Forty years ago the original crew who put on the first Hamel Rodeo had no idea it would be just the beginning of a long and prosperous event that would generate over $2 million dollars, funding local non-profit organizations that in turn support the community. This four day rodeo came to be when two rodeo enthusiasts were approached by a couple Hamel Lions looking for a way to raise money. “The first rodeo was in July 1981 and held in the parking lot of the Medina Ballroom where the Medina Inn now sits,” Rowdy Dorweiler, Treasurer of the Hamel Rodeo Committee stated. Revenue raised was modest for the amount of effort and time extended. “The rodeo generated $3,000 in proceeds to the organizations involved at the time. The payout to cowboys that year was $6,000.” Yet that only was the beginning. Four decades later these same people, assisted by hundreds more, had planned for a 40th Anniversary Party like no other this summer.

Shorty Dorweiler, Hamel Rodeo Arena Director
Photo credit: Michelle’s Portrait Design

Then COVID-19 hit, whittling away the days towards the big event causing an uncertainty of whether or not the rodeo would happen. On May 6th following a Rodeo Board meeting it was announced the 2020 Hamel World Championship Rodeo would be cancelled with plans to postpone the 40th Anniversary event to 2021.

“It was the right decision that had to be made,” Dorweiler somberly shared. “It was an important and extremely difficult decision. We know it will have an effect on the community, it’s the largest fundraiser for many of our area non-profits. The Hamel Rodeo is 100% volunteer run (no paid staff) and 100% of the proceeds go right back into the community through these organizations.” That $2 million does not include the full economic benefit to the Hamel/Medina area – with upwards of 20,000 people gathering annually here on Rodeo weekend, local businesses also benefit by the increased dollars spent.

Julius Dorweiler, man of many rodeo roles, most notably founder of the Hamel Rodeo’s Vendor Alley. Photo credit: Bob Hosker

Along with the loss of revenue that enables local volunteers to provide community enhancing services, the Hamel Rodeo is to Hamel and Medina what the Minnesota State Fair is to the state of Minnesota – an event that brings together people from all walks of life. For four days rodeo patrons gather to take in the world class talent this competition attracts. Planning begins years in advance with main acts reserved 3-5 years out due to the popularity of the performers. The 40th Anniversary was to have been celebrated by a man famous in the rodeo circuit for his training of wild horses – Bobby Kerr, a trainer of Mustangs, has been notably featured in an ABC mini-series as well as interviewed on Nightline for his talent. “We will work with Bobby to reschedule him for an upcoming year’s rodeo,” Dorweiler said.

Rowdy Dorweiler, Hamel Rodeo Treasurer

It wasn’t just an event that was cancelled, it was a rodeo reunion, a special kind of camaraderie as the rodeo attracts people who have congregated annually over decades from across the country. Every year they compete over Rodeo weekend through hard, physical competition followed by nightlife at the infamous Inn Kahoots Bar on Hamel Road. Serious rodeo competitors throughout their lives, brothers Shorty and Julius Dorweiler and Rowdy, Shorty’s son, have rodeo in their blood. When the decision was made to cancel this year’s Hamel Rodeo, these men took it especially hard. “I’m going to need a new keyboard,” Rowdy emailed the night the decision was made official. “I think mine shorted out with all the tears falling on it.”

But everyone rebounded quickly as plans for the 2021 40th Anniversary Hamel World Championship Rodeo began. The five non-profit organizations who bring in countless volunteers to help put on the show are the Hamel American Legion-John Pohlker Post 394, the Hamel Lions, the Hamel Volunteer Fire Department, the Heinz-Ditter VFW, and the Lord of Life Lutheran Church’s Military Family Support Ministry.

Hamel American Legion – John Pohlker Post 394

Members of the Hamel Legion honor a veteran at his funeral service.

Derek Plymate, Adjutant of the Hamel American Legion-John Pohlker Post 394 and 25 year member, spoke with me immediately following the announcement to cancel the Rodeo. “Many people don’t realize this, but the American Legion originated 100 years ago in the Twin Cities.” Plymate explained, “The Legion promotes the health and well being of veterans and employs good citizenship across the community.” Legion volunteer contributions include hosting patriotic events, oftentimes coordinating with the Hamel Lions; providing monetary support to youth organizations such as the Hamel Boys State Baseball Team, Wayzata and Rockford high school graduation parties and partners with Wayzata’s Scouts BSA Troop (the largest all-girls troop in Minnesota) for events such as placing flags graveside on Veterans Day and most recently hosting a curbside meal giveaway for veterans. The Legion also hosts funeral services for vets, and fund companion canine organizations that raise, train and assign service dogs to disabled veterans.

According to Plymate, even though the Hamel Legion is fiscally responsible with a reserve fund intact, 85-90% of revenue generated each year is raised by volunteering at the Hamel Rodeo via overnight security, set up, tear down and manning one of the food booths. The Rodeo is the Hamel Legion’s sole fundraiser. “This cancellation is very devastating to us because much of the charitable giving and support for the community will need to be significantly curtailed,” Plymate commented. “But we understand the decision to not have it this year, we truly do. After paying for the show’s talent and with limited numbers due to the social distancing necessary, it is quite possible we’d have taken a loss. We’re already planning and looking forward to next year.”

The Heinz-Ditter VFW Post 5903

Photo credit: Bob Hosker

There is a common theme with Hamel Rodeo volunteers – many are involved as volunteers within different organizations. For example, a good number of Hamel Legion members are also members of the Heinz-Ditter VFW Post 5903. The two organizations coordinate on veteran funerals as well as Memorial and Veterans Day services such as combining flag detail and choreographing their part in the Hamel Parade together.

In past years the Hamel Rodeo had been the Hamel VFW Post 5903’s primary source of revenue, but the Rodeo helps the VFW in other ways as well. When asked how the Hamel Rodeo’s cancellation impacts the Hamel VFW, Commander Jim Heimerl responded, “It tremendously impacts us. As the smallest post in the Twin Cities, it’s a setback. Members who didn’t know other members were introduced to one another through the Rodeo, it was a bonding experience, a great way to build camaraderie. We’re an event driven post, five years ago we struggled bringing people to the VFW. This year we were booked darn near to capacity with events now that the area people have found us. If you want to see God smile, just tell him your plans.” Heimerl laughs, “We’ll come back. Most veterans have been through a lot of adversity, especially the infantry guys. But every time you go through something, you adapt and come back wiser. I’m hoping this is what happens with us, we’ll get even better participation and move forward. We’ve been voted the VFW’s best dance venue in the Twin Cities, so I’ve been lining up bands for the future. You keep planning and if it doesn’t work out, you plan for something else. We have worked so hard in the last two years to be more fiscally responsible, we can make it through this.

According to Heimerl, better than half a year’s revenue is generated through the Rodeo, the rest from events. “It’s still vitally important for us all to say THANK YOU to our volunteers, to work together towards next year’s 40th Anniversary Rodeo.”

The Hamel Lions

Photo credit: Bob Hosker

The Hamel Lions Club motto is “We Serve,” and that is illustrated in the many ways it contributes funds locally and globally. Examples of local giving include scholarships to local seniors for college and trade schools, money and non-perishables for the Wayzata and Rockford food shelves, funding forWayzata Early Childhood Education, the Wayzata and Rockford senior parties, Hammer Residences, the Easter Egg Hunt, Toys For Tots, the Halloween Kids Dance, the Medina Celebration Days, Sober Cab during the Rodeo and much more. Internationally the club contributes towards improving sight and hearing loss, diabetes research and childhood cancer treatments.

Jim Herkenhoff, Hamel Lions President, said, “The Hamel Rodeo is our 3rd largest fundraiser. The first two, the Hamel Flea Market and gambling (pull tabs) are also shut down at the moment. We have a small rainy-day fund but our donations to the community will be severely impacted this year. We will be looking for new ways to fundraise but most of our projects involve direct interaction with the public.” Herkenhoff added, “As we tackle current circumstances trying to find a way to support the community, we could also use its help.”

Lord of Life Lutheran Church: Military Family Support Ministry

The newest member to round out the five volunteer groups running the Hamel Rodeo is the Military Family Support Ministry from Lord of Life Lutheran Church. According to ministry co-founder John Rodvik, a few years ago they were invited to take part in the rodeo as it literally takes a village to put on a rodeo of this magnitude. Rodvik quickly learned the task at hand was so large, he’d need to find 150 volunteers for just their fifth of the long weekend’s work. “The set up and tear down was so daunting we asked 2B Real Men (another church ministry who provides services to local seniors) along with the Hamel Hawks baseball team to share our piece of the pie. These 20-something year old guys are better able to handle that part of the volunteering. When it’s time to divide up the funds, we give ⅓ of our proceeds to the Hamel Hawks and ⅓ to the other ministry.” In addition to assisting with set up and tear down, the Military Family Support Ministry volunteer group handles ticket sales at the North and South gates during the Rodeo weekend. “This is our only fundraiser,” Rodvik explained, “but we’re going to be fine. We’ll tighten up the budget in how we allocate funds to veterans and their families, we’ll scale it back quite a bit. The Rodeo is also an awesome time for us to come together and to promote what we do. People are starting to recognize who the Military Family Support Ministry is, how we support the veterans, their families and causes. It (the Hamel Rodeo) is a lot of work but worth it. We’re looking forward to it happening again next year.” I could hear Rodvik smile over the phone during our social distance interview. “We’ll overcome, we’re all veterans so we know how to overcome.”

The Hamel Volunteer Fire Department

“Everyone is in the same position,” Fire Chief Jeff Ruchti said of this unprecedented time. “While we share everyone’s disappointment at the cancellation of the 2020 Hamel Rodeo, we must always put the safety of our community first. As firefighters, that is part of our core belief system. For us at Hamel Fire, the annual Rodeo efforts are looked at as one of the highlights of the year, and we will certainly miss that.”

From its beginning, the Rodeo has been a key source of fundraising for the department. “As we are an independent organization and not affiliated with a municipality, the loss of that funding for this year will have an impact,” Ruchti explained. “However, as a membership we will face that together, as we have all the challenges through the years. We are already looking at a few different efforts to help soften the impact. Together we will all get through these challenging times … and we will all gather again at the 2021 Hamel Rodeo!”