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