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Celebrating beef, and a whole lot more

Published 5/31/2011 in Beef Empire Days


Where's the beef?

That was the question Clara Peller asked in a now legendary 1984 fast food television commercial for Wendy's.

For literally thousands of beef aficionados, the answer every June since 1969 has been Garden City and the annual Beef Empire Days.

And all that prime beef would not be there if it were not for the thousands of volunteers, said Ray Purdy of Garden City.

Purdy knows what he is talking about. He has been associated, he recalled, with the beef festival since the spring of 1972, when he helped as a volunteer in the live and carcass competition, eventually became a board member, and now is sort of, he said, an ex officio board member and the resident Beef Empire Days historian.

"In the beginning, it was totally volunteers, and basically it has been that way ever since," Purdy said. "We're talking hundreds and hundreds each year, thousands and thousands over the years. They're everywhere — the live shows, the grandstand, the parade. It would not be possible to do this without the volunteers — cowboys, cooks, servers, all kinds of helpers."

There is a lot of time and treasure in Beef Empire Days.

If you count the overture otherwise known as the Ottaway Amusements carnival, it also includes the last week in May this year as a scheduling conflict led to the early start to the carnival. And don't forget the cutting horse competition in a weekend in mid-June, June 25 and June 26 this year. This year, the curtain rises on the 43rd Beef Empire Days on Wednesday, when the cattle start arriving about sunrise at the Finney County Fairgrounds. Their owners and the Live Show's judges don't waste a lot of daylight.

By noon on opening day, Randy Harp, an associate professor of animal science at Tarleton State, starts the final judging of steers and heifers in front of the grandstand, which likely will be packed as it has been every year when western Kansas celebrates the beef industry.

That first day also includes the Roto-Mix Cattlemen's Steak Cook Out near the grandstand where Harp will be working. The Beef Empire Days sponsor's reception is scheduled for 6 that evening at the Clarion Inn.

Before Beef Empire Days 2011 is over, there will be a ranch rodeo; the cattle working contest, the carcass judging at Tyson Fresh Meats, the children's story hour at the Finney County Public Library and the U.S. Premium Beef Dinner and Beef Empire Steer Trial Auction; The Hoof it to Health Road Run, the horseshoe tournament south of the Big Pool in Finnup Park, the High Plains Public Radio Children's Parade, the Coors Light/Garden City Recreation Youth Benefit Softball Tournament; the Live and Carcass Show awards banquet; team roping, barrel racing and riding; The big chuckwagon breakfast in Stevens Park, the climax of the Beef Empire doings with the parade sponsored by Black Hills Energy and more tasty sampling of new cuts of beef from the chuckwagons after the parade, sand and mud volleyball; golf, archery, the Cattle Crawl from the Clarion Inn parking lot through Garden City bistros and restaurants; and the piece de resistance, the Beef Empire Days Cutting Horse Competition at the Finney County Fairgrounds a few weeks after the close of Beef Empire Days, June 25 and 26.

The beef festival's original focus was and remains the Live and Carcass Show.

It, as a statement from Beef Empire Days organizers notes, "is intended to emphasize the economic aspects of commercial cattle feeding and the beef industry to this area.

All participating cattle must come from yards who are sponsors of the Beef Empire Days celebration,"

It is also said: "Cattle placing in the live and carcass shows are selected to meet the needs of the entire beef industry from the producer to the consumer."

Beef, make no mistake, is the reason for the festival. That was John Dohogne's idea when he got the idea in 1968, and he garnered support from 13 commercial yards to initiate Beef Empire Days the next year.

In 1969, the rules said the show was to "correlate type and conformation of live animals with that of carcass characteristics in order to provide carcass information for cattle feeders to use in progressing toward the best combination of characteristics to satisfy the needs of all phases of the beef industry."

The show remains true to its roots.

But there is now a lot more.

Through the years, music legends have stopped by to try a steak and maybe make a little music — The Bellamy Brothers, Louise Mandrell, Johny Ray Gomez Revue, Gunilla Hutton, Tommy Overstreet, Danny Davis and His Nashville Brass and Dave Frizzell.

Dancing, bronc riders and bulldoggers, cowboy lore, the big parade, and the crowning of the Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo Queen are all part of the beef extravaganza now.

And, historian Purdy said again, it could not be done without all those volunteers who are the glue that holds everything together, the grease that allows the wheels to turn.

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