'An explosion of flowers': Memorial sculpture honors Bemidji Garden Club leader Karen Sollom

BEMIDJI — Karen Sollom poured her heart into the Bemidji Garden Club.

On Monday, June 20, a tall, flowery sculpture was unveiled in her memory at the Bemidji Public Library.

“Mom would be so honored,” Sollom's daughter Paula Flom told members of the garden club. “It’s wonderful to have mom honored for doing something that was a hobby but became such a passion for her.”

The mostly metal sculpture was created by Al Belleveau, one of the founders of the Bemidji Sculpture Walk. It features flowers and pollinators made from found objects and metal.

Sollom died in 2019 at the age of 76. After retiring as a nursing instructor at Northwest Technical College, she joined the garden club in full force, serving as president and on the executive board. She also was a key person in the creation of the Birds, Bees and Butterflies Bemidji group.

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Nancy DeKrey Glenn speaks during a memorial in honor of late Bemidji Garden Club member Karen Sollom on Monday, June 20, 2022, at the Bemidji Public Library.

Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“She was a mentor to me and she was excited about everything gardening,” said Nancy DeKrey Glenn, who emceed the program on Monday.

She said Sollom was instrumental in putting the garden club back together in 2006. After the club formally adopted the care and maintenance of planters outside the library, Sollom secured a $500 grant for the construction of a double-decker planter at the library.

Fellow garden enthusiasts shared memories of Sollom during the program.

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Bemidji Garden Club members enjoy refreshments during a Bemidji Garden Club memorial in honor of late club member Karen Sollom on Monday, June 20, 2022, at the Bemidji Public Library.

Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“The personal thing about Karen that I loved is that she challenged herself to learn something new every year,” said club member Trish Brewinski. “She took all of the skills that she had to do her professional job and she poured her heart out into this group. I’m forever grateful that she felt that was a worthwhile endeavor.”

Belleveau told those gathered that he hopes his sculpture brings joy to club members who donated to the project and all who see it.

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Al Belleveau talks about the memorial sculpture he created in honor of late Bemidji Garden Club member Karen Sollom on Monday, June 20, 2022, at the Bemidji Public Library.

Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“For me, the sculpture seems like an explosion,” he said, “and it’s an explosion of flowers. It’s blowing up from the ground. It’s happy, It’s very happy. That’s what I wanted, and I hope that’s what you wanted, too. It’s always an honor for me if I am asked to honor somebody else with a sculpture.”

Flom said her mother’s memorial sculpture only adds to the town’s blossoming art scene.

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Paula Flom speaks during a Bemidji Garden Club memorial in honor of her late mother Karen Sollom on Monday, June 20, 2022, at the Bemidji Public Library.

Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“I think Bemidji must benefit greatly from all of this and I can see that even today, just talking about your projects and what you’re working on,” she told club members. “The garden club has a big impact here.

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"I know that mom was grateful and proud to have served with all of you as ambassadors to the birds, insects and flowers that benefit from kindness, love of gardening and all that goes with that.”

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Bemidji Garden Club members gather on Monday, June 20, 2022, in front of a memorial sculpture created by Al Belleveau in honor of late Bemidji Garden Club member Karen Sollom, outside of the Bemidji Public Library.

Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

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A poster displays highlights of late Bemidji Garden Club member Karen Sollom’s time in the club during a memorial in her honor on Monday, June 20, 2022, at the Bemidji Public Library.

Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer


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