For those living in southwestern North Dakota, summer and the Fourth of July mean Dickinson’s Annual Roughrider Days Fair & Expo and all that comes with it—rodeos and reunions, derbies and downtown parades, carnivals and concerts, 4-H exhibits, and fireworks.
A group of about 20 hard-working and fun-loving volunteers make up the Roughrider Commission, the organizing force behind one of the largest Independence Day celebrations in the Upper Midwest.
And as the handful of female commission members point out, you don’t have to be a cowboy to sign up and pitch in.
Lori Vernon got involved with Roughrider Days when she worked at the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce.
“They held their meetings in our building, so I sat in on the meetings. Eventually I became the secretary, and then I joined the commission in 1992. I’ve pretty much been the secretary ever since!”
Her favorite event of Roughrider Days is the rodeo, which will be held at the new Stark County Fairgrounds for the first time in 2017.
“That’s the fun part—when people come out to the rodeo, kids are having fun, and we get to visit with the rodeo crew that comes back year after year. It’s like a family reunion.”
Making it Happen
After volunteering for many years, Michelle Kovash became a commission member in 2005 and served as president in 2013 and 2014.
“The volunteers sacrifice a lot of their time to ensure it’s always a great event. From about May through July, most of our spare time is going toward the upcoming Roughrider Days,” explains Michelle. “It’s work nights at the arena, calling sponsors, counting this, painting that, cooking meals, delivering brochures. A lot of the volunteer work happens behind the scenes before the actual event.”
When circumstances like weather throw a curveball at the committee, Michelle says everyone rallies.
“No one fails. We make a decision together and we go for it.”
Michelle explains that nothing would happen without local sponsors.
“Most of our sponsors have been here from the start back in 1970. Originally, the event was put together by local businesses as a way to keep people in town over the Fourth of July.”
Bringing Talents to the Table
When it comes to adding new volunteers to the commission, talents and preferences are taken into consideration.
“For example, we’re not going to assign you to be doing as much with the rodeo if you’re not an animal person,” Lori explains, as Michelle points to herself with a wink and a grimace.
Kim Volk has always loved the parade because it’s a free, family-friendly event. Now Kim is in her second year as the parade chairperson. The popular downtown parade requires the coordination of over 100 entries and 50 volunteer workers, including the help of city police and other officials.
“Even our dog knows when it’s Roughrider Days! We’re not home much, that’s for sure,” Kim laughs.
Other women of the commission bring their talents where needed. LoAnn Wegh, owner of LoAnn’s Marketing, tackles the majority of the publicity. Lisa Heiser recruits and paints the faces of all the parade clowns each year.
Lori is quick to compliment the men of the commission, who bring a wealth of talent and knowledge to the group.
“Our guys do more work, in less time, than anyone I know. Not just the younger ones, all of them! And when we girls have an idea, there’s no ‘no’ from them, whether it’s building me a keel boat for the parade at the last minute or painting one of the rodeo bulls pink!”
A Family Affair
For commission members, joining the group is a commitment for their whole family and builds a lifetime of memories.
“We’ve raised our kids over here [at Roughrider Days], kept an eye on each other’s children and watched out for each other.” Lori explains, “It’s been a great way to get them involved.”
Commissioner Leon Kristianson’s daughter Nicole Kilwein is now a second-generation member of the Roughrider Commission.
“Every memory I have of the Fourth of July is related to Roughrider Days,” she says. “I can’t imagine it any other way, so it was pretty much a no-brainer to join the commission.”
And to Lori, who recently battled cancer, the entire commission is truly a family to her.
“I’m very fortunate to have those around me that I do. I have a ton of brothers and sisters who have been very supportive.”
To learn more about Dickinson’s Annual Roughrider Days Fair & Expo, check out their website at roughriderdaysfair.com.
Stephanie Fong lives in Dickinson. Every year, she looks forward to seeing friends and family back in town for Roughrider Days, and she especially likes attending the headliner concert and the parade.