It all started with an old book left behind.
Filmmaker Ben Threinen moved to Lake City, Minnesota about 12 years ago and bought a house built in 1895. On a shelf was a single book written by the home’s previous owner, Gregor Ziemer, called “A Daredevil & Two Boards.” The book told the story of local legend Ralph Samuelson and his invention of a sport called water skiing.
And from that book, Ben had an idea.
And that idea became a documentary film.
“Ralph Samuelson: The Father of Waterskiing,” will make its debut on Tuesday, June 21st at 7pm CT in the Lincoln High School Auditorium in Lake City, Minnesota. Questions and conversations with filmmaker Ben Threinen will follow the film. Everyone is welcome to come and “meet” Samuelson, the Lake City kid who made history on nearby Lake Pepin 100 years ago.
The self-funded film is the culmination of Ben Threinen’s years of research. He combed through historical records and dusty basements to chronicle a modest Midwesterner who seldom talked about his achievement. It was a personal mission to share Ralph’s story… a story washed in the water and anchored in faith.
“When I first started this project, I went to Ralph’s grave. The stone said ‘Ralph Samuelson, Father of Water Skiing, Witness for Christ.’ It was right then I decided I needed to find out more about this man,” says Ben.
THE FILM PROJECT THAT FOUND BEN
Ben Threinen was born in Mantorville, Minnesota about 50 miles from Lake City.
For more than 30 years he worked for KSTP in Minneapolis on features and documentaries. When he moved to Lake City he started doing videos about local issues and history.
“I just love the history of river towns,” says Ben who has done films on paddle wheeler disasters, Indian uprisings, and more.
Along with his writer, Bob Norberg, Ben launched into producing the film of Ralph Samuelson with a little more than 4 or 5 images and some bits of information.
“It was hard to even think about completing a 40-minute video with no images from the time Ralph Samuelson was born in 1903 until 1925,” says Ben.
THE QUEST FOR RALPH
The Samuelson family had a grocery in Lake City and they were also clammers on the Mississippi River. After he started water skiing, Ralph Samuelson took his water ski show on the road for more than 15 years. Holding FREE water ski exhibitions at fairs and festivals across the Midwest.
Ralph was also a snowbird. In the winters, he strapped his water skis on the car and went to Florida. The Sunshine State was where Ralph’s water skiing came to an end. He was renting out speed boats in South Florida in 1937 when a Ralph broke his back in a construction accident. After he got out of the hospital, he returned to Minnesota and slipped into relative obscurity, never patenting his incredible invention.
Over the years, others claimed to be the first water skier, while Ralph became a successful Turkey Farmer. The Father of Water Skiing became the Father of Modern Turkey Breeding.
But Ben did not have photos of any of this until John Weiss of the Rochester Post-Bulletin wrote a story about Ben’s film project. And the floodgates of information opened.
“Low and behold, more than 20 people who had known Ralph Samuelson contacted me, many of them in their 90s. Then a Lutheran Minister from Iowa called. His Grandmother was Ralph’s sister and he arrived with a box of photographs that ended up being crucial,” says Ben.
Even just a few weeks ago… a treasure trove of photos arrived from Ralph’s daughter.
A QUIET LEGEND
Samuelson’s children said their Dad never talked about being the inventor of water skiing. The kids never even knew about it all until the 50th anniversary in 1972 which was marked by the first Water Ski Days Celebration in Lake City.
“Once he started talking about it he was so proud that millions of people enjoy water skiing as a family,” says Ben.
And that may just be Ralph Samuelson’s legacy 100 years later, that children and families across the world come together on the water and share the joy of walking on water.
As for Ralph’s own personal gospel of water skiing… the old book inspired a film. And with the film, a more complete picture of the first water skier. He was much more than just a daredevil on two boards.
“Now I feel like all the missing pieces of Ralph are there and I am thrilled,” says Ben. “I hope people find his life as unique as I have.”
Many of Ben’s photos and information will be featured in the new USA Water Ski & Wake Sports Foundation’s Museum Up North being developed in Lake City.