Growing up in International Falls, MN I was given the opportunity of participating in outdoor activities such as, fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, etc., and lots of sports such as, hockey, baseball, football, etc. We also spent many a day at the First Baptist Church learning the Bible and its teachings. My story starts and ends with a little of everything…
I was raised, the son of a United States Marine (tunnel rat) and local business owner of the NAPA auto parts store in International Falls, MN. Along his side was a wonderful woman, my mother. As the story always goes, there is never truly a great man without a great woman by his side. My father and mother only believed in raising us kids (me, my brother and sister) on a stiff dose of discipline.
Starting at a very young age, I believe right around three; my father and grandfather started taking me on their fishing trips up to Red Gut Bay and Black Sturgeon on the Canadian side of Rainy Lake. I vividly remember this as if were yesterday. My grandfather was never further than spitting distance away from his Folgers coffee spittoon, and my father was always diligently trying to read his now ancient Hummingbird depth finder. That is my first memory of fishing and the first time I knew what I truly wanted to do for the rest of my life. These were the days before Game Boys, Atari, and light years before our Sony Play Stations that we know today.
We stayed for a month every summer at the Fisheries Resort on Rainy Lake (Canada) and at the age of 10 I was taking (stealing) the family fishing boat (14’ StarCraft with a 9 HP Honda) to go into the bay around the corner from the resort and come back with three to four walleyes every time. This was at the amazement to my Dad. He wasn’t happy, but he told me I was born to be a fisherman. My father started teaching me how to tie my own lures, and as he was teaching me it was like I was his shadow, right in his hip pocket never missing a thing. This was an occurrence for years to come.
During the winter months from 10 on, I found another love…hockey. Well, what else was I going to do being from International Falls. All of my friends played, so I told my father and mother that I wanted to give it a shot. As any supportive parents would do, they agreed. Even though I wanted hockey to be the only part of my life during the winter months, my father and mother always made sure that we were grounded in a sound foundation of God and worship in all we did.
My Dad also thought it was a good idea to be well rounded outdoorsman, so summer blueberry picking, fall Partridge and Deer hunting, all in the Haney Country, south of Ray, MN were also Tessier family traditions. Even though fishing and hockey were my passions, I loved to drive with my Dad for endless hours chasing berries, birds and Deer at any chance we got.
My first job was at Rainy Lake Houseboats under Mr. Bill Dougherty at the age of 14. They had an opening for a dock boy and I jumped at the opportunity to be on the lake every day. Mr. Dougherty just happened to give my Dad his first job also. How ironic is that? I worked every summer on Rainy Lake till I was 17 and graduated from Fall High School in 1992. In the summer of 1992 my parents sold the NAPA store and moved the family to Warroad, MN and I was introduced to “The Walleye Capital of the World”, Lake of the Woods.
After high school I was given an opportunity to play college hockey at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, MI on a hockey scholarship (CCHA). I had to move far away from home and my family, but they understood it was an opportunity of a lifetime, even though it was eighteen driving hours away. They knew that they wouldn’t be able to be in the stands or watch many games on TV. But, that is where I had the best opportunity to play and excel…my family was so supportive. I always told myself that I would come back during the summers and continue fishing, but what we want to happen doesn’t always happen.
Michigan brought new friends and Division I college hockey brought new challenges. After my freshman year I came back for a month, but I soon found out that hockey was going to have to be my life if I wanted to play professionally. I was going to have to go somewhere where there was year around ice and great competition. I needed to not only keep up, but also excel. So after a month back home with family and friends, I headed back to Michigan to train with teammates and some of my college competition. Needless to say, I wasn’t fishing with my Dad and that was the only hard part about having to leave. He always said, “Jean-Paul, you have to do what you have to do. We will be here for you if you need us.” I got that every year through college. As the years passed, I made it home less and less.
After college, my hard work had paid off. I signed my first professional contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL). I spent the entire year in the AHL with the Penguins top minor league team the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins. That year my father was only able to make it to three games, but the family was able to watch me quite often on TV…I felt I still had a connection. The following year while playing in the Chicago Blackhawks (NHL) organization, and playing for the Norfolk Admirals (AHL). My ninth game of the season we were playing the Providence Bruins and I went out of my way to hit someone, and consequently suffered a knee injury. After the surgery, I was told that I would never be the same and was declared 60% disabled in my left leg…all at the age of 25. I didn’t exactly make my living with my great hands and knowledge of the game, but this hardworking kid that could skate like the wind, couldn’t anymore. My last pro game was with the Jackson Bandits of the East Coast Hockey Leauge (ECHL) after returning from surgery I tried to comeback, but I knew the dream of playing a regular shift in the NHL was over. I felt as if my dreams were shattered. At this point, God was no part of my life…
After hockey, I was given an opportunity to work for a college teammate’s father’s company out of Detroit, MI. I was devastated by my hockey career being over. I couldn’t face my family and friends back in MN, even though they were exactly what I needed. I had totally lost sight of my childhood teachings and dreams.
After a year of sulking, my father bought a plane ticket that he couldn’t afford to come out and cheer me up. When he got to Michigan he wasn’t happy with what he saw, but he was still my Marine loving father and spoke words to me, which I will take to my grave. He said, and I quote; “You have been able to do something that 99% of kids whom strap on the skates only dream to do! You should hold your head up high.” He asked me, “Is this the first time in your life that you have faced adversity?” I replied “No, but everything I have ever worked for is gone and I don’t know who I am anymore.” He said, “Every man doesn’t find out who they are until they truly face massive adversity. How you move on with your life will show the man you are and the man you will become. I can’t help you figure that out, but I know the boy that I raised. Just know that whatever you do, we are proud of you and are here for you.” I crumbled into his arms and sobbed like I was a little boy. Then my father, as quickly as he arrived, was gone again. Still God was no part of my life…
In 2003 we learned that my father was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, attributed to Agent Orange from Vietnam. While he served 14 months in Vietnam, he had no idea that the stuff they were using to clear the jungle would eventually take his life. They gave him 3 months to live…that wasn’t the end of him though; that stubborn French-Swede made it 3 years and finally fell on February 9th, 2006.
The last three weeks of my Dads life I had the opportunity to be with him and with my entire family. We sang gospel songs and read the Bible with him every day. Even though I hadn’t opened a hymnal or a Bible in years, it seemed like it brought me right back to the days where joy flowed through me. My Dad knew where he was going being he was a strong Christian man, and he was okay with how it was playing out. Selfishly, I didn’t understand why he had to go. Our entire family was at his side and holding on to him as he took his last breath. I miss my Dad, but sometimes we can’t see the forest amongst the trees. I didn’t understand why or how, but I knew changes were coming. I felt it for the first time in my heart in my adult life…I needed answers.
After my fathers passing I had been looking for the right opportunity to move back to northern Minnesota, back to my family, back to my roots. On December 26th, 2008, I came back home to do a little bit of ice fishing with my little brother. During that trip to the Northwest Angle’s Red Fox Ice Fishing Company, we reconnected and it was if I had never left. I said to myself, this is what I’m missing and this is where I want to be. I asked my brother to look for any jobs in the resort business on the lake that might be available. I told him that I didn’t care if I had to clean fish for eight hours a day…I wanted to be somewhere I was truly happy. Foolishly at this time I still believed happiness and peace came with an address. God was working on me, but my heart was still hardened…
I returned back to Michigan later that week and every minute I was thinking about how could I get back home. On January 21st, 2009, my brother called me with some news of a resort owner looking for some help. I asked him, “What is his number? I want to call him tomorrow morning.” My brother replied, “His name is Tom Briggs and he is the owner of the Wigwam Resort.” I said, “Where is the Wigwam, and before I said another word, I said, “I don’t care just give me his number. I will handle the rest.” My brother gave me Tom’s number and I called him the next morning. We played a little bit of phone tag, but we finally connected. He explained to me what he was looking for, and I said, “When do you want me to start?” He said, “We haven’t even talked about the particulars.” I said, “You won’t be disappointed and I am very easy to please.” We both had a chuckle.
Even though I had found my way back to my roots, there was still something that was missing. Deep down I knew what it was. So one day I picked up the Bible and started reading it once again. It was as if the answers that I had been searching for were right in front of my eyes. My heart had been hardened for so long with the pursuit of my own dreams and desires that I had wandered so far off the path. The Lord had once again opened my eyes and my heart, and at that point I believe this is where my life really started to change.
The Lord has given me the opportunity to meet my extraordinary wife Jody. I have rekindled relationships with my family and their families. But most importantly, I have started rebuilding my relationship with God. I don’t know it all, and will never claim to know it all. We are all on our own journey, which we know not the path, but through faith and hard work I believe we can each find “The Way”.
Coming full circle, I now know that with God in my life, the future holds great things! Every day provides us the chance to learn something new and the opportunity to praise and thank God for all that He has provided. God never forgot about me or gave up on me, even though I am not worthy. Only through His grace have I been saved.
Now that you know my story, please come share yours with me, and together we will embark on the next adventure…God Bless.
Jean-Paul Tessier…Lake of the Woods Outdoorsman
1And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,
2And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.
3And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
4Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.
5And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.
6And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.
7And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.
8When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
9For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:
10And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
11And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.