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Linda’s Garden dedicated

Ely Echo - Staff Photo

Friends gather, share memories of longtime Ely Chamber director

by Tom Coombe

Those who knew the late Linda Fryer say she probably would have downplayed attempts to celebrate her work and achievements while leading Ely’s Chamber of Commerce.

But friends, loved ones, city officials and former coworkers were among those gathered nonetheless on Tuesday, as the Chamber dedicated Linda’s Garden outside the group’s east end headquarters.

A ribbon cutting was held during the morning for the garden set up in memory of Fryer, who passed away in 2022 and served as Chamber director from 1988-2013.

Fryer, who might have scoffed at the recognition had she been present this week, was nonetheless saluted by a series of speakers who noted her work, her passion for Ely and, as mayor Heidi Omerza said, a unique ability “to just say it as it was.”

“I appreciated her frankness,” said Omerza, who recalled numerous conversations with Fryer over the course of the last two decades. “Like it or not she was very candid in her remarks.”

Under Fryer’s watch, the Ely Chamber made tremendous strides, earning a slew of state and regional tourism awards and gaining international acclaim as a vacation destination.

Fryer also helped develop and advance the Chamber’s two major events - both the Blueberry/Art and Harvest Moon festivals.

She also was in charge during an era when each spring, Ely garnered statewide publicity over a series of April Fool’s Day spoofs - including the renaming of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a sale of Ely to Canada and the pursuit of the 2016 Winter Olympic.

“She was the first to go with that and I miss that,” said Omerza.

Fryer developed a reputation as a spokesperson for the Ely area, a role that Omerza said she thrived at.

“What I appreciate most about Linda is how she portrayed Ely, not just to the rest of Minnesota but to the rest of the world,” said Omerza.

At the entrance to the Chamber building, the garden is filled with Fryer’s favorite flowers and serves as a perennial pollinator garden.

It was celebrated as the Chamber marks its 115th anniversary, and current director Eva Sebesta noted Fryer’s longevity.

“In the 115 years, Linda had 25 that’s over a fifth of the time (of the Chamber’s existence),” said Sebesta.

Sebesta remembered Fryer’s guidance and her engaging personality.

“Every time you came in the office, she would have you come back and sit in the chair in her office and visit,” said Sebesta. “She was so engaged and I was so appreciative of the guidance she gave me when I started working.”

Sheila Gruba recalled nearly a half-century of progress for Ely’s Chamber and said Fryer took over after much turnover in the position.

“She turned it around,” Gruba said.

According to Gruba, Fryer also took a keen interest in helping area lodging establishments fill vacancies, calling and inquiring about openings and directing visitors to local resorts.

“She tried to fill everyone,” said Gruba. “Whoever came in the door. It was awesome.”

Local resort owner and longtime Chamber official Kerry Davis recalled a ceremony a year ago, when the city renamed a portion of Seventh Avenue East as “Linda Fryer Way,” and recalled that Fryer “would have been so dissatisfied” with the attention.

He pondered that Fryer’s thoughts may have since changed “after a year of looking over us.”

The Chamber held an open house Wednesday and also showed off two new outdoor gathering areas provided by the Ely Rotary & Rotary International.

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