When Ruth Howe arrived at Bemidji State University in 1957 and jump-started women’s athletics in the 1960s, she was on the cutting edge of history. Yet even as someone always ahead of her time, Howe is still blown away by how far the Beavers have come.
“I can’t believe the improvement,” she said. “It’s just wonderful. And to be able to have these opportunities is remarkable.”
Howe is an official founder of women’s athletics at BSU and half of the namesake for the Howe-Welle Women’s Athletics Golf Tournament. During this summer’s edition of the event on Friday, Aug. 25, at the Bemidji Town and Country Club, Welle was surrounded by hundreds of advocates for the very thing she fought so long for.
“There have always been women who have wanted to be able to play at a higher level,” Howe said. “Years ago, we started this golf tournament. And then they stopped it because they didn’t think it was bringing in enough financially. But thankfully they started again. And I’m very relieved.”
Any wayward thoughts of futility are long gone now. The 2023 Howe-Welle pulled in an event-record $43,000 to support women’s athletics, with 109 golfers and 27 teams making it possible.
A reboot of the Lady Beaver Golf Tournament that helped fund women’s athletics at Bemidji State from 1983-2010, the annual Howe-Welle Women’s Athletics Golf Tournament is named in honor of two of the tournament founders: Howe and Jeanette Welle, a longtime BSU Athletics supporter.
“It was great to see not only local members of the Beaver Athletics community but people travel from quite lengthy distances to support our women’s athletic programs,” said Jesse Katz, the Alumni & Foundation’s director of annual giving for athletics. “This event is a vital source of funds for our women’s teams, and it could not achieve so much success if it weren’t for our loyal supporters, athletic alumni and committee members. For that we are very grateful.”
The team of Erica Gartner, Mari Jordan, Angela Morris and Mike Morris took home first-place honors at the event. Gartner stands as a fitting winner, as she is a former women’s golfer and basketball player at Bemidji State and is now a coach in both programs.
Gartner’s era of Beavers have reaped the rewards of trailblazers like Howe and her athletes. Howe described how “athletic prowess” was not in female athletes’ vocabularies in those early days.
“When I first started coaching basketball, we had to teach the women how to be aggressive,” she said. “They had no idea what it was like to have a defensive position and to guard, or to move and actually take the ball away from the other person. The changes are incredible. Now you look at (these athletes) and you can’t believe the growth.”
Howe, who coached women’s basketball (1964-77), softball (1969) and women’s tennis (1976-86) at BSU, said she’s most impressed by advancements in volleyball compared to the early iterations of the sport at Bemidji State.
“Offense and defense, it’s remarkable to see the change,” she said.
Now, all nine of BSU’s women’s sports programs are well equipped for more progress – thanks to Howe and all the supporters who teed off on Friday.
“(Seeing what women are capable of) is above my expectation,” Howe said. “I feel humbled that I was part of the foundation.”