This year’s Beef Empire Days feels different to its new executive director, Stacey Carr.

The event, a regional staple and celebration of the local beef industry, turns 50 this year, and is celebrating with the theme “Beef ... 50 Years Strong!”

The anniversary itself carries its own weight that sets it apart, she said.

Fifty years is a testament to the lasting popularity of one of southwest Kansas’ biggest events, but it also acts as a melting pot for Beef Empire Days’ past, present and future, Carr said. There is the nostalgia from those who had loved the festival for decades, the buzz of its shows and parades and contests now and the promise of the new and old activities that coming generations will experience.

To Carr, it’s worth getting excited about.

“Because 50 years ago, a guy had an idea that ‘Hey, let’s do a Live and Carcass Show. I think that’d be a really good thing.’ And it obviously was a great idea because here we are 50 years later. I think things die out, especially in this age. That’s a huge milestone to last 50 years and have people so excited...” Carr said.

The guy with the idea was John Dohogne, the general manager of a beef packing plant who wanted to bring attention to southwest Kansas’ feed yards and beef industry. With the support of sponsors like E.C. Brookover, the city threw its first Beef Empire Live and Carcass Show with two judges from Kansas State University and participants from a dozen different feed yards. Dohogne was the show chairman.

Its first year, the show that would become Beef Empire Days lasted three days and consisted of the Live and Carcass Show and a cookout contest. Today, the event covers 10 days, plus a 10-day carnival and three-day rodeo and hosts everything from sports tournaments to concerts to industry contests.

Over the years, the event has grown to embrace the community around it. Beef and cattle events are held alongside parades, sports events, banquets and dances. What had once been an industry insider contest flourished into a regional event, drawing in visitors from across Kansas, as well as Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Nebraska, said Beef Empire Days historian Ray Purdy.

To former Carcass Show Chairman Gale Seibert and Brookover Feed Yard Manager Brian Price, the event’s willingness to engage community members was vital. The diversification allowed even people who had little interest in beef to get involved in the festivities, Seibert said.

“People just liked to be involved in different things, so each of those activities attracted another group of people. And the promoters of Beef Empire Days really supported that concept, and I agree with that because the town just went berserk over Beef Empire Days. It was a big deal,” Seibert said.

Even with a packed and varied itinerary, Beef Empire Days is ultimately about celebrating and promoting the beef industry. Its events make an effort to feature and offer a meeting ground for producers and players and to make their work known to the public.

As early as the event’s second year, a cutting and roping demonstration and KSU research station were added to the list of activities. Old events like the Feeder Cattle Challenge and current ones like the Cattle Working Contest and Ranch Rodeo all give visitors a more well-rounded idea of how the industry that fuels southwest Kansas works.

To Sam Hands, a member of the event’s board of directors, at the center of a revolving door of new and old activities is the event’s origins.

“As a producer, the Live and Carcass Show is still center stage for the whole event,” Hands said.

Even the frequently revisited activity Chuckwagons at the Zoo provides a steaming, slow-cooked history lesson.

“When they bring the chuckwagons in, that’s the Old West traditional way that people cooked, and that part of how people used to live gets forgotten,” Price said. “This way, it kind of brings it back to the front and how we’ve evolved to cooking from the ground to cooking in a microwave oven.”

As the manager of a local feed yard, Price has a close relationship with the goals Beef Empire Days stands for. His feed yard’s founder and namesake, Brookover, supported the event consistently throughout its first decade. Price never met Brookover; he moved to town after Brookover died in 1985. However, he said the feed yard Brookover left behind helps Beef Empire Days as often as it is able.

Built by a growing group of passionate people who have stood by the event for decades, Beef Empire Days is full of people swapping stories, Carr said. She said this year’s Mary Hopkins Award winner, Harley Foulks, had come to her office and told her stories of the event’s early days. He shared photos and things he had seen first hand, she said. Hearing the accounts of the designer of Beef Empire Days’ long-held logo, which soon will be posted around town, blew Carr away.

“That’s probably the one that sticks out in my mind the most because I just kept thinking ‘How cool.’ He did this, and he was part of it, and never did he think 50 years, where it was going to be later,” Carr said.

Carr said hints of the 50th anniversary will riddle the festival, both in decorations and events. The event’s first day will end with a Beef Empire Days 50th Anniversary Kickoff Concert featuring country singer William Michael Morgan. Western watercolors from artist Bradley Chance Hays will add a visual style to the celebration and eventually be auctioned off.

Die-hard visitors can purchase one of 50, numbered limited edition 50th anniversary belt buckles that harken back to Beef Empire Days’ retired tradition of annual commemorative buckles. The buckles cost $200.

Finishing up her first year as executive director, Carr said it was an honor to head an event that has been a staple of her hometown her entire life. She remembers her grandpa staking out a spot for her family at the parade and eating barbecue beef pizza at the Chuckwagons in the Park. Unlike some of the event’s founders, she hasn’t lived in a world without Beef Empire Days.

To her, Beef Empire Days isn’t symbolic; it’s alive. It’s made up of the energy people have brought to it for half a century.

“It’s kind of the air around it, if that makes sense. It’s the festivities that happen, and those are the things that you remember. And I don’t think that that has changed…” Carr said. “That’s how we’ve lasted 50 years and why it’s so special.”

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.