George Pelawa still resonates in Bemidji and around the region.
His story was told again by Grand Forks Herald writer Brad Schlossman for Wednesday’s Forum Communications Co. publications, which you can read here.
Pelawa was one of the best athletes in Bemidji High School history and he was so good at hockey that he was drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft by the Calgary Flames 25 years ago. His potential was never realized. Pelawa died in a late August car accident in 1986 before he was to start classes at the University of North Dakota.
The Pelawa story was one of the highest read stories on the Bemidji Pioneer website Wednesday and it shows he is still remembered in town.
I first learned of Pelawa when he was profiled in a Fox Sports North program on the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament. I saw the program before I moved to Bemidji and was impressed by the few seconds of grainy footage showing Pelawa skate at state. I was struck by the tragic nature of his death.
I felt more connected to the Pelawa story the first winter I lived in Bemidji when I was on photo assignment for a Lumberjacks hockey game at frigid Nymore Arena. When I walked up the stairs to the warming area between periods I saw a photo of Pelawa next to the concession area.
As a sports writer in Bemidji, I come across Pelawa’s story regularly in various publications. Last year a Calgary newspaper talked with George’s parents, Frank and Winnie, next to George’s grave at the cemetery off Irvine Avenue. The report noted there were pucks and other tribute items left at his stone by anonymous visitors.
The only time I’ve ever seen that kind of tribute was after a job interview I had in Fargo, N.D. a few years back. It was a cold November day and the person interviewing me asked if I was interested in seeing the gravesite of Roger Maris. It seemed strange to me, but I don’t say ‘no’ in interviews and I obliged. Maris’ site was easy to spot walking toward it as there were baseballs, hats and other items left by the stone.
Pelawa, like Maris, is a sports legend.
Pelawa is one of Bemidji’s sports heroes in a town with so many successful sports personalities. It seems as though George Pelawa touches the hearts of more and more people as the years go by.
I’ve never written about Pelawa until now because I’ve never felt a need to reopen a wound that still affects so many people here in Bemidji. From what I’ve heard in town, George was such a friendly person and so much more than a hockey player. That’s what interests me the most about Pelawa.
For all the sadness associated with the end of Pelawa’s life, his great legacy is the good left in in the form of the Bemidji High School scholarship in his name. It was started by the Flames after the accident and when funding ceased in 2007, Frank and Winnie continued the scholarship at their own expense. Then former Lumberjacks linemate Jason Meyer and other friends of the Pelawas raised $8,000. The Flames have pledged $15,000 and the scholarship will be endowed when it reaches $30,000.
“George was a special person and this is one way we can keep his keep his memory alive,” Meyer told the Pioneer last summer.
The fact that so many people – 25 years later – are working so hard to keep the scholarship going tells how much Pelawa touched people in his short life in Bemidji. The scholarship is something the Pelawas, his friends and the people of Bemidji should be proud of.