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'Bemidji Leads!" recognizes fishing groups, Murphy

Bemidji Superintendent Jim Hess hands a "Bemidji Leads!" Stewardship Award to Let's Go Fishing volunteer Dan Posner. Also pictured, from left, are John and Cheryl Colford and Charlie Mann. BRIAN MATTHEWS | BEMIDJI PIONEER

BEMIDJI -- Whether it is a young child fishing for the first time, a disabled person who has never been able to fish before or a senior citizen no longer able to fish solo, this year's "Bemidji Leads!" Stewardship Award participants all focus on getting people out on the lake to put their lines in the water and catch fish.

The Bemidji Leads! Stewards recognized three stewardship groups Thursday night at the United Methodist Church to jump start "Bemidji Leads!" 2.0, getting the organization back to the vision of making Bemidji a great place to live.

"If you have had a good day today, you've got to have another one tomorrow," Bemidji Leads! Chairman Jim Bensen said. "As we look at this community, I am amazed at what's going on."

The first group recognized was Let's Go Fishing, a group that was formed in 2005 to provide senior citizens who are unable to fish alone with a chance to get out on the water again. Today, the group has 30 chapters across the state of Minnesota and has brought more than 50,000 seniors back onto the water, including 500 in the Bemidji community just last summer.

Charlie Mann, a volunteer with Let's Go Fishing, said it is hard to put into words the importance of the organization and the effect it has on the people it serves.

"I guess I am not the one that should be talking about Let's Go Fishing," Mann said. "A senior should be here talking about Let's Go Fishing. A senior should be telling you what it's like for them to go out on the water when they were unable to go before. They should tell you from their eyes and their emotions what is going on in their hearts."

The second group recognized was Fishing Has No Boundaries, a group focused on helping disabled people who are unable to fish get out on the water and, with the use of adapted angling equipment, catch their own fish. The group was formed in 1991 and currently has 23 chapters across the country.

A weekend event is held every year, with a day of fishing on Saturday and a fish fry held Sunday afternoon. This year's event is scheduled for June 23 and 24. People of all disabilities and ages are welcome to attend.

"This is their one chance a year," volunteer Vance Balstad said. "We all take it for granted (and say) the lake is right down here, let's go. They can't do that."

The third group recognized was Take a Kid Fishing, a group that formed in 1986 introducing kids to the sport of fishing, utilizing the lake resources in the Bemidji area and instilling a lifestyle that is healthy.

Jo Clayton, a volunteer with the organization, said fishing is an inexpensive way to promote a healthy lifestyle. When she sees a young child fishing, she sees someone who will live a good life and make good choices.

"The guides don't even realize the impact they can have on these kids in just one day," Clayton said.

In addition to the three groups' recognition, "Bemidji Leads!" honored Beltrami County Administrator Tony Murphy as the recipient of the Jim Bensen Award, which honors outstanding individual stewardship. He was recognized for his involvement and support of the county and his involvement with "Bemidji Leads!"

"There is a persistence factor in our community and in these organizations that simply keep at it, and I am grateful to play a small part in it," Murphy said. "No matter where I end up going in the future, I will always consider Bemidji my home."