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Rotary conference coming to Bemidji this weekend

BEMIDJI – About 500 Rotarians will congregate in Bemidji this weekend for the organization’s annual district conference.

It marks the longest and largest convention in the Sanford Center’s short history, and the first Rotary district convention in Bemidji in more than a decade.

The convention, which starts Thursday and runs until Saturday night, will include national speakers, breakout sessions, entertainment and events throughout Bemidji.

“We’ve been working on this for about three and a half years,” said Gary Johnson, the Rotary’s district conference chair and chief executive officer at Paul Bunyan Communications. “And really it’s now because we have this beautiful Sanford Center and convention center that I think really allowed us to be successful in our bid.”

The district, its formal name being No. 5580, includes all of North Dakota, the northern half of Minnesota, a piece of northwest Wisconsin and a portion of Ontario in Canada.

“We’re one of the few international Rotary districts,” Johnson said. Rotary International is non-political, non-religious service

organization with more than 34,000 clubs worldwide.

Saturday afternoon’s activities include guest speaker Zafar Adeel, director of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health. His experience in water pollution and management issues is germane to one of the convention’s themes: “Making waves.”

Saturday’s primary theme will be “New Generations Day” featuring young speakers from across the district, Johnson said.

Georgette Bloom, the convention sales manager at the Sanford Center, said there are eight conventions planned there this year. She said making this convention a success will hopefully attract more groups to Bemidji.

“Word of mouth is a very powerful tool for sales and to get the word out about the Sanford Center,” Bloom said.

Booking large events has been made somewhat more difficult by the lack of an attached hotel to the center. A Country Inn and Suites project has been delayed several times as the developers work to line up finances.

The Rotarians visiting this weekend are staying in various hotels, but transportation is being arranged by Visit Bemidji, the local tourism bureau, Bloom said.

While many of the activities will be happening in the George W. Neilson Convention Center, there are several scheduled events out on the town. That includes bar shuffles Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, as well as a tour of the Concordia Language Villages and a “bowling for polio” event at Bemidji Bowl.

“The economic impact is going to be very fruitful in the community,” Bloom said. 

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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