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'He made people smile': Dragon Boat Festival will remember Welte

Submitted illustration. The Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival this year is remembering George Welte, its official festival photographer, who died unexpectedly June 30.

BEMIDJI -- He'd remember you, year after year.

George Welte, the official photographer for the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival, would track down repeat participants and their families or friends, offering to take a photograph to document that year's experience.

"George always made a point to go to different groups, different people, and say, 'Hey, let me get your photo,'" recalled Kristi Bissonette, co-chair of this year's festival. "He made people smile."

Welte, 79, died unexpectedly June 30. He is being remember throughout this year's Dragon Boat Festival with tributes planned in his honor.

His death leaves a "big void" in the festival this year, Bissonette said.

Gary Johnson, who helped establish the annual festival in 2006 through the Bemidji Rotary Club, added Welte would be sorely missed.

Along the Lake Bemidji waterfront, the official location for team photographs has been named the George Welte Station.

"He was really good with the teams," Johnson said. "People got to know him, like him, they got to expect (seeing) him."

Welte would take team photographs and also wander throughout the grounds during the festival's duration, capturing shots from within the team village and documenting the races.

Bissonette noted Welte often spent time in the announcer's tent, both to visit with friends and also to protect his camera and equipment from the occasional rain shower.

"He wasn't just the team photographer," she said. "He was really the festival photographer."

Welte was a 52-year member of the Rotary, according to his obituary. Since photography was one of his hobbies, he often would take photos of Rotary events, Johnson said.

Welte volunteered to take the team photos at the Dragon Boat Festival and organized everything so high-resolution photos were made available online to interested participants.

"It worked out great," Johnson said. "We were able to provide those photos at no charge."

Bissonette said Welte's contributions to the festival went beyond photography, explaining he annually helped with the construction of the scoreboard and hung signs throughout Library Park.

"He would have been down here the entire time," she said. "He would work the beer tent and he would just be down here the whole week."