by Jillian Gandsey
T he sport of curling has had a home in Bemidji since 1935, yet some of the curling club’s most active members consider it to be our town’s hidden treasure.
The club has evolved over the decades and so has the sport, but many of the Bemidji Curling Club’s loyal members stay the same. Eric Fenson grew up in the curling club, watching his parents curl while doing homework or selling candy at what was once a concession stand on the first level.
“This is like home away from home,” he said.
Something else that has remained, in general, is the behavior of those who play the game.
“Rules have changed over the years, but the etiquette has always remained the same,” said longtime Bemidji curler Ruth Howe, who began curling in 1957, which is around the time when the ice went from natural to refrigerated and when the Bemidji Curling Club was still located downtown.
The current club was built in 1967, Eric is now the general manager of the club and spends pretty much every day working on the ice or taking care of the club’s logistics.
During the time of year there’s ice in the curling club, he’ll come in after the high school curling class and prepare the ice for the rest of the day. His duties also include paying the bills and organizing leagues and bonspiels.
It’s Eric’s third year as general manager, but his 36th year of curling, which shouldn’t be surprising as the Fenson name is a big one in Bemidji curling.
His father, Bob Fenson, was the general manager of the club for 10 years and won a National Title in 1979 and four Men’s State Titles in the ’80s. His brother Pete has his own slew of National Titles and won a bronze medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Bob went on to coach after winning his titles, and continued to be very active in the curling community.
“And he served on every local and state club board, the (United State Curling Association) board and the (World Curling Federation) boards,” Eric said.
Bob coached many teams to the World Curling Championships, including Eric, who has won seven State Titles and Three National Titles.
Eric isn’t curling competitively anymore, but he is coaching his son Riley Fenson, age 17. He has a daughter, Kylen, who also curls on Monday nights.
“It’s really fun,” he said. “You either hate it or you love it. It seems like there’s no middle ground.”
My first time
by in editor Jillian Gandsey
As an Iron Range native who has been living in Bemidji for the past seven years, you would think my familiarity with curling would be stronger.
I grew up hearing of the “Last Chance Bonspiel” hosted every year at the Hibbing Curling Club and when I came to Bemidji for college, they offered classes. I’ve been inside the curling clubs in Hibbing and Bemidji, but still hadn’t given it a try.
But that changed when I wanted to do this story for inMagazine.
My first fear was walking on the ice. The last time I skated I was in the seventh grade and it ended with me having a concussion. And the last time I was on ice with shoes on, I was holding the chords for a camera guy at a BSU men’s hockey game and that also resulted in me falling over.
But this ice is different. It’s not as slippery because of the pebbled texture, which is to reduce the friction between the rock and the ice. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s also to keep me upright.
After watching others who were taking a curling class through community education and with some direction from Danielle Carty (inMagazine’s creative director, who curls for hobby), I made sure there weren’t too many people noticing me and gave it a whirl.
I slid over and put my feet in the hack (and yes, I did look up curling terms before writing this) and crouched there in a position to push off for a while. I practiced the lunging movement with a broom under my arm to keep me steady and Danielle critiquing my form.
And I did it. I sent the rock down the ice and it went, to my surprise, pretty well.
It didn’t make it quite as far down the ice as I would have hoped, but overall it was a decent shot for my very first try of curling. My second try was a little better and it gradually became a little easier. I know there’s a ton more to curling than just that, but it was a satisfying first go at a sport that I just might have to try again.
As Eric Fenson, the general manager of the Bemidji Curling Club, who also grew up coming to the curling club said to me: “If you’re somewhat athletic, it seems like people adapt really fast.”
The keyword there for me would be “somewhat.”