Reminiscing on Bemidji's top stories of 2022, a year of progress and growth

Dec. 31—It's hard to put into words the transition that took place during 2022. After the rollercoaster of the past couple of years, the whole world wondered if this year would be much of the same. Would COVID continue to rule our lives? Could the economy recover? Was it possible to hope that things would get better...finally?

Though it was hard to tell at first how these questions would be answered, it didn't take too long for Bemidjians to see that we were on a solid track toward normalcy at long last.

It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows, there were still some challenges to overcome as everyone adapted to our new reality, but boy did Bemidji come back with a bang.

This year, many of the Pioneer's top stories are centered around growth, healing, relationships and community. Even in the midst of some hard losses it was a rejuvenating year of progress. Here's a peek into some of the highs and lows of 2022, a year on the rebound.

In a sense, the year 2022 has felt like a race, paddling hard to try and catch up — much like

The Need for Giga-Speed team claiming this year's Dragon Boat Festival championship win

— after so many of the community's beloved activities and events were canceled or scaled down over the past couple of years because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But as the country transitioned out of the depths of COVID restrictions into the spring of a new year, from the return of big events like the annual

Home, Sport and Travel Show


Bemidji's Loop the Lake Festival drawing more than 900 riders,

it felt safe to say that Bemidji was officially returning to normal.

To kick off the summer, hundreds set aside denominational and political differences and flooded the streets to unite with a

march to celebrate Jesus.

In mid-June, participants of the

High Plains Regional Rendezvous encampment

turned back the clock to the early 1800s to reenact the American fur trade era.

June events continued to make a splash with the highly-anticipated

Bemidji Jaycees Water Carnival,

dozens of youngsters gathered for the annual

Take a Kid Fishing event

and the

17th annual Niimi'idiwin (Powwow)

returned so community members young and old could gather to celebrate holistic healing and the community's Ojibwe heritage.

Starting July off with a bang, Bemidjians enjoyed a full-blown

Bemidji Jaycees' Water Carnival comeback,

which wrapped up with the

Red, White and Boom fireworks

lighting up Lake Bemidji. Then, members of the Lake Bemidji Sailing Association lined up along the shore at Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge for the

second regatta of the summer


Bemidji's All School Reunion festivities closed out the month with a parade and street dance.

This was a year full of healing, but also a time to reflect and honor the fallen comrades who fought for our country's freedom. For those who survived the Vietnam War and the families of those who didn't,

an 8-by-200-foot memorial wall was escorted to Gonvick

to offer a chance to heal, reflect and honor those who paid the ultimate price.

As veterans are to be celebrated every day, Bemidji hosted a whole slew of events to honor their service, including a

Memorial Day service at Greenwood Cemetery

and memorializing the

American flag for Flag Day

, honoring veterans near and far with a

Veterans Day flag ceremony

at Greenwood Cemetery along with a

program at Lincoln Elementary School

. Concluding the year, their legacies were honored with a

wreath-laying ceremony

for National Wreaths Across America Day.

The summertime fun continued as the

Beltrami County Fair kicked off

in August, followed by the second annual

Bemidji Pride event,

along with

celebrating the value farmers markets bring to the area

in honor of National Farmers Market Week.

As the area transitioned into autumn, the annual

Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon kicked off its 10th anniversary


trick-or-treating returned to the residence halls at Bemidji State

in full force after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

Helping Bemidjians get in the spirit for another winter season enjoying the fun it has to offer, Buena Vista Ski Area held its annual

Welcome to Winter open house

and the First City of Lights Foundation held a bigger and better

Night We Light celebration

than ever before, launching the city into the holiday season.

As Christmas neared, local first responders guided elementary students through Walmart as they searched for the perfect holiday gifts during the

annual Heroes and Helpers program

while the halls of the

Clearwater County History Center were decked with Christmas cheer as its first-ever Festival of Trees

event was held for a friendly tree-decorating competition and to provide a place where friends, family and neighbors could gather to catch up, eat cookies and reminisce on old Christmas memories.

Businesses boomed big time in Bemidji this year. The Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce hosted ribbon-cutting ceremonies for 27 new businesses and made about 70 Ambassador visits in 2022, alongside

a celebration of their own new space for the Chamber of Commerce.

Some of the exciting new additions to Bemidji's business scene include the

Hatchet House,

an ax-throwing bar that opened in April and features food, drinks and ax-throwing lessons, and

Boardwalk Mini Golf,

which opened its 18-hole course in August on Lake Bemidji's south shore.

Union Station Thrift,

a thrift shop owned by Rabecca and Mark Wilkowski, opened in April bringing new life to the old Union Station building in downtown Bemidji.

A highlight for many this summer was the opening of

Tapatios Mexican Restaurant,

family-owned and operated by Ruben and Cecilia Aceves and their children. In August, 21-year-old Madi Stone purchased the Dunn Brothers Coffee building, reopening it as

The Coffee District.

Sanford Health saw two big projects completed this year, starting with the

opening of its new Behavioral Crisis Center in September.

It offers improved mental and behavioral health resources and in-patient treatment options for those in crisis. Prior to its opening, the nearest options for in-patient care were over 90 miles away.

In December

Sanford cut the ribbon on its new Vivaz Medical Spa,

which will offer a combination of dermatology and esthetic treatments to its clients. Marrying the medical and cosmetic sides of these services, the spa will offer treatments that range from fillers and facials to laser hair removal.

In a culmination of a decades-long project by the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, 2022 saw the

grand opening of the East Conifer Estates,

a supportive housing complex in Bemidji. The project aims to provide a supportive and affordable option to those struggling with housing instability.

Resilience, representation and remembrance were three themes of stories concerning the surrounding tribal nations and Indigenous issues in Bemidji itself. The search for missing and murdered Indigenous women hit especially close to home as activist group MMIW 218 held rallies in February and May.

February's event included a search

for missing teenager Nevaeh Kingbird, who went missing in October 2021.

Several hundred people attended May's rally

donning red apparel, and marched from the Sanford Center to Paul Bunyan Park holding signs that read, "Bring her home" and "No more stolen sisters."

For the first time since 2019,

Leech Lake Nation held its annual Welcome Babies Celebration

in June as a way to welcome infants and new families into the community all while providing resources related to maternal health and early childhood development.

The Sanford Center served as a cultural oasis for

the inaugural two-day Anishinaabe Arts Festival in July,

which featured Indigenous art, traditional food tastings, demonstrations and entertainment. Various organizations came together to host the event with hopes to expand market opportunities for Indigenous artists and offer this festival for years to come.

Soon after, Red Lake Nation held

a grand opening for Giminjimendaamin Ezhichigeyang, a new wellness and event venue

that's part of the Oshkiimaajitahdah community center in Redby.

Red Lake followed up with another

grand opening in September for the temporary location of the Endazhi-Nitaawiging charter school,

which opened to around 86 students for the 2022-2023 school year. The school initially broke ground in October 2021, and its permanent location is set to open next school year.

Red Lake Nation members took to the streets to commemorate Indigenous Peoples Day

in October, during which participants held up signs of support and marched alongside a traveling drum group to Red Lake Nation College to enjoy a walleye feast.

Most recently, the Bemidji City Council approved the display of Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth Nation flags in the city hall lobby and

marked the occasion with a tribal flag ceremony in December.

This was a decision two years in the making.

"These initiatives go a long way, not only in Native country," At-Large Councilor Daniel Jourdain said at the ceremony. "When we think about these types of changes, we think about the disparities that continue in our community, and we try to represent the ones that are unheard. This community spoke up and wanted this change."

Russia's invasion of Ukraine certainly was one of the world's top stories in 2022, but the impact was felt in Bemidji as well.

The attacks hit home for a nurse at Sanford Bemidji's walk-in clinic, Olha Finnelly, who is from Ukraine, where her family still lives. When the invasion started in late February, her father and brother-in-law decided to stay and help in any way they could. But her mother, sister and 3-year-old niece made their way to Poland, then to Minneapolis. The cost for the trek was all raised by Finnelly's co-workers at Sanford. After five days of travel,

Finnelly's family arrived in the United States and came to Bemidji for a joyful reunion.

As the invasion was ramping up in March,

brothers Oleksandr and Sergii Bodanov

worried about friends and families in their Ukrainian homeland. The brothers moved to Bemidji in December 2021, leaving behind their occupations as a teacher and a computer specialist to be closer to their mother. They both went to work at Bemidji Woolen Mills alongside their mother, Natasha, who has lived in Minnesota for 20 years.

Peter Nordquist also was concerned about Ukrainians' plight, but he decided to do something instead of just watching the war unfold on television. The recently retired Twin Cities businessman, who grew up in Bemidji, made three trips to Ukraine, seeking to help with the humanitarian effort.

He made his first trip in early April,

which was followed by

a second trip in June,

providing prosthetics and therapy for civilians who have lost limbs in Russian attacks.

That mission continued on a third trip

as Nordquist helped create a foundation that brought Ukrainian soldiers and civilians to the Twin Cities for surgery to replace limbs.

Bemidji State created the biggest sports shockwaves of 2022, many of which will be remembered long after the calendar turns.

Who could forget

the infamous no-goal in the CCHA Mason Cup Championship

in March, when Minnesota State thought it had defeated Bemidji State only for the goal to be disallowed and the game restarted an hour and 14 minutes later?

The Beavers took the top-ranked Mavericks to overtime and were one goal away from an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. MSU's Josh Groll seemingly ended BSU's season with an overtime winner, but after a delayed and ultimately lengthy review process, officials determined that the puck slid underneath the side of the net — not through its mouth — when Bemidji State goaltender Mattias Sholl kicked the pipe ever so slightly while diving for the save.

Minnesota State had plenty of time to celebrate — heck, the Mavericks were even awarded the championship trophy — before needing to reset and return to the ice. But the Beavers' redemption was short-lived because Jack McNeely ended BSU's season for good with the game-winning goal for MSU two minutes later.


the entire hockey world was talking about the game

and its utter ludicrousy. Such a scene may never happen again.

Speaking of which, we may never see a stretch quite like the mega-weekend at Chet Anderson Stadium for quite some time. The Bemidji State football and women's soccer teams had historic success this fall, and it converged into one giant weekend of NCAA Tournament action from Nov. 18-20.

BSU soccer hosted the third and fourth rounds of the national tournament (one week after hosting the first two rounds), while Beaver football hosted the first round of their national tournament for the

first home playoff game in program history.

Oh yeah, and it was freezing.

The sub-zero temperatures added a new and unmistakable wrinkle to an already momentous weekend but provided a distinct home-field advantage for the Beavers. The football team won their game, while the soccer team reached the national finals before

losing in the weekend finale.

Bemidji was the epicenter for plenty more sports shockwaves. Among them,

Paige Beebe slayed No. 1 Ohio State

with a buzzer-beating goal for BSU women's hockey; Bemidji High School girls wrestling had a

trailblazing inaugural season end

with a state title; and BHS grad

Abbie Kelm won her first Birchmont Golf Tournament championship

by defeating four-time defending champ, Emily Israelson.

Bemidji had an eventful year at both the city and county levels with several new programs and projects taking off.

In March, the Beltrami County Drug Court

celebrated its first-ever graduate

after the county received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for the program in 2019 and started it up in 2020.

Angela Gale became the first to successfully complete the program's five phases, a milestone that was marked with a ceremony at the Beltrami County Courthouse.

The future of the Beltrami County Jail came into question again this year after recent Department of Corrections inspections found that the current facility was not meeting state standards.

The Beltrami County Board approved hiring Justice Planners LLC to conduct a

Needs Assessment and Feasibility Study,

and the organization spent six months collecting data on jail populations, jail bookings, inmate demographics and court proceedings, along with arrest, probation and mental health data.

Justice Planners offered seven options in moving forward on the fate of the jail, and in November, the board

voted unanimously

to build a new facility, though the details are still in the works.


Community and Police Advisory Board

began meeting this year after being established in August 2021, focusing on public safety issues and working with community leaders, organizations and stakeholders by creating conversations and developing solutions to concerns within the city.

The board also provides recommendations to Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin related to police-community relations, planning, police training and public education.

Three incumbents and two newcomers

won seats on the Beltrami County Board in the general election in November. Because of redistricting, all five districts were up for election this year. Craig Gaasvig, Richard Anderson and Tim Sumner all were reelected, while newcomers

Joe Gould


John Carlson

also earned victories.

Like every Minnesota summer, orange construction cones were a common sight around Bemidji this year. Two of the most notable and extensive projects were the months-long construction of the new Anne Street Roundabout and a project to improve drainage around the city's iconic statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

Construction on the roundabout at the intersection of Anne Street and U.S. Highway 71 in Bemidji began in May and went well into October. Because of the length of construction and the number of road closures around it,

businesses on the west side of Highway 71 were effectively cut off from the main routes of traffic

except through a lengthy detour.


the project to repair the plaza around Paul and Babe

was approved by the Bemidji City Council in May, after concerns rose about water pooling around the statues' feet and the damage it was causing.

The associated construction closed down the nationally recognized attraction

from August through mid-September,

when visitors could once again approach, take photos and interact with the statues.

The Bemidji area lost many prominent residents in 2022, including

beloved Bemidji State University professor and historian Art Lee.

He taught history from 1959 to 1995, but his impact was not forgotten when he retired. Lee died in September at the age of 91.


Bemidji Pioneer sports editor Jim Carrington

— a celebrity by all accounts within the Bemidji sports scene — died on July 2, at the age of 93. Carrington grew up in New Jersey and came to Bemidji in 1954 to do radio work at KBUN, where he was a sportscaster and disc jockey for four years. He transitioned to print in January 1959 to work at the Pioneer where he stayed for 52 years.

Pioneer sports writer John McRae

also passed away in July. Friends and colleagues were stunned by the news of his sudden passing at the age of 65. Pioneer readers were treated to his talented stories and columns, but his skill with words also made a difference in his most recent position as Youth Sports Coordinator for Bemidji Community Education.

Beloved community member and veterinarian

Eric Thorsgard lost his battle with a brain tumor in July,

not long after his retirement from Bemidji's Animal Care Clinic — a veterinary clinic that he opened 25 years ago where he served as a veterinarian and orthopedic surgeon.

Retired Minnesota Public Radio executive

Marilyn Heltzer died in July at the age of 86.

She only lived 24 years of her life in the Bemidji area, but her impact on the community was greater than many people could have in an entire lifetime.

LaVerne Whelan celebrated a century in July

and was named the Grand Marshal of Bemidji's All School Reunion, a time she was so happy to experience just two months before she passed away in September.

Helen Kohl died in October,

two months

after celebrating her 100th birthday.

From walking the runway as a fashion model in Chicago to running a resort in northern Minnesota, she lived a happy life filled with family and friends.

BSU women's sports pioneer

Betsy McDowell

and an official founder of Bemidji State women's athletics died peacefully on Dec. 6 at the age of 89. She spent 29 years on campus shaping the early identity of the Beavers during an era in which support was scarce and funding nearly nonexistent. She trailblazed competitive avenues for every single female athlete at BSU — past, present and future.

Sue Engel, who had a long career with First National Bank Bemidji, died on Dec. 13,

five years after first being diagnosed with cancer. The 69-year-old Bemidji woman is remembered as a pillar of the community, a generous, loving friend, a Bemidji State University super fan and a whole lot more.

Excitement abounded on the education front as Bemidji area schools and colleges saw triumphant returns of traditional graduation ceremonies, returned to pre-coronavirus learning models and new faces of leadership.

In-person graduations came back in full force at the conclusion of the 2021-2022 school year after

Bemidji Area Schools,

Bemidji State and Northwest Technical College

threw away the

masks that were mandated until February



respectively and allowed graduates to sit about six feet closer to each other.

Along with these changes, Bemidji Area Schools bid farewell to

former Superintendent Tim Lutz,


announced his retirement in January

after serving the district since 2018 and

welcomed new Superintendent Jeremy Olson

from Crookston Public Schools.


BSU and NTC honored former President Faith Hensrud,

who served both institutions since 2016 and

ushered in new President John Hoffman,

who previously served the University of Minnesota Crookston.

For the Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education, election season saw a record 23 candidates vying for five open positions on the board.

Anna Manecke, Dave Wall and Jenny Frenzel won four-year terms while Justin Hoover and Julie Laitala earned two-year terms.

The five fresh faces will join incumbent Ann Long Voelkner and Superintendent Olson to navigate the district through its continual budgeting challenges, which resulted in a

February decision to switch the BHS schedule to a five-period day

as a cost-saving measure starting in 2023.

Over the summer, a years-in-the-making project to restore the old Bemidji High School arch on the current BHS grounds came to fruition and was

unveiled at a June 7 dedication ceremony.

This was completed just in time for the

Bemidji All School Reunion in July,

which had been postponed since 2020.

Residents in Bemidji's Ridgeway Neighborhood had quite the year, as deteriorating conditions escalated dramatically in several of the buildings. From broken windows and doors to squatters residing in abandoned apartments, the saga left residents without a safe place to live and captured Bemidji's attention.

This year's coverage of the neighborhood began in April, when NETA Properties, who operated Ridgeway Courts I and II,

received a court order to increase security in its apartments.

The order came after tenants began legal action related to frequent break-ins, a dangerous lack of heat and complaints of landlord negligence.

As conditions at NETA's properties continued to decline, the issue came before the Bemidji City Rental Inspector Ben Hein, who ultimately

made the decision to close the building at 2830 Ridgeway Avenue NW in May due to unsafe conditions.

The 10 families were given 30 days to relocate before the building was shut down and its rental license revoked.

Locals got involved via various organizations trying to support the Ridgeway community, and

regular picnics were held throughout the summer by the Ridgeway Neighborhood Initiative,

which brought a little levity to the neighborhood and its community members.

The city continued to monitor the situations at Courts I and II in the ensuing months but didn't comment publicly on the situation until autumn.

An investigative article was published detailing the hazardous conditions in two of the buildings in October


Later that same month,

White Earth Nation announced that it had purchased Ridgeway Courts I and II from NETA Property

with the intention of turning them into a sober living community. Just days later, one of the

buildings suffered extensive damage due to a fire

after squatters broke into the building located at 2830 Ridgeway Avenue NW.

As planning continues for the project, three of the four buildings in the complexes have been boarded up, and their residents have either found alternative housing or were relocated to the final building.

This collection of stories was written and gathered by Pioneer reporters Annalise Braught, Daltyn Lofstrom, Dennis Doeden, Madelyn Haasken, Maggi Fellerman, Micah Friez and Nicole Ronchetti.