponsored by Lifelong Learning. We attended the session and several subsequent sessions and really enjoyed the experience."

Patt and Ernie represented newcomers who quickly chose to get involved in the community, with Patt ending up today as the arts columnist and staff writer in the Pioneer, while Ernie soon moved into heading up the Lifelong Learning program as its director, a current position he's held for the past four years. As to the assertion of "nothing to do," Ernie would add that "There's plenty to do in Bemidji," among them the Lifelong Learning programs.

(For the curious but unaware, on Tuesdays there is a free 10 a.m. weekly Lifelong Learning program held in the Beltrami Electric Coop building on U.S. Highway 71 N. If readers got their paper read early this morning (Oct. 11), there's still time to hustle off to the co-op to see and hear today's presenter, Jean Christensen, speaking on "Mental Health Resiliency in Caregivers." There's also coffee and cookies.)


It is relevant to know how much these Lifelong Learning program directors and board members get paid for their services. Answer: nothing. As to the fees charged by the presenters? Answer: nothing. (If they drive some distance to get here, however, they may receive some compensation for mileage.) As to any financial aid from any governmental agency? Answer: nothing. From Bemidji State University? Nothing. The program relies strictly on donations. It's another important community service at its best.


The board members take suggested topics and speakers from the attendee comment sheets and then may add names and topics of their own. After lengthy discussion of the topic's appeal - and the speaker's ability - the board conducts several rounds of voting until the top 10 topics/presenters have been selected. Board members are then assigned to contact the selected speakers to confirm their acceptance, the topic chosen, and the presentation date within an eight-week semester. Thus far, most of the speakers are from the local Bemidji area. Generally, in nine out of 10 contacts, the proposed speaker has accepted the invitation to present a program.

Lining up programs and presenters is never easy; lots of decisions are required - and many phone calls made. Even when "arranged," things do not always come off as planned, as noted by Rall: "At one of our sessions, I began to get concerned when our scheduled speaker still had not appeared five minutes before the scheduled start of his presentation. I managed to get his phone number and called. His wife answered and said he was sleeping! After telling her the nature of my call, she promised to have him (here) in 20 minutes, during which time I engaged the audience in a discussion of potential topics for future presentations that they would like to hear."


Rall also remembered with semi-amusement a program that was going on when in the middle of the presentation, "A number of seniors got up en masse to get to lunch in time at the Senior Center." First things first.

On a personal note, Rall concluded: "My association with Adventures in Lifelong Learning has had the advantage of providing me with a means of getting involved with and learning about the community and making the social contacts necessary to be part of the community."

Rall credits the success of their programs to his board members: Nancy Brovold, Betty Hanson-Lehman, Betty Magnan, Scotty Tesar and Al Yarnoff (for info, call him at 444-7091). All the board members would likely agree that Michelangelo spoke for all of them as well as for the many attendees at the programs. The curious in the North Country are legion and still learning.

But back to the two neighbors. By the way, and not incidentally, the woman who moved to Bemidji would two years later write to her friend in Rochester: "There is so much to do here that it's hard to make up your mind on where one should go. Wonderfully exhausting."