WHAT'S IN A NAME: Roger Lehmann Park honors a man who loved nature
Roger Lehmann Park, nestled along the southern shore of Lake Irving, is named after a man who spent a lifetime outdoors and was an active member of the community.
Update: This story initially associated the namesake of this park with the wrong person, the story has been updated to reflect the correct Roger Lehmann the park was named after.
Editor's note: This is part of a 20-story series titled "What's in a name?" completed by Pioneer reporters for our 2022 Annual Report. Read more of the section by clicking the embed at the bottom of this article.
BEMIDJI — Roger Lehmann Park, nestled along the southern shore of Lake Irving, is named after a man who spent a lifetime outdoors and was an active member of the community.
Born June 4, 1911, in Mason City, Iowa, Roger Lehmann attended Mason City Junior College before graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in architecture in 1936.
Shortly after graduating, Lehmann married Phyllis Gustafson on Oct. 19, 1939, at the Little Brown Church in Nashua, Iowa, and had two sons and a daughter – William, who lives in Elizabeth City, N.C., Judy (Patterson) and Donald, who both live in Sitka, Alaska.
According to his youngest son, Donald, his father started working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in the early 1950s out of Minneapolis and moved to Bemidji to continue his work in the field as an Area Game Manager, which he did until his retirement in 1973.
“He wanted field work, that's why he moved to Bemidji, he wanted to be outdoors,” Donald said. “We bought the lot on South Lake Irving, he cleared it himself and created a garden there. We had raspberries and a variety of vegetables for the family along with numerous conifers.”
Donald also mentioned that a number of the trees still standing around town were most likely contributed by Lehmann, as he started many conifers from seed and had a small tree nursery business on his lot where Bemidjians now know to be Roger Lehmann Park.
After Lehmann died on Sept. 30, 1979, at age 68, his wife Phyllis looked to sell the plot of land. According to Donald, it was her idea to donate the land to the city in his honor.
“My siblings and I agreed, he loved that area of land. He loved nature and was associated with wildlife his entire life,” Donald said. “He always wanted to give back to the community. One motto he bestowed on us kids was to always leave a place better than how you found it.”
The small triangle of land located in the South Lake Irving neighborhood serves as a place for families to gather for picnics and a playground for children. There are also basketball and tennis courts for all to enjoy.
In Lehmann’s 25 years working for the DNR, he was involved in numerous projects such as wetlands acquisition, land classification and habitat development, along with accelerated and emergency programs for deer and game surveys. He also served as an observer for 10 years, where he rode in an airplane to survey the moose population, which eventually led to the state’s first moose hunting season.
As a member of various organizations in Bemidji such as the United Methodist Church and Bemidji Elks Lodge, he also served on the Itasca State Park board of directors, as president of the South Lake Irving Association, the Minnetonka Sportsman Club and the Minnesota State Game and Fish Employees Association.
Of all the areas he was involved in, Lehmann was most proud of the 50 wildlife management areas that he purchased and developed for the state. A couple of his favorites are still active today, including the Red Lake Trail and the Gulch Trail.
Besides his work and wide dedication to the Bemidji community, in his free time, he liked deer hunting, fishing, spending time in his garden and enjoying the outdoors in any way he could.
He and his family also had a cabin where they would deer hunt, they called it “the Palace in the Popple” located just north of town near the Turtle River Cemetery where Lehmann is buried.
According to Donald, his father also enjoyed going to the Bemidji’s Elks Club every Thursday night for what he called “choir practice,” where instead of singing, he and his buddies gathered to play a game or two of poker.