Grand Forks is home to many strong people, and 20 years ago this month their strength was put to test. After several weeks of sandbagging and days of agony, the Red River of the North overflowed its banks while the city evacuated under the escort of the National Guard. Water poured in and covered over 80% of the city when the dikes failed on April 18, 1997. A massive fire broke out downtown. In the aftermath, entire neighborhoods were destroyed and the city was changed forever.
The story of the curling club is a part of the story of the 1997 flood. About a foot of muddy, sewage- tainted water inundated the club and destroyed carpet, drywall, and most everything else that was saturated with water. When the floodwater finally receded, the arena was covered in a smelly residue that stuck to the concrete floor. The odor of mildew permeated everything. Fortunately, the bulk of the steel structure and internal block walls were not structurally damaged. The curling club was not a lost cause, but cleaning up would be no easy task.
Don Barcome remembers the first time he walked into the club like it was yesterday. "It was so humid in there. I remember walking into the club and finding all the rocks sitting in water. I got them above the water level and tipped them so the running edge could dry out." After the water receded, he returned with a few friends. "Jim Thorsen and Jim Rood helped me power-wash the ice area. It was a nasty project because there were almost 2 inches of river mud covering the floor. The header pit at the home end was way nasty!" Don remembers others who helped as well. "Dr. Conner was a dentist from the Air Base. He took out damaged lookers and ripped up all the flooring in the viewing area."
The curling season was over by the time of the flood, but as fate would have it, the curling club was not destined to sit in mildew that summer. Dr. John Clayburgh was curling club president during the 1996-97 curling season. "The curling club was the furthest thing from my mind," he remembers. His downtown dentistry clinic was left without water and power and his Northside home had suffered major damage. A few weeks after the flood, John was cleaning out some of his damaged items. "I was standing out on my driveway, and Shirley Barcome dove up in her red Cadillac. She came to tell me that the Ski and Bike Shop wanted to use the curling club to get back in business. Since I was the club president, she wanted to check with me." John couldn't think of a better way to help out a local business.
The late Shirley Barcome played an important role in helping connect club members. Shirley was a bit of a club legend and an enthusiastic curler to say the least. She was a great ambassador for the club, a charter member, and always looked for ways to involve the community. Long time club members remember her fondly. In 1997, she was on the board of directors for the curling club. She was also a friend to Terry Knudson, one of the owners of the Ski and Bike Shop. The store had been damaged in the flood and he contacted her to ask about renting the curling club for the summer. She called the other board members for input. By that time it was May and cleanup efforts around the city were just getting started.
Ski and bike shop co owner Terry Knudson remembers the time as a difficult one for his business. He and co-owner Robert "Monty" Montgomery have operated a ski shop in Grand Forks since 1977, later adding bikes to their repertoire. In 1997, their business was located in the Colburn's building at 202 Demers Ave, the first building coming off the Sorlie Bridge downtown. They were nearing the end of a 2 year lease-to-buy agreement and had just finished a major remodel when the flood hit. "We had peak inventory in bikes at that time of year," he laments. "Our showroom was 12,000 square feet and stocked full for spring." When the flood came, the building was hit hard. The river rose up several feet over the first floor of the building. "Water covered everything. There was even a semi trailer parked out back loaded with overstock that was ruined." When they finally got to come back after the water receded, they quickly realized they would never be able to run the business there again. The building was eventually demolished.
Terry, Monty, and crew are dedicated and passionate. As bike enthusiasts, getting back on their feet came naturally, however difficult that would prove to be. They needed a place to try and salvage some of the bikes before everything was completely ruined. Terry had curled a few years on league nights with a friend, Mark Aubol. Another friend happened to be Shirley Barcome. He recalls, "I asked Shirley if we could use the curling club for the summer. She brought it to the board, and within a week we were already back open for business." They moved into the building May 17, and the crew began to clean off the more than 400 bikes damaged. "We cleaned off bikes and even tried to save some of the clothing. Boxes just fell apart when we tried to lift them. A lot of the items had to be thrown, other things we sold at a 70% markdown. Insurance didn't cover anything. Some of our suppliers like Trek wrote off some of the damage, but our business took a massive hit."
As the summer progressed, they persisted and also helped clean up the club little by little. Terry remembers, "We hosed off bikes in the arena and did bike repair. The clubhouse was our showroom. We kept the business office back in the bar." He recalls that it was a really difficult summer, with reminders of the flood and the loss around every corner. "Business was fair. We had a dedicated group of customers and some new faces in the door. We stayed there that whole summer until late August." That's when they moved into their present location on South Washington. It is a modest space in a strip mall with about half the square footage they had in their original location. They've continued to build a strong cycling and ski community in Grand Forks.
Longtime Ski and Bike Shop employee and co-owner Pat White looks back at the curling club with bittersweet feelings. "Like a lot of people I lost everything. The bike shop gave me a space to pick up the pieces and get back to work. We were one of the first places back in business. In a way I suppose it gave us a sense of normalcy, and it showed people we weren't going to give up."
That fall when the Ski and Bike shop moved out, many curlers wanted to get back to their favorite winter pastime. The summer tenants had made that process much easier with a little extra money to start repairs. Members found themselves at a crossroads and there were different ideas about how and when to save the club and clean up the stagnant building. People had spent their summer cleaning up homes, schools, and businesses and had just barely started to get their lives back together. Many simply didn't have the time or energy to clear the hurdles and get back to curling. It very easily could have been a short-term or even long-term hiatus for the club.
Club member Cindy Samson was president starting the fall of 1997 and she recalls many members wanted to make sure the club didn't lose momentum. "We had to stay open that first season for curling, because I knew if we missed even one season, it would be difficult to get many members back"
She remembers a very dedicated group of curlers: "Prior to the flood, the club's membership was good and we had a sizeable group of volunteers for whatever project or event we had going on. After the flood, people were exhausted and busy trying to get their homes and lives back together. At the time, some felt the club could wait until the next year. There was a group that pulled together and worked tirelessly cleaning, painting, installing new flooring, and getting our kitchen back in working order. Our plant and cooling tower needed to be checked out as well. We hired an ice-man to help us get our ice in place and managed to be curling by Thanksgiving. There were only 67 members that season, but we had an awesome board of directors and were able to have all of our usual bonspiels and other club events."
The flood also brought some new people to the club. Club member Bruce Tollefson came to Grand Forks that fall of 1997 and immediately found a place among dedicated members. Bruce had curled in Park River for 15 years and wanted to continue curling. He remembers, "I worked with Perry Marto and he encouraged me to come be a part of the club. I found a great group of people in Grand Forks."
Club member Bruce Keifenheim remembers it too. "The first time I ever stepped in the curling club was after the flood when the bike shop was there. We bought our daughter her first bicycle and she was about 6 or 7 at the time. It was slightly rusted but otherwise in good condition." Later that fall he came back to curl and both he and his wife have been longtime members.
It took hard work and lots of time for Grand Forks to recover from the flood, and the curling club was no exception. When curling made its debut as an Olympic sport in 1998, however, it helped the club in many ways. With televised coverage, there was a new interest in the winter sport. That enthusiasm has continued to grow over the past two decades. This year the club had another group of dedicated members pulling together to reach a club milestone and build a new building. The constant reminders of a flood damaged building are now gone and only memories remain. Twenty years after we almost lost the curling club to a flood, a new wave of optimism and excitement has taken shape. Many of those dedicated members are still around from 1997, but there are plenty of new faces. Together they are a part of the continuing story of the Grand Forks Curling Club.