The 51st National Square Dance Convention in St. Paul is still more than a year away, but the June 2002 opening is approaching at a feverish pace for one Brainerd couple.
Vern and Helene Bement, members of the North Country Plus square dance club in Nisswa, are in the thick of planning the convention, as co-chairs of the Social and Special Events Committee.
"We tell people we are the 'fun committee,'" Helene Bement said this week in an interview. "We get to plan all the fun things to do" for the 14,000 square dancers who will descend on St. Paul's River Centre on June 26-29, 2002.
For the first time in four decades, St. Paul is the host city for the annual convention, which attracts square dance aficionados from around the world each year. This year's convention is scheduled for Anaheim, Calif.
The Bements have long been active in the local, state and national square dance scenes, including a stint as co-chairs of the Square Dance Federation of Minnesota's statewide convention last year.
With assistance from St. Paul's convention and tourism establishment, the federation made a successful bid for the 51st national convention, a prize coveted by most cities around the country because of its size.
"Cities go through a bidding contest several years ahead of time," Helene Bement said. "By the time the convention comes to St. Paul, we will have worked on it for five years."
As bishops of the "fun committee," -- one of seven committees involved in developing the convention -- the Bements are charged with planning and administering the entertainment and social calendar for conventioneers.
Their decisions will be tested and fine-tuned at a "pre-convention" event scheduled for April in St. Paul before 400 representatives from previous and future national square dance conventions.
Helene Bement called the event a "practice session ... that will prove to our advisers and past general chairmen and women that we are able to host the national convention."
"It's practice for us," added Helene Bement, who has hired Central Lakes College band instructor Steve Anderson to entertain the pre-convention crowd.
Jay and Gail Richards of Wayzata serve as general co-chairs of the 2002 convention.
Meanwhile, the Bements hosted a visiting group of convention "advisers" during a swing through Minnesota last week, including a two-day trip to the Brainerd area.
Advisers, selected from the list of previous convention general chairs, routinely meet with the Bements and other committee leaders to ensure the planning process is proceeding smoothly.
Worley and Nan Carrier of Indiantown, Fla., and Wayne and Miriam Florea of Millford, Ohio, were in Minnesota last week for an advisory tour.
The Bements entertained the visitors during their stay, including a snowmobile trip through the Pillsbury Forest, Helene Bement said.
"We haven't snowmobiled in 30 years," she said with a chuckle, "so it was a little like the blind leading the blind. But we saw three deer and a grouse."
Helene Bement works full time as a nurse and husband Vern is in the home building business, but they don't let their careers interfere with their volunteer efforts on behalf of square dancing.
"We spend just about every waking moment, when we're not at our regular jobs or doing laundry, on the convention," she said. "We have met so many wonderful people in square dancing, and this is our way of paying back for the fun we've had."
The National Square Dance Convention was last held in St. Paul in 1963, Helene Bement said, and the general chairman then was Mabel Pierce, who now lives in the lakes area.
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