Visiting our town: First presidential stop kindles memories of other famous guests

From models to ambassadors, many famous folks have spent time in Bemidji over the years.

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is greeted by David Park at his Bemidji home on October 18, 1955. Photo courtesy of Mary Morton.

BEMIDJI -- Until Friday, no sitting United States president had paid a visit to Bemidji. Of course, many famous folks have stopped by over the years, including former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and future President Bill Clinton.

Concordia Language Villages has hosted many dignitaries and ambassadors from Germany, Finland, Austria, Norway and Liechtenstein. Plenty of famous people have stayed at the Birchmont Beach Hotel (now Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge), including Edith Bolling Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson. Magazine publisher and entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes also stayed at the Birchmont. Model Cindy Crawford once stayed at Ruttger’s, and according to the resort’s website, “changed into her swimsuit in the Ruttger’s boathouse, much to the delight of the young men working there, then took a slalom water-ski run behind the lodge ski boat.”

The list goes on and on. But President Donald Trump’s campaign stop at Bemidji Aviation Services on Friday will certainly be a historic moment for the community.

Eleanor Roosevelt came to Bemidji on Oct. 18, 1955, 10 years after the death of her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

She was well respected in her later years, but Eleanor was a controversial First Lady because of her outspokenness, particularly on civil rights. According to Wikipedia, she was the first presidential spouse to hold regular press conferences, write a daily newspaper column, write a monthly magazine column, host a weekly radio show, and speak at a national party convention.


Her trip to Bemidji was part of a nationwide speaking tour.

Local businessman David Park loved to entertain, and he was shocked to learn that no one had planned a reception for Eleanor Roosevelt. As was his custom, he organized an impromptu reception at his home, which is located on Birchmont Drive and now owned by Bemidji State University.

Roosevelt later wrote about her visit:

“In flying up to Bemidji we flew very low so I was able to see the country and I was astounded at the number of lakes. Minnesota is called the State of Ten Thousand Lakes, but I am sure there are many more, and what in many parts of the country would be called lakes are called ‘potholes’ up there!

"Bemidji itself is called the icebox of the U.S. and frequently in winter they have temperatures of 40 degrees below zero. The evening I was there it turned chilly and I could feel what a frosty breath could come to that area.

“An outstanding site is a statue of a large blue bull and an enormous man standing by the lake. The man was called Paul Bunyan and is tied up with the legend of the forest giant who came to the area.

“The State Teachers College in Bemidji is run by a very enterprising and efficient president, Dr. Charles R. Sattgast. He and Mrs. Sattgast were more than kind in their welcome to me. Mrs. Sattgast was my hostess all the time I was there and a very thoughtful and sweet one. They even saw me off at the early hour of 7 o'clock in the morning and Dr. Sattgast came with me to Minneapolis where he was presenting his request for another building for his college.”

Bill Clinton’s last visit came in the summer of 1992, weeks before he officially became the Democratic candidate for president. Chelsea attended the German village at Concordia for six summers in a row.


Dr. Paul Dovre, president of Concordia College at the time, and his wife, Mardi, welcomed Bill and Hillary Clinton to the Language Villages in 1992.

“He made a few remarks at the closing ceremony, we did a walking tour with them and shared lunch,” Dovre said. “It was a warm and friendly occasion.”

Bill Clinton wrote a letter of appreciation to CLV:

“It was always a pleasure to visit Concordia Language Villages as Chelsea concluded her summer session there each year. We are most grateful for the enriching experiences she had as a villager and the lasting friendships begun there.”

During a 1991 visit, former Beltrami County DFL Chair Michael Meuers and his family were invited to Concordia Language Villages to meet with the future president. “We spent 45 minutes with him,” Meuers shared in a letter to the editor. “He was a great talker as he is often portrayed, and talked and talked about a mile above my head.”

Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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