Article and Photos by Nicole Thom-Arens

In 1981, Paula Bachmeier was one of three women who formed the Burlington Recreation Commission so the children in the small town just west of Minot would have something to do.

“(Youth athletics) are a sense of gathering,” Paula says. “In Burlington we’re kind of a bedroom community. We’re seven miles from Minot, so a lot of people just go home, sleep, and come to work in Minot, but at least in the evenings, when we have a t-ball or a softball or a baseball game, it brings people together and they visit and meet new friends and meet new people and get acquainted and acclimated in our community.”

In the beginning, the teams played on a rock field at the school, but the commission was able to buy land through charitable gaming and built the city park.

“When we built the park, we had hundreds of people helping doing the physical work because we did it by hand ourselves,” Paula recalls.

Sports have always been a part of Paula’s life. She coaches volleyball for United Public Schools of Des Lacs and Burlington, and even though her sons long outgrew youth baseball, Paula continued serving the community through the Burlington Recreation Commission, which provides opportunities for t-ball, baseball, and softball for about 600 youth from Burlington and surrounding communities.  

“Sometimes you’ll have a group of volunteers come forward and they’re really involved when their kids are there, and then they’re gone and things kind of just die,” Paula explains. “There’s a core group of us that even though we don’t have kids in the program, we have just stayed together because we just feel it’s so important to Burlington that we keep that continuity so the rules are the same, the registration is the same. People know what’s going on when they come to join our group.”

Paula and the core group continue to organize the games and even serve as umpires for diamond duty, as they call it.

Paula’s son Christopher recently moved back to Burlington from Minnesota. He’s now the superintendent of United Public Schools of Des Lacs and Burlington. Family brought him and his wife, Beth, back to the community they loved.

“My mom has always instilled in my brother and me that community is important,” Christopher recalls. “Having civic pride is of great importance because we represent not only who we are but where we’re from. We are Des Lacs/Burlington through and through.”

Following the devastating 2011 Souris River flood, Paula lost her home and the park.

“When I saw the house, I felt like someone punched me in the stomach because it’s just stuff, but when I saw our park was destroyed, I literally cried because that was built—literally built—with our own hands and our kids’ hands and their friends and their parents,” Paula remembers. “The building of the park and seeing it get flooded was harder for me than losing my house because we could rebuild the house, but it just took a whole village to get our park back.”

The literal village came together to rebuild the park providing physical labor and the necessary funds.

“Always be a part of the ‘they,’” she says. “When people say ‘they’ should do this, be a part of the ‘they.’ If you’re not part of the ‘they,’ you shouldn’t be offering your opinion. I’m happy to say in my life, I’ve been part of the ‘they.’”

“She has shown the power of what it is to say ‘yes’ for the community,” Christopher says. “When I tell people who I am, it’s always, ‘Are you Paula’s son?’ That’s been a very prideful thing for me, and I hope that I can grow to be the type of person that somebody can someday say to her, ‘Are you Christopher’s mom?’”   

Nicole Thom-Arens is a writer and an assistant professor of communication arts at Minot State University where she teaches journalism and communication theory courses and advises the student newspaper the Red & Green.