BEMIDJI -- A champion curler, a family man, a warehouse manager for KC's Best and Joy Bahr's "big blue-eyed boy."

That's how many will remember Joshua Bahr, who died unexpectedly on July 24.

His parents, Joy and Kent Bahr, have run Bemidji-based KC's Best for nearly three decades and with Josh as a large part of the family business, his death has left a void.

"He left a hole in our hearts, family and business that can't be filled," Kent Bahr said. "I keep getting new business updates or I hear some new news and I want to tell him right away like I used to. We expect to see him driving down the road but we don't."

Josh Bahr
Josh Bahr

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Bahr’s motivation to start the business came from doing youth group fundraisers for their church in 1993 and wanted to offer higher quality options to raise money.

At the time, he was working the evening and night shifts at the post office as a sortation clerk, not enjoying that he was away from his family so much.

“People would be out there buying wrapping paper that was worth a dollar but paying 10 bucks for it,” Bahr said. "I found out that we could sell wild rice and it did really well. A lot of people were interested."

The first place they began selling the wild rice was at the former Xen's Sporting Goods store in Bemidji. And from there, the rest was history, Bahr said. Along with his wife Joy and their children: Jennifer, Melissa and Josh, he officially started selling in February of 1994 and is now in his 27th year of business.

From starting out in the basement of his house before moving to their garage, then building their first small warehouse in 2005 and now owning a big business, the family has turned their dream into a reality.

He decided to call it KC’s Best to make it generic enough to leave room to branch out from wild rice and try new products. The initials came from his own first name and Clifford, which was his father's name and is also Kent's middle name.

Over the years they have done business with a lot of local restaurants, bakeries, casinos and butcher shops in the Bemidji area. When Walmart opened, KC's Best was one of the first local businesses they partnered with.

"It has been a lot of work," Bahr said as he showed a map of all the places they have sold to in the U.S. “I really couldn’t have done it without those two (Joy and Josh) or my God, we’ve been through it all together.”

As time continued, their two oldest daughters married and moved away to start their families, but someone who has been with Kent and Joy through their whole business experience was their son Josh.

From left: Jennifer, Melissa and Josh Bahr pose with KC's Best wild rice in 1994.  Submitted photo.
From left: Jennifer, Melissa and Josh Bahr pose with KC's Best wild rice in 1994. Submitted photo.

He started working with his dad at a young age by loading boxes of rice and helping deliver them. He graduated from Bemidji High School in 2009 and worked his way up in the company to become warehouse manager.

Josh offered much more to the community than simply providing its residents with wild rice. In his obituary, his family shared that his true passion was the sport of curling. He began playing competitively when he was just 14 years old and won numerous awards, including a gold medal at the Junior Men’s Nationals in 2011. Along with his father, he helped teach more than 1,300 people how to curl.

He helped to prepare the ice on Lake Bemidji for curling, and also worked as the Bemidji Curling Club ice manager spending hours making sure that the ice was perfect for the players.

Josh was 29 at the time of his passing, leaving behind a family, friends and community that loved him very much. With many saying how lucky and blessed they are to have had the pleasure to know or do business with him.

The Bahrs are planning to donate 200 pounds of wild rice to the Bemidji Community Food Shelf and also hope to establish a curling scholarship in Josh's honor. His friends are also collecting money to install a bench in his memory at the Bemidji Disc Golf Park.

"We have been hearing so much from the community about what a wonderful and caring person Josh was and how he always asked how everyone was doing, it's been great to hear," Bahr said. "It's about that time of year when all this rice comes in and he usually is here helping with that, it just isn't going to ever be the same."