When fellow curlers congratulate Bismarck’s Jon Mielke on being selected for United States Curling Hall of Fame, Mielke feels the need to set them straight on one point.
“I always remind them that there are two categories, one for curlers and one for builders,” Mielke said. “I’ve been chosen as a builder, so just because you beat me, you haven’t done anything special. People have been doing that for 35 years!”
Mielke jokes — his resume as a player includes a state championship and some international competition. But it’s for his contributions off the rink that Mielke is being honored. He will be inducted into the Hall on Nov. 16 as part of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Fargo.
“It was a real honor to be nominated by the North Dakota association, because they are the ones who know me the best,” Mielke said. “When I got a call from the U.S. Selection Committee, I was honored.
“... Curlers are generally selected for their achievements on a world level,” Mielke added. “Builders are people who have put in a lot of time promoting the sport. The selection recognizes those that put in that time, and hopefully it has been time well spent.”
No doubt, the members of the Capital Curling Club would argue it has been. Mielke was a founding member and a four-time president of the club. He has helped bring many major curling events to Bismarck — most notably the 2002 World Senior Curling Championships, for which he served as chairman. He has also served as a coach and is generally an ambassador for the sport.
Oddly enough, Mielke was late to pick up the game. Even though he grew up in the curling hotbed of Grafton, Mielke didn’t try the game in high school, even though it was offered as a physical education class.
“I guess I was skating instead of curling,” he said.
Mielke remedied that when he attended the University of North Dakota, taking a phy ed course taught by UND hockey coach Gino Gasparini.
Mielke was hooked. After graduation he returned to Grafton and continued to play, and stuck with it when he moved to Minot. When he came to Bismarck in 1978, that wasn’t an option — there was no place to play.
In 1982, a group of 20 or so curlers got together and decided to start their own club. They bought an old warehouse and put in two sheets of natural ice.
After three years of playing in less than ideal conditions, they got news that the warehouse was condemned. That was OK, because a new four-sheet facility was going up at the All-Seasons Sports Center, currently known as the VFW Sports Center.
Mielke said the club members put a lot of “sweat equity” into the rink, which has served them well.
“We’ve got a terrific partnership there with the Park District,” Mielke said. “They’re terrific landlords, providing a great facility and promoting various events.”
The club has grown to approximately 280 members, with wait lists for some leagues.
Mielke has held many other posts, including with the North Dakota Curling Association and the United States Curling Association. He is a certified Level III coach and instructor, guiding his charges to numerous championships.
One of the crown jewels in his career was helping to bring the 2002 world championship to Bismarck. Mielke said the Curling Club worked with its partners, the Park District and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, for three years to ensure the event’s success.
“The whole community rallied around it,” Mielke said.
As a competitor, he won a state championship in 1997. More recently, in 2012 Mielke was chosen to represent the United States on the Scots Tour, a 21-day competition that allowed Mielke to tour Scotland, including one of the two sites in the world where curling stones are made.
But most of Mielke’s highlights in the sport have come closer to home, sharing the sport with his family. His wife, Carol, curls. Their daughter, Sarah, recently asked Jon to set up a begginer’s curler program for her co-workers and friends. And their son, Matt, was a top-notch curler in his own right.
One of Jon Mielke’s favorite curling memories came when Matt helped his team win the U.S. junior championship in 2006, beating a team that included players Jon used to coach.
“I couldn’t lose that game,” he said.
Mielke recalled all the time they had spent together at the rink. The way Matt would call him when he was off at Princeton, calling him for shot-by-shot recaps of his matches.
“It’s something we continue to share,” Mielke said. “That’s what makes curling special. People of any age can share it.”