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Annual Bemidji Early Childhood Wheels event keeps rolling after 30 years

From fire trucks to motorcycles, wheels of all sizes were on display for children to explore on Tuesday during the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event.

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Children check out a motorcycle at the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in the JW Smith Elementary School parking lot.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — From fire trucks to motorcycles, wheels of all sizes were on display for children to explore on Tuesday during the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event.

Bemidji firefighters and EMTs greeted families as they entered the JW Smith parking lot, offering children a chance to check the emergency vehicles out for themselves.

One Bemidji firefighter, Chad Hokuf, helped TJ Murray, 6, hold a fire hose while Thomas Divine, a Bemidji EMT, invited some children to explore the inside of an ambulance.

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Bemidji firefighter Chad Hokuf helps TJ Murphy, 6, hold a firehose at the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in the JW Smith Elementary School parking lot.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Thomas Divine, an EMT with Bemidji Ambulance Service, explains what a gurney is to a couple of children during the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in the JW Smith Elementary School parking lot.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

On the other side of the parking lot, Beltrami Electric gave attendees a chance to take a ride up in the lift of a bucket truck.

“It wasn’t that scary,” eventgoer Aryah Murray, 11, commented with a grin as she exited the bucket after her lift ride.

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Aryah Murray, 11, goes for a ride in the lift of Beltrami Electric’s bucket truck during the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in the JW Smith Elementary School parking lot.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Daxtyn Vance, 2, sits in a Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplow during the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in the JW Smith Elementary School parking lot.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

After two years without the program being able to take place due to the coronavirus pandemic along with a late start to spring, families were excited to get out and enjoy the sunshine.

Retired Bemidji preschool teacher LeAnn Engen said she has been organizing the Wheels event for about 30 years and is now passing on the leadership role to incoming teachers as she moves into retirement.

“This is my first year (organizing the event),” said Mackinzie Greenwaldt, a teacher with Bemidji preschools. “LeAnn trained me and then COVID hit so we all had to kind of freeze planning and now she’s the grandma of the program.”

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Attendees explore all the various vehicles on display at the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in the JW Smith Elementary School parking lot.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Initially held in the First Lutheran Church parking lot, the Wheels event was later relocated to Central Elementary before eventually moving to its current home at JW Smith around 15 years ago.

“It’s kind of fun as teachers to see our former students who are now in second or third grade still attending,” Greenwaldt said. “The families just keep coming back.”

Bill Hubbell said he has been driving his 1944 John Deere tractor to the Wheels event for over 25 years.

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Bill Hubbell helps Elliot Hulsebus, 5, try out his 1944 John Deere tractor during the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in the JW Smith Elementary School parking lot.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“Sometimes I would have to drive my tractor home in the snow when this event used to be held in the fall,” Hubbell laughed as he helped Elliot Hulsebus, 5, onto the tractor. “I grew up driving one of these when I was a little kid and a lot of kids have no idea what a farm tractor is.”

Rhonda Bahr and Nicole Roller, who brought two of their Rickshaw Racing Team racecars to the event for children to try out, are also longtime event participants.

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“We’ve been coming since it started,” Bahr said. “It’s all about the kids.”

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Nicole Roller, left, and Rhonda Bahr, of Rickshaw Racing help children get in and out of their racecars on display during the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in the JW Smith Elementary School parking lot.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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A child tries out one of Rickshaw Racing’s racecars during the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in the JW Smith Elementary School parking lot.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Children pose for a photo on the front of a Bemidji fire truck at the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in the JW Smith Elementary School parking lot.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Charlie Dudley, 5, practices steering a boat during the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in the JW Smith Elementary School parking lot.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Children smile for a picture inside a Sherp ATV at the Early Childhood Family Education program’s annual “Wheels” event on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in the JW Smith Elementary School parking lot.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Related Topics: BEMIDJI NEWSLETTER
Maggi is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on outdoor and human interest stories. Raised in Aitkin, Minnesota, Maggi is a graduate of Bemidji State University's class of 2022 with a degree in Mass Communication.
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