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Fishing opener loses Altepeter's guidance: Event coordinator plans to fish the opener after skipping last 30 years

Attending 23 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Openers without ever wetting a line is cause for alarm. The recently retired coordinator of that annual event, Carol Altepeter of Brainerd, plans to right those wrongs this coming opener May 13 by heading...

Carol Altepeter, former coordinator of the Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener, stands at the edge of the Mississippi River near Rotary Park in Brainerd. Altepeter retired from her position March 1.Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch
Carol Altepeter, former coordinator of the Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener, stands at the edge of the Mississippi River near Rotary Park in Brainerd. Altepeter retired from her position March 1. Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch

Attending 23 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Openers without ever wetting a line is cause for alarm.

The recently retired coordinator of that annual event, Carol Altepeter of Brainerd, plans to right those wrongs this coming opener May 13 by heading out on the water with her husband-on Mother's Day weekend even.

Altepeter, 64, helped coordinate the Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener for 21 years. That means making sure the host community is prepared for the rush of media, government officials and community members looking to celebrate the spring ritual. She planned out all the details for nearly every scenario that could come their way and was at her busiest when others were trying to relax on the waves of an area fishery.

She worked for Explore Minnesota for 22 years and has attended 23 of the openers, her first while still working as the director for the Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau, which she helped implement and build for five years.

"We started out with zero and built the tourism organization," Altepeter said of the Lake of the Woods organization.

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In 1994, Altepeter was honored as the 1993 individual of the year by the state's office of tourism for her work in Lake of the Woods. Little did they know she would be applying for a position with the state tourism office. She took a job in tourism in Mankato after five years in Lake of the Woods, and within nine months she took another opportunity in Brainerd that worked well for her and her husband.

While living in the Baudette area, Altepeter's husband, Rick, worked as a fishing guide. He is now semi-retired, still working part-time as auto tech assistant at Central Lakes College in Brainerd.

At the time she took the job as north central/west regional manager serving 29 counties, Altepeter said the position did not coordinate the Governor's Fishing Opener.

But in 1996, when a change of hands was occurring, she volunteered to coordinate the event, she said with a laugh.

"Back when I was at Lake of the Woods, we had hosted two Cabelas/In-Fishermen Walleye Championships," Altepeter said. "It definitely was a similar type of event to coordinate."

While the fishing opener was only about a third of her job, it certainly was a year-round planning effort. The work of choosing the next host community is always a couple years ahead of the event to give communities a chance to apply and attend an event to make sure it's something they are ready to dig into. With the help of Altepeter, most communities realized they not only could put on this event, but that they can boost the area economy through it.

"I really liked being able to start with a community and work through all the planning, all the things that need to be done ahead of time and go through the event and see the results," Altepeter said. "I saw them through a project."

It was more than just a fishing event. It was building up a community to see what they could do and show them their importance in the broader picture of Minnesota tourism. Lisa Kruse, the chair for last year's opener event in McGregor explained that working with Altepeter allowed her to see her passion for her work. She considered Altepeter a leader, counselor and friend.

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"Her expertise, guidance, and encouragement will be missed," Kruse said in an email. "She poured her heart and soul into her work, passionately ensuring each and every GFO (Governor's Fishing Opener) community find success and reap the rewards of the event. In her position with Explore Minnesota, Carol worked tirelessly to boost tourism and market local chamber of commerce. Explore Minnesota Tourism was better due to her dedication, enthusiasm and commitment to communities in northwest Minnesota. I can say what started as a business relationship ended in friendship."

Under Altepeter's guidance the opener helped show off lesser known highlights in lake country to national media such as the 3-year-old mayor of Dorset or the chef association of the Brainerd lakes area.

Altepeter said all four governors she worked with were all very supportive of the event. The communities she has worked with all showed great spirit.

From time to time, she sees people she worked with years before and they still talk about the fun of working as a community to put these events together.

"People work together that maybe wouldn't have worked together otherwise, those are the things that are really fun to see afterwards," Altepeter said.

Altepeter, who moved from California to Minnesota in her youth, has been a lifelong angler and a promoter of the northland. Her retirement was official March 1 and she says it's going well so far.

"It certainly is different," Altepeter said. "I was really busy before I left and then all of a sudden you're not. But it's been good."

Altepeter's replacement has not been named yet, but her co-workers are stepping in including Alyssa Hayes, who has handled the media relations for the event for the last five years along with Beth Helle, both out of St. Paul, and Dawn Bushman out of the Brainerd office. Hayes said interviews have been conducted for the position and they hope to hire someone soon to fill the role.

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Hayes said it was fun seeing Altepeter at work, in her element.

"I had the pleasure of working with Carol at Explore Minnesota these last few years, notably for the annual Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener," Hayes said in an email. "Carol guided me through a time-honored tradition in our state and shared the importance of travel, fishing and outdoor recreation to Minnesota. I hope I can cast as much passion as she did over the years and will miss her at the 2017 opener in St. Cloud."

Altepeter announced her retirement from the position before last year's event in McGregor, and was overjoyed when her two granddaughters Breelie and Shaylie, daughter Val and son-in-law Robb surprised her at the awards dinner at the Minnesota National Golf Course in McGregor.

She is happily retired but says as the opener approaches she can sense the "opener withdrawals" coming on strong.

The Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener started in 1948 and the 70th annual event is expected to be one to remember. It's planned for the St. Cloud area and, for the first time, will include shore fishing and specifically, fishing the Mississippi River. Altepeter believes it will be the largest event of it's kind as it is one of the more urban.

But don't expect Altepeter to attend.

"We're gonna go fishing right around the Brainerd area," Altepeter said.

"It will be the first time in over 30 years that I can go fishing on the actual fishing opener day," Altepeter said.

Her husband usually wasn't available on the opener as he was guiding someone else. This year Rick will be guiding her, she said.

Minnesota DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr presented Carol Altepeter a plaque for her years of coordinating the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener during the 2016 event in McGregor.Submitted photo
Minnesota DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr presented Carol Altepeter a plaque for her years of coordinating the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener during the 2016 event in McGregor. Submitted photo

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