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Carol Olson has an impressive collection of Paul Bunyan memorabilia, including books, records, postcards, stamps and medallions. She shared her collection recently as Bemidji prepares to celebrate Paul Bunyan's 75th birthday next year. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Paul Bunyan to turn 75 in 2012; birthday will be celebrated all year

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A group of teenagers descended upon the Paul and Babe statues Friday for a group photo, taking time afterward to sign the guestbook and check out memorabilia inside the Tourism Information Center.

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The 13 teens were Spanish students headed to the Concordia Language Villages from Minot (N.D.) High School.

"We come every year to the language camps," said their teacher, Carisa Dobrinski, who is from Duluth. "I'm from Minnesota, so I have to stop and see Paul and take a picture."

The iconic Paul Bunyan statue is Bemidji's Statue of Liberty, its Mount Rushmore, its Lincoln Memorial, embedded in the identity of the city.

Next year, Paul will celebrate his 75th birthday.

While most people only get one day a year to observe their birthday, Paul Bunyan will celebrate all year long. It seems only right to make a big deal out of it, since everything about Paul is big.

Community members began meeting last week to brainstorm ideas for celebratory events in 2012.

The famed lumberjack statue was erected in 1937 for the Winter Carnival. While there is no agreed-upon height of the legendary Paul Bunyan, the one at the Lake Bemidji waterfront is 18 feet tall.

It has been said that the Eastman Kodak Company once proclaimed Paul and Babe as the second-most photographed statues in the United States behind Mount Rushmore.

Plans for the 75th anniversary celebration were sparked by a letter that came to the Tourist Information Center, asking if Paul's 75th birthday would be celebrated like his 50th was.

Sue Bruns is a retired English teacher and assistant principal at Bemidji High School who volunteers for the Beltrami County Historical Society. She was working part-time this summer at the Tourist Information Center when she learned of the letter from Carol Olson, receptionist for the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce and manager of the Tourist Information Center.

Bruns discussed the potential celebration with Nicole Foss, interim director of the Historical Society, who took the idea to the board of directors.

"They thought it was a great idea," Bruns said at a Nov. 15 brainstorming meeting.

"I think it's pretty important," Olson said, "and it's so easy to do today with all the different methods you have," such as email and Facebook.

Olson started working for the Chamber in 1986, just before the Governor's Fishing Opener held in Bemidji that May.

The following year featured the 50th birthday celebration for Paul Bunyan, with the theme "The Year of the Legend," a theme that will be reused in 2012 for his 75th birthday.

The initial plan for next year's celebration was simply to develop an exhibit for the Beltrami County History Center, but the vision has widened.

"I just think it would be really exciting if we could put not just the History Center on it, but the whole community," Bruns said.

Special events will be planned specifically for the birthday celebration, but Bruns also expects that businesses, organizations and schools will incorporate Paul Bunyan and his 75th birthday into events they already do, publicizing the events on their websites and at the Facebook group, www.facebook.com/groups/113350772110321.

Bruns especially hopes businesses and organizations with "Paul Bunyan" as part of their names will play up the celebration.

"Anyone could just leap on board with this," Bruns said. "I'm hoping (the Facebook group) would be a good place businesses can post what they're doing for Paul and Babe."

Noemi Aylesworth, owner of the Cabin Coffeehouse and Café, brought a list of ideas to last week's meeting, some old and some new. Among her suggestions were flapjack breakfasts, kids' Paul and Babe costume parades and a monthly coloring contest.

Samantha Parker, activities director for Bemidji Parks and Recreation Department, is from Chicago, where the windows on Michigan Avenue feature sparkling displays for the holidays.

"How cool would it be if all the windows (in downtown Bemidji) had Paul and Babe displays?" she said.

Parker said she and Marcia Larson, parks and recreation director, would like to plan a big summer birthday party with cake, games and photos at Paul Bunyan Park.

Sharon Geisen, chairwoman of the Historical Society board, said the History Center would have a birthday cake on Jan. 12, which is deemed as Paul's birthday.

Aylesworth suggested the First Friday Art Walk and Bemidji Sculpture Walk could incorporate Paul and Babe into their themes.

"We have such a strong arts community," Bruns said.

Bruns has spoken with local artist Mitch Blessing about the possibility of a stylized mural that would incorporate at least 75 photos of Paul and Babe and, when viewed from a distance, look like one picture of the statues.

"I'd also like to take our other 75-year-old birthday people and take a big picture with Paul and Babe," she said.

Trey Bowman noted that his father was born in 1937. He suggested that former Bemidji residents might like to visit Paul to celebrate their birthdays with him.

After noticing that many Bemidji stores use generic "thank you" plastic shopping bags, Aylesworth said she is working with the Downtown Development Authority to come up with a Paul and Babe plastic bag that could also be made available to those businesses that do not use bags with their own logos.

Bruns said she believed people would buy reusable Paul and Babe shopping bags.

"That would be great, too," Aylesworth said.

Parker suggested kids could draw on quilt squares for a giant Paul and Babe quilt; children could work by grade or by school, she said.

"We could do the world's largest paper quilt," Geisen said, adding that school children could each decorate one sheet of paper.

"If you want a 'green' quilt, you could use the sides of cereal boxes," Aylesworth said. "They would also be stronger."

Another suggestion was to have Paul Bunyan themes at the Beltrami County Fair, such as for baking and horticultural contests.

Olson is one of several people in the community who have extensive Paul Bunyan and Babe collections whose pieces could end up on display for 2012 at the History Center. Her collection includes a jacket, never worn, that has the original 50th birthday logo, which she is hoping to have redone for the 75th birthday. She also showed off a baby's Paul and Babe T-shirt that she gave her daughter for her Cabbage Patch doll. Among the oldest items in her collection is a 1937 Life magazine highlighting Paul Bunyan. She also has postcards, storybooks and a jigsaw puzzle from the 1940s and 1950s.

Her children's first involvement with Paul and Babe came when they were featured in a picture book featuring Paul and Babe. Stephanie was about 10 and Bradley about 8. They also dressed up in costume on occasion and took part in a Paul Bunyan musical performed 25 years ago featuring local adults and children.

"It was in a tent down here at the waterfront," Olson said.

Aylesworth, whose children also were in the play, is looking into restaging the play.

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