Posts by Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation

Harold Schafer, Legend to Legacy

Under Harold’s Hat

Originally published in Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundations 2015 summer newsletter.

Harold Schafer, Legend to Legacy


“I liked to go to musicals. When we took over the show, it was a historical play, and I think I should say I have a deeper appreciation for entertainment than historical plays.” 
– Harold Schafer

Biographer Larry Woiwode, received this answer in 1994, when asked about the beginning of the “Medora Musical.” Prior to 1965, the NDSU Theater Department and a local group had been putting on a historical drama, but crowds had dwindled to the point where the show was abandoned. 50 years later, more than three million visitors agree with Harold—they love being musically entertained under the stars in the Burning Hills Amphitheatre.

The followingsnapshot” of Harold Schafer is excerpted from an essay titled “Harold Schafer—from Legend to Legacy” written by Dr. Richard Harper, former director of the Theodore Roosevelt Badlands Institute, and Maurita Harper and Kim Hanson Becker.

Harold Schafer was an innovative businessman, a marketing genius, a generous philanthropist, a dedicated Christian, an avid historian, a charismatic showman, and an unabashed patriot. He was considerate, playful, exuberant, chivalrous, and vigorous. He was known for his hard work, his self-motivation, and his honesty. He met problems head-on, and when he was knocked down by life, he got right back up. Everyone knew that Harold had big dreams. What’s more, he invited others to share in his dreams. And he made dreams come true . . .


 Harold loved Sheila. She says of him that he was not only her Santa Claus, but her Romeo too. He also loved flowers, surprises, North Dakota, the Badlands—and a historic deteriorating little cow town named Medora. By 1965 he was deeply involved in its restoration. For the next 35 years Harold lavishly spent his time, energy and money on its revitalization. He was instrumental in getting the streets paved and the sewer and water systems installed. He had the Rough Riders Hotel and the Ferris Grocery Store rebuilt. When he came up with the idea for the Medora Musical in the early years, he was so excited that he gave away tickets to assure there would be an audience. And then he hired buses to bring the people to town . . .

Harold was always ready to get involved and lend a hand. He would fry steaks, direct traffic, ride in parades, and troubleshoot theatrical lighting problems. From noisy, fireworks-filled 4th of July celebrations to his last quiet summer there, Harold delighted in Medora and its people . . .

“A legend is a story that comes down from the past. And there are enough stories about Harold Schafer to interest and entertain generations to come. A legacy comes down from the past too, but it is a gift . . .”

Medora is certainly part of Harold Schafer’s legacy. He held the town in trust, he helped restore it, and he has passed it along to the people of North Dakota, the nation and the world. Because of Harold, Medora today fulfills its mission to present opportunities for visitors to relive, to be educated, and to be inspired by their patriotic heritage . . .


 Harold’s example is another important part of his legacy. He proved that a major business can spring from, grow and prosper in North Dakota. He confirmed that honesty and hard work pay off. He showed that a rich man could retain the common touch. He demonstrated that giving matters . . .

 Harold Schafer was a man of faith. From that foundation he loved life with all of its trials and triumphs, and he spread a joy of living. Feeling blessed himself, Harold blessed others with his special gifts of passion and optimism. At the end of his days, hospitalized and in pain, Harold still expressed with a smile in his eyes that he’d lived a wonderful life!



Who will be our 2018 Burning Hills Singers!?

Who will be our 2018 Burning Hills Singers!?

This weekend two of North Dakota’s largest cities were full of singin’ and boot swingin’ for performers auditioning to be part of this summer’s Medora Musical.

Producer/Director, Curt Wollan, of StageWest Entertainment, kicked off the audition tour in Bismarck and Fargo, giving North Dakota natives a chance to audition for the show, which entertains over 100,000 people per summer and has welcomed over 4 Million guests since 1965.

Each year around 1,000 singers and dancers from around the country audition for the Medora Musical. Performers who are selected bring exceptional vocals, energetic dancing and big personalities to the show.

That’s why, finding talent right here in our own backyard deserves a good ‘ol hoot and hollar!

A number of North Dakota natives who’ve made the cast over the years, have then gone on to very successful careers in the music and performing industries. Often, they credit their time performing alongside the rest of the all-professional cast of the Medora Musical as a shaping experience — one that showed them the hard work, ever-improving talent, and perseverance needed to be successful in the business.

Some of the best-known success stories of North Dakota cast members include,
Jared “Yodel Boy” Mason, who went on to star on Broadway’s Million Dollar Quartet, Stomp! and other shows, and of course, most recently, Scranton’s own, Kat Perkins, went on to be a finalist on NBC’s The Voice after a five-year run as a Burning Hills Singer.

And these are just two of the stories of performers who got their start at an audition for the Medora Musical.

The Bismarck auditions brought out a good, talented group — and the performers had a lot to say! Check it out.

It was great to see previous Burning Hills Singer, Taylor Leet come out and support performers. Check out the tips Taylor shared!

Former Burning Hills Singer and current Medora Musical choreographer, Lexie Wollan, teaches the steps to a 2015 Medora Musical number.

Bis Aud 1.jpg

Fargo auditions on Sunday attracted a lot of young talent. Two performers, featured below, attended Kat Perkin’s, Rising Star camp in Medora last summer!

The Medora Musical attracts top-level talent from around the nation. (Sometimes folks have to be told where, exactly, Medora is, but we kind of enjoy their surprise when they arrive for the first time!) The show has a great reputation and the production team is lucky to have create the show with so many stars over the years.

It draws performers like the aforementioned, Jared Mason and Kat Perkins. People like Tom Netherton, and David Soul, who after performing in the Medora Musical went on to star in the original Starsky and Hutch. And globe-trotting professional performers like our own “Queen of the West,” Emily Walter, current host of the Medora Musical, Chet Wollan and his wife, Candice Lively-Wollan, whose talent and professionalism serve as a guide for younger cast members each year — some of whom came out of these Bismarck and Fargo auditions.

We don’t know who will fill the boots of this year’s cast quite yet, but whatever the final roster is, based on what we saw at auditions so far and the history of Medora Musical talent, they’re sure to be EXCELLENT and they’re sure to help put on an INCREDIBLE show.

We’ll see you there. Don’t forget the popcorn. 😉

Additional audition stops include St. Paul, MN, on Jan 22, and Memphis, TN, in early February.

This year’s Medora Musical opens June 1, and tickets go on-sale in April. Mark your calendars and start planning your trip to see the Greatest Show in the West!

See you in Medora!