When Margaret (Hanka) Laurich graduated from Bemidji State College in 1963, she bid farewell to Bemidji for more than half a century.
But after 60 years away, Laurich made her triumphant return to campus at Homecoming this fall.
“It’s absolutely something I never expected. I really didn’t think I’d come back here,” Laurich said. “It’s unbelievable. When I was here as a student, I didn’t do much other than being in a dorm and studying. But now I can play and have a good time.”
Laurich was celebrated during the Homecoming football game on Saturday, Sept. 30, walking to midfield with BSU captains for the pregame coin flip as 3,250 fans packed inside Chet Anderson Stadium. She received a hearty ovation from the crowd and soon joined them in the stands to cheer on the Beavers against Minnesota State.
All of it was a new experience for her. Laurich loved her time as a student – saying she learned a lot and that everything was fun – but she never attended a Bemidji State football game.
Coincidentally, Bemidji State also faced Minnesota State – then called Mankato State – for Homecoming during Laurich’s freshman and senior years. The Beavers won both times (about three decades before the advent of their famous lake jump tradition). Though Laurich never made it down to the Chet as a student, her first game was certainly worth the wait.
“I love it here,” she said. “I could stay here all day, all night and tomorrow, too.”
Laurich was also recognized alongside a number of other scholarship donors before the game. She funds two annual scholarships for Indigenous students, including one for a football player, and all-conference linebacker Spencer Wehr is one of the recipients. The two met before the game, and he instantly assumed the mantle of Laurich’s favorite player.
“People who give back to the program, it makes a lot of things possible,” Wehr said. “Obviously everybody wants to be on scholarship, and that helps with the financial burden of paying for school. It really gives us the opportunity to focus on the game we love and our schooling versus having to work 30 or 40 hours a week to cover the costs for everything.”
Wehr’s mother is an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and his Anishinaabe heritage provides him a unique opportunity on the gridiron.
“There’s not too many Native Americans on the team,” he said. “And I don’t really look Native American, but having that in me is important. By telling people I’m Native and giving my story to them, I can show good for who I represent.”
Wehr finished the game with six tackles and a big fourth-quarter fumble recovery. Although the Beavers lost 27-24, he performed well in front of his newest fan and, perhaps most importantly, was the driving force for Laurich finally returning to BSU after all these years.
Laurich now lives in Sarasota, Fla., retired and “living the good life,” she said. Her husband, Bob, died in 2020 but filled Margaret’s memories upon her return to BSU because this is where they met. Margaret remains actively involved in Bemidji State and has hosted an annual alumni gathering at her home for the past seven years.
Laurich’s long-awaited homecoming was the intersection and culmination of many things she’s passionate about. As her unforgettable weekend proved, there’s just something special about where it all began.
“I love football, and I love anything about helping young people. Now that I’m not working anymore, I have enough to share with everybody,” she said of her scholarship. “I’m proud of everything Bemidji State does. I’d send anybody here. I’d come back and do it all over again.”