Foreword: A year ago, I changed the focus of my column from philosophical ramblings and personal reflections to what seniors in the Bemidji area are doing in retirement -- from volunteering locally at the hospital or food shelf to competing in an international knitting contest; from staying active by mall-walking to taking up a new hobby, like watercolor painting. There is no lack of fodder for stories about interesting retirees. In 2019, I alternated between stories about individuals and groups. In 2020, I hope to bring readers more stories about retirees who inspire us to get involved, to stay mentally, physically and socially active, to volunteer, and to make the world a better place.
What happens when several retirees get together with younger Bemidji High School alumni on an All School Reunion committee? A lot. For the past 13 months, the Bemidji All School Reunion Committee has been meeting to plan the 2020 event, set for July 16-18. Several members of the committee are retirees. I sat in on their January meeting to learn about the upcoming event and to find out more about the committee members who are making it happen.
Planning an event of this magnitude requires a great deal of forethought, planning, coordinating, publicizing and fundraising. Carol Olson, who has been involved with all of the all school reunions, starting with the first, as she recalls, in 1986, when she had just started working at the Tourist Information Center. Carol, graduating class of 1965, has served as co-chair for at least one previous all school reunion. She credits Rosemary Given Amble, long-time council member, historian and active community member, with getting the tradition going. Carol’s experience at the TIC has built relationships with various city and tourism organizations, and she’s back on the committee this year. Why? “I want to see it happen,” she said. “It’s good to see people come back to their hometown.”
This year, Kay Murphy, class of 1975, co-chairs the committee with Char Blashill, class of 1990. Kay’s organizational skills, honed by many years working for City Hall, give her insight into the workings of permits needed for parades and street closings, noise ordinances and other details that a downtown event in mid-summer requires. Char’s attention to detail, connections with the Bemidji Jaycees, and experience working with Water Carnival events make her an ideal co-chair.
Sid Sletten, class of 1974, (recently retired from Beltrami Electric) worked on the last all school reunion. His band Power Play, which started in 1980, has played for several class reunions over the years. (Kay remembers listening to Power Play at the old Jack’s Supper Club in Wilton.) Sid’s DMS Entertainment business and connections to the music world make him the perfect committee member to line up the stages, sound systems and bands for the 2020 event.
Ron Desizlets, class of 1957, has attended all of the all school reunions and has served on the committee for several. High school friendships have lasted over six decades for Ron, who retired from UPS after 23 years. Keeping those connections is important enough for Ron and several of his classmates to meet at Raphael’s Bakery once a month for lunch. “We have about 15-20 who get together,” Ron said. “Fewer in the winter when the snowbirds leave.” The group had a special 80th birthday reunion last year.
Jerry Phillips, class of 1964 (retired from Northwest Insurance but still working with his own marketing business), has been involved in several school and area causes and events over the years -- from fundraising for golf tournaments to preserving the old BHS arch. At this month’s All School Reunion Committee meeting, he reports on name tags and event bags -- 2,000 of them in the works.
More recent graduates -- like Kelly Reid (1978), John Tesar (1983), Josh Peterson (2000), and Aryn DeShane (2006) -- bring other skills to the table with everything from military experience (Kelly served in the U.S. Navy for over 26 years) to technical experience, salesmanship, leadership, and organizational, clerical and math skills. Josh’s role in Visit Bemidji is a significant (and energized) one that helps with everything from promotion to event building to fundraising.
Pam (Schlee) Johnson, class of 1984 grad, the committee’s treasurer, brings her skills as a business owner as well as a venue for part of the festivities at Becida Bar. Another business owner Diane Halverson (class of 1965 and owner of Diane’s Dance Studio) has been part of past reunions, hosting events and welcoming back past students of the Carr Lake School.
John Tesar, who recently relocated to Bemidji from Atlanta, brings financial experience from 22 years of working for Retirement Services, but more than that, John, as a graduate who had not attended class reunions in the past, has ideas about how to get people who haven’t returned before to come to the event in 2020.
Other committee members -- Sandy Beck, Mary Conway, Dave Gooch, Cecelia McKeig, Linda Ditty, Tina Siems and Jim Aakhus -- have been in on the planning since the committee started meeting a full year ago.
Watching this eclectic group of enthusiastic alumni -- retired or still working -- reminds me that everything big that happens involves a lot of planning, coordination, time and just plain hard work in order for things to come together. The interplay between the energy of the younger members of the group and the experience, dedication and backgrounds of the retirees makes for a committee where individuals claim their parts, take on responsibilities, and bring back ideas, solutions and information. The involvement of these innovators puts their talents, ideas, and school and civic pride to work to create a fun social event for the rest of us.