Two years past her husband’s sudden passing, Karen Fodness reflected on how she observed Mark’s lasting impact on the world through the way he raised their three children.
“He empowered his kids and me – even when we didn’t want to be – but he was the mover and the shaker; he was the leader,” Karen said. “He wanted to build us up, to make us believe we could do anything.”
That drive to bring out the best in people flowed through all of Mark Fodness’s roles: He taught history for 32 years at Bemidji Middle School, coached 33 seasons of tennis at Bemidji High School, and coached seven years of tennis at Bemidji State.
“He was such a live wire to me and I had never met anyone like him. It was just like you hear people talk about finding your person – he was it (for me),” Karen said. “He did a lot educationally here – he just loved it. If he was interested in something, he’d go full force. … He was a teacher, because that’s who he was in everything he did, a teacher who helps you realize who you are and what you can do.”
Mark also coached speech and debate, as well as football, soccer, basketball, and baseball. On the latter teams, he often coached his older son, Kyle, who was able to observe his father as a coach as well.
Kyle himself now teaches at Bemidji Middle School and also coaches the tennis teams at Bemidji High School and Bemidji State University.
“I never felt at all any pressure to go into teaching, or any pressure to go into coaching or even play certain sports,” Kyle said. “(The message) was just, ‘Whatever you choose to do, you try to do it well and as best you can.”
Kyle acknowledged, though, that as a son and athlete he was able to see his father successfully cultivate fun learning environments, on the field, on the court, and in the classroom – and while doing so, he positively impacted his students’ lives.
“There are many more important things in the world in sports, even though we love sports; they’re a great way to compete and they’re a great way to bring people together and stay healthy and do all those things,” Kyle said. “But I don’t know that I’d ever coach professional sports. The more sports get away from growing and learning as a person, the less fun I would have coaching. Coaching is a way to learn, playing sports is a way to learn, being in the classroom is a way to learn. The emphasis is learning and growing as a person.”
Mark died in November 2020 and the ongoing pandemic limited the number of people who could attend his memorial, but Karen said the family was flooded with letters, emails, and calls from past students who shared stories of Mark’s impact on their lives.
“I heard from a lot of people who said that he was one of the people who made a difference,” she said, “or he’s why they went into what they did.”
As memorials came in and family and friends were left to determine how to honor his legacy, the family established the Mark Fodness Scholarship Fund to support Bemidji students.
Kyle said that the scholarship is an extension of how Mark lived, noting countless times his father and parents helped those in tough circumstances, the many donations made without public recognition or acknowledged.
“It was just, ‘This is just what you do. This is what you do – you help people who need help … you always do the next best thing you can do to help people,’” Kyle said. “There was always that very generous spirit that you got to see, so this is part of that, to keep it going.”
About the scholarship…
The Mark Fodness Scholarship Fund supports students from Bemidji Area Schools who are pursuing a post-secondary education through a college, university, trade school, tech school or other accredited programs.
Preference is given to students who are majoring in education, exemplify leadership skills, or have participated in Upward Bound as a participant or mentor.