Reflecting on the April 1st, 2021 wildfire — and the heroic people who saved Medora

Reflecting on the April 1st, 2021 wildfire — and the heroic people who saved Medora

As the calendar turns from March to April, we can’t help but remember what was happening exactly one year ago today, on April 1st, 2021.

A spark from a sagging power line southwest of Medora grew into a wildfire that tore across the rain-deprived Badlands. “It outran us at just about every corner,” remembers Doug Koester, the Maintenance Manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.

The fire rapidly approached the city of Medora, as well as nearby locations with priceless history, like the Chateau de Mores and the Burning Hills Amphitheatre, home of the Medora Musical. It forced Medora’s residents to evacuate — to watch the cloud of smoke move and grow and fear the worst for their homes and livelihoods.

One year later, we remember those fearful feelings: but much more, we feel immense gratitude for the nearly 150 brave first responders who leapt into service to save Medora.

“It took everybody working together to fully execute the plan,” recalls Billings County Fire Chief Kyle Shockley.

“We were bound and determined to hold the line,” says Koester, who is also Medora’s Fire Chief.

The line held; once the blaze was extinguished, the fire lines viewed from the sky proved it.

“We do it because we love our community,” says Clint Rood, a member of the TRMF Maintenance Team who helped save the Burning Hills Amphitheatre. “I’m just here to lend a helping hand. I’m no better than the next guy down the line.”

“All the communities came together,” Koester says. Indeed, dozens of first responding agencies from not only western North Dakota, but statewide—and even as far as Colorado—heeded the call and helped save the city we love.

No amount of gratitude is too much for the people who make up those agencies and organizations. So one year after their heroic acts, all of us at the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation say “Thank you” once again to the following groups (and everyone who stepped up to help on that fateful day):

  • Medora Fire Department
  • Billings County Rural Fire Department
  • Billings County Highway Department
  • Billings County Sheriff’s Office
  • Billings County Ambulance
  • Medora Police Department
  • Medora Public Works
  • Belfield Fire Department
  • South Heart Fire Department
  • Sentinel Butte Fire Department
  • Beach Fire Department
  • Golva Fire Department
  • Wibaux Fire Department
  • Golden Valley County Sheriff’s Department
  • North Dakota Highway Patrol
  • North Dakota National Guard
  • National Park Service
  • United States Forest Service
  • North Dakota Forest Service
  • Colorado Emergency Management Office
  • Civil Air Patrol – North Dakota Wing
  • State Radio Communications
  • Stark County Dispatch

We invite you to watch this video, in which we interviewed many of the key people who worked diligently to save Medora from the April 1st wildfire:

“The Medora Connection” & help for Ukraine in the news

It’s not about the job, it’s about the people.”

Yarema Slonevskyy

In the last week, the story of how friendships made in Medora have led to substantial help for people caught in the war between Ukraine and Russia has spread across North Dakota.

On March 25th, KFYR-TV aired a feature story on Yarema Slonevskyy and Jason Masten, two Medora employees who have connected in an incredible way:

Yarema Slonevskyy’s Medora nametag holds hundreds of memories.

“People see it says I’m from Ukraine and they ask, ‘How did you end up in Medora?’” he explained.

Every summer since 2008, he’s been leaving his home in Ukraine and coming to Medora. He is one of more than 300 seasonal employees the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation hires each summer.

Slonevskyy quickly learned that there is something special about Medora.

It’s not about the job, it’s about the people,” he said from his home in Ukraine.

Now those people, are helping Slonevskyy as his country faces war.

“I worked with Yarema that first year,” said Jason Masten, a Florida native who spent two summers as a TRMF seasonal employee. He met his girlfriend there. He also made other lifelong friends and developed his giving nature.

“Everybody deserves help,” Masten said.

Masten is now living in Poland, where he’s collecting supplies for Slonevskyy to distribute.

“I told him what we needed, and he said, ‘I’m willing to help you out as much as possible,’” recalled Slonevskyy.

You can watch and read the full story by Jody Kerzman for KFYR-TV here.

KX News also shared Yarema’s story, detailing what sort of goods have been collected by his Medora friends:

“We loaded them with strollers, baby shoes, kids’ clothes, diapers, cans of food, formula food for different ages; huge amounts, we barely could fit it,” Slonevskyy said.

Read and watch Cameron Brewer’s story for KX News here.

How friendships made in Medora turned into crucial support for families in Ukraine

In 2007, a young man named Yarema Slonevskyy made the long trip from Ukraine to Medora, North Dakota for the first time.

Nearly every summer since, Yarema has called the North Dakota Badlands home, serving as assistant to Lyubomir Shkandriy, then the TR Medora Foundation’s Food and Beverage Manager.

“We’ve known each other since we were eight years old,” Lyubomir says. The two grew up in Ukraine. “We used to call ourselves brothers from different mothers.”

In late February of 2022, life changed dramatically for Yarema. “Bombs, tanks, missiles, tears, refugees, shock… war,” he wrote on a Facebook post on March 8th.

“Not one night has passed for Yarema without air raid sirens sounding,” says Lyubomir, who now calls Medora home year-round.

But as soon as the sirens began sounding in Yarema’s home country, something else happened: he began hearing from countless friends he made in Medora.

“Right away I started receiving messages from all over the world with warm words of support and prayers for me and my country,” Yarema said, “from people I had the privilege to meet in Medora.”

A number of those friends hail from Poland, which shares a border with Ukraine. And that group of friends quickly took action to help families caught in the conflict.

“[On March 8th] I got a full van of humanitarian goods from my Medora family,” Yarema said. The van was stuffed with batteries, warm clothes, items for children, and even a power generator that made its way to a hospital on Ukraine’s frontline. Yarema met the van at the border of Ukraine and Poland, then drove it to a central hub to be distributed to families in need across Ukraine.

And that was just the first van.

“Same spot, same reason,” Yarema wrote on Facebook on March 19th, as he picked up another vanload of essential supplies—all gathered by friends he made in Medora now living in Poland. “The support and effort are priceless.”

Among those who gathered goods and transported them to Ukraine is Jason Masten, who has also worked in Medora’s food service sector. “I would just like to thank everyone who either donated money, or contributed supplies to the transport,” he wrote on Facebook. “It means the world to those in need.”

“Always remember that it is not our abilities that show who we are. It is our choices,” Jason wrote.

Those words remind us at the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation of these words from our presidential namesake: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The next best thing is the wrong thing. And the worst thing you can do is nothing,” TR said.

Yarema shared these words of thanks with his “Medora family” on Facebook: “You spend one summer in Medora and you have the whole world watching your back during dark times in the rest of your life.”

Progress Update: Accessible Elevator Taking Shape at Burning Hills Amphitheatre!

Folks in Medora have been enjoying quite the sight this week: an enormous crane swinging pieces of our brand-new high-capacity elevator into place at the Burning Hills Amphitheatre!

These photos show the progress being made on a foggy March 2nd, 2022. It’s thrilling to get a better sense of how this amazing new structure will fit into the landscape at the home of the Medora Musical.

This high-capacity elevator is a major piece of our Access Medora initiative: an ongoing effort to ensure the Medora experience is positive for guests with mobility and sensory challenges.

“It’s been fun to see this elevator take shape,” says Kinley Slauter, the Properties & Attractions Director for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. “It will be much more fun to see it in use this summer!”

Instead of being shuttled up and down our winding walking path — a process that could take up to an hour on busy nights — guests in need of extra assistance will have a fast, safe, efficient new option.

“The whole visit to the Burning Hills Amphitheatre is an experience,” says Maddie Thompson, Theaters Manager for TRMF, “from the moment you reach the top of the hill to your trip back into town. This elevator will make that experience better all around. We’re excited!”

Fans of the Medora Musical, like Valerie Addicott and her daughter, are excited too. “I have a little girl in a wheelchair, and she loves the Medora Musical, but we’ve only seen it once due to it being difficult to get her to and from the amphitheatre,” she says. “This will be a Godsend to so many people and their friends and family!”

“The addition of the elevator will also give people an amazing new view of the Badlands,” Slauter says, describing the view from the bridge to the elevator. Take a look at this artist’s rendering of that view:

We’re grateful to the Engelstad Foundation for providing us with a $1 million grant to get this project off the ground. We also owe a big “thank you” to the State of North Dakota, which awarded us a $1 million Tourism Transportation Grant during the 2021 Legislative Session in support of Access Medora.

We can’t wait for summer to get here!

NEWS RELEASE: Clarence Sitter Named Chief Operating Officer, Emily Klym Becomes Chief Financial Officer of TRMF

(Medora, ND) – The Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation (TRMF) is happy to announce new positions for two longtime leaders of our organization. Former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Clarence Sitter has assumed the role of Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the organization—and previous Controller Emily Klym has taken the mantle of CFO.

Sitter and Klym began their new roles on January 1st, 2022.

“The Medora Foundation is a great place to work,” Sitter says. “The values of our organization—of service to others and respect for people and place—attracted me to Medora and keep me here. I look forward to continuing to share those values in this new capacity.”

Clarence Sitter grew up in Drayton, North Dakota. He earned his bachelor degree and his MBA from the University of Mary in Bismarck, where he was invited to join the Harold Schafer Emerging Leaders Academy. It was there that he became acquainted with members of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. After an eleven-year career as a Certified Public Accountant with Eide Bailly, he joined TRMF as Chief Financial Officer in June of 2012.

“I learned about Harold Schafer’s legacy of reinvigorating Medora during my time at the University of Mary,” Sitter says. “I consider it a blessing and an honor to be able to give back to Medora and the people of North Dakota, like Harold did.”

Sitter’s tenure as CFO brought a great deal of growth and expansion at the TR Medora Foundation: from approximately $10 million in annual operating revenue in 2012 to about $20 million today. The organization’s staff also grew from around 30 full-time employees to more than 70 in 2022.

“I feel like I’m leaving the CFO position in a better place than I found it; that was always my goal,” Sitter says. “I believe Medora will continue to be a safe, family-friendly place for North Dakota to enjoy, and I know we’ll go on to provide more opportunities for our employees to grow and develop.”

Meanwhile, Sitter expressed great confidence in his successor Emily Klym. “Emily is tenacious, detail-oriented, outgoing, passionate, and caring—all great traits for a CFO to have,” Sitter says. “I look forward to seeing what she’ll do to improve the position and our organization.”

“I am very excited and humbled to be in this new role at the TR Medora Foundation,” Klym says. “I’ve gained a lot of perspective on our organization as controller, and have worked closely with our various department managers in that time. I’m glad to have a voice at the table of our excellent Leadership Team.”

Emily Klym grew up in Edgeley, North Dakota. She says her “Medora story” began in her childhood. “We traveled here as a family every summer. I absolutely loved it.”

Klym enrolled at Dickinson State University, where she was admitted to the Theodore Roosevelt Honors Leadership Program. She graduated in 2012 with degrees in accounting and business, then became a Certified Public Accountant in 2014. After a multi-year career at Brady Martz & Associates in Dickinson, she joined TRMF as Controller in July of 2018.

Klym says she’s grateful to have held a role that allowed her to interact closely with the many branches of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. “I’ve had the chance to learn and understand intimately the opportunities and challenges that emerge for employees at various levels of our organization. That’s a perspective I’m excited to share with our Leadership Team.”

She expressed gratitude that her already-rich “Medora story” gets to continue in this way. “I fell in love out here!” Klym says. “Not only with my husband, but with the landscape, the history, and the people. I’m so glad to be working in Medora.”

NEWS RELEASE: A Bigger, Better Medora Experience Means More Summer Jobs & Free Housing

(Medora, ND) – The Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation (TRMF), in anticipation of its biggest summer season ever, is preparing to welcome a seasonal staff of hundreds of highly qualified people from all around the world—and to offer several perks for those employees.

TRMF is a year-round operation that employs 72 full-time staff members. In order to better serve the many thousands of guests who visit Medora in the summer, our staff grows to include hundreds of seasonal employees.

And in 2022, TRMF will have even more attractions and features in Medora for guests to experience:

To provide these new services—in addition to mainstays like the Medora Gospel Brunch, lodging at the historic Rough Riders Hotel, and tee times at Bully Pulpit Golf Course—TRMF is poised to hire 337 summer employees in 2022.

“Living and working in Medora makes for a summer unlike any other,” says Sara Michael, Talent Acquisition Specialist for TRMF. “And the summer ahead will be our biggest and most fun one yet. I’m eager to see our staff grow to include hundreds of wonderful people.”

As part of our hiring surge, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation is offering several incentives and perks to our summer employees:

  • Housing will be provided at no cost to employees who reside in double-occupancy housing during their time in Medora
  • Employees will be eligible for a $300 end-of-season bonus
  • Referral bonuses of $200 are available to employees who recommend additional hires
  • Employees can attend the Medora Musical at no cost
  • Golf rounds for $11.00 at Bully Pulpit Golf Course for employees
  • More than $30,000 in scholarship and award opportunities are available for employees who demonstrate leadership and good character

“We often hear from our seasonal workforce that they have the best summer of their life when they work in Medora,” Michael says. “We’re happy that we can offer free room and board to our staff this year, in addition to the competitive wages and other great perks that come with spending a summer here.”

Anyone interested in applying to work in Medora is invited to see our full list of openings at this link.

VIDEO: Work and Explore in Medora!
PHOTOS: Employees on the job in Medora
LINK: Learn about employment in Medora

THANK YOU: Nearly $35,000 raised for kids in Medora on Giving Hearts Day 2022!

February 10th, 2022 is a day we won’t forget at the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.

Why? Because on Giving Hearts Day, more than 120 kind people and organizations had Medora in mind —and altogether, $34,360.77 was raised to support the Medora WISH program!

Those dollars will go a very long way in helping us accomplish the goal of Medora WISH: to help more kids attend the Medora Musical and other activities in town at no cost. We’ve already covered more than 5,000 tickets to the show since Medora WISH began in 2019—and we can’t wait to do even more!

We have plenty of people to give an extra “thank you” to for their kindness on Giving Hearts Day 2022, including:

  • Keith & Cathy Peltier, for kickstarting our efforts with a $10,000 matching gift
  • Duane & Paula McIntyre and an anonymous donor, who each contributed $5,000 to the cause
  • Stonehome Brewing Company in Bismarck for donating 15% of their sales from February 10th to Medora WISH
  • The fifty-four donors who chipped in at least $100

Whether you gave $10 or $10,000—we want you to know how special you are to Medora. Thank you for contributing to Medora WISH on Giving Hearts Day. Thanks to you, we’re even closer to our goal of someday welcoming kids to the Medora Musical at no cost forever.

The icing on our Giving Hearts Day cake was hearing Adam & Tay play some fabulous music at Stonehome Brewing Company in Bismarck that evening. It made us even more eager for the return of the Medora Musical this summer!

Support Pours In For Kids & Families in Medora on Giving Hearts Day 2022!

Support Pours In For Kids & Families in Medora on Giving Hearts Day 2022!

Each day in Medora, we strive to connect people to this historic place for positive, life changing experiences. And the more people we can serve, the better we feel!

That’s why on Giving Hearts Day 2022, we’re raising funds for Medora WISH: a program that helps us fund Kids FREE Weeks at the Medora Musical each summer. It’s one of our favorite initiatives at TRMF—and we’re thrilled that since 2019, we’ve helped more than 5,000 kids attend the Medora Musical and other attractions in Medora at no cost.

We’d be humbled by your support on this Giving Hearts Day. Click here to make a contribution to the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation!

We appreciated getting a shout-out on Good Day Dakota on KX News this morning:

“Someday, we want to make the Medora Musical free for kids always. What we do right now is host these Kids FREE Weeks, usually in July,” said Tim Olson, the Medora Foundation Communications Specialist.

Want to learn more about Medora WISH? Spend one minute watching this video!

Thank you for thinking of Medora on Giving Hearts Day. It’s because of you we’re able to connect even more kids to Medora!

Remembering Harold Schafer and His Medora Legacy on His Birthday

Remembering Harold Schafer and His Medora Legacy on His Birthday

“My guess is that if I have a legacy, it’s going to be Medora, North Dakota.”

Those were the words of our founder, Harold Schafer, during an interview in 1997. In that wide-ranging discussion, he spoke about his philosophy on hard work, his success as a businessman, and the revitalization of historic Medora that he helped kick-start.

“Medora is real. It has real history. It’s not quite so flashy as Six Flags Over Texas,” Harold said, “but Medora has a greatness to it also.”

It was a greatness that couldn’t have happened without Harold’s help. In 1962 he renovated the Rough Riders Hotel. A few years later, the show we now know as the Medora Musical debuted in the Burning Hills Amphitheatre. And in the decades that followed, a run-down cowtown had become one of the country’s most exciting destinations for tourism.

“You can walk around the parking lot [at the Burning Hills Amphitheatre] and find cars from 30 or 40 different states in one night at the show,” he marveled in 1997.

That was twenty-five years ago—and it just so happened that during that interview, Harold was asked, “What’s Medora going to look like 25 years from now?”

Harold’s answer might surprise you: “I haven’t the slightest idea!”

He continued, “I had no knowledge it would ever be where it is now. I had no outline in my mind that it would grow like this. And if it should continue to grow, I don’t know what it’s going to be. But I think it’s going to continue to grow.”

We wish Harold could see what Medora has become 25 years after that interview. We believe he’d be proud of it.

On this, Harold’s 110th birthday, we’re remembering our founder fondly. We invite you to watch this excerpt from that 1997 interview. Harold doesn’t just discuss Medora; he covers his legacy, his philosophy of work, and more. It’s a fascinating look at a remarkable man!

Medora WISH & Prairie Grit Team Up For Special Hunting Experience in the Badlands!

Medora WISH & Prairie Grit Team Up For Special Hunting Experience in the Badlands!

Looking for an excuse to smile today? Look no further than this video:

Video produced by Aaron Esquibel

This video was filmed in the fall, when a group of young outdoor enthusiasts brought their families out to the Medora area for a special hunting trip, made possible by Prairie Grit Adaptive Sports and our Medora WISH program!

If you aren’t familiar, Prairie Grit is a wonderful non-profit based in North Dakota that provides sporting opportunities for kids and adults with physical and mental disabilities. We couldn’t have been happier to partner with them for this outdoor adventure.

The kids roamed the Killdeer Mountains—successfully punched a deer tag—and explored Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, taking special note of the region’s handicap-accessible features, such as paved hiking trails in the National Park.

Of course, they also took a ride on Manitou the Point to Point Zipline, grabbed some pizza, and took in the ever-exciting Medora Musical!

We love seeing the positive effects of Medora WISH—whether it’s granting thousands of kids free tickets to the Medora Musical, sponsoring one-of-a-kind VIP experiences, or adventures like this one.

If you’d like to learn more about Medora WISH, click here. PLUS, this Giving Hearts Day 2022 (February 10th), any donations we receive will go straight to Medora WISH, and will be matched up to $10,000!

Thanks to Aaron Esquibel for the video and photos of this adventure!

Related: Medora WISH & Prairie Grit in the news!