McCook Farm and Ranch Expo ready for 10th anniversary
McCOOK, Neb. — Out of Darren Dale’s brainstorm 10 years ago came a concept for something new that would not only help him realize his own dream but could also benefit Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas.
Darren Dale’s “farm and ranch expo” idea has grown every year since his first ag trade show in the fall of 2008, fitting nicely each successive year into expansions to the Kiplinger arena complex on the Red Willow County Fairgrounds in McCook.
Darren and Tana Dale’s 10th annual “McCook Farm and Ranch Expo” will be Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 15 and 16. Darren expects that 400 vendors will fill all available buildings on the fairgrounds.
“People ask Tana and me how our expo has grown so big so fast,” Darren said recently, looking back on the past 10 years. “It was because of Tom (Kiplinger) building new and improving what he had already gifted to the county.” Into each new, improved and/or expanded Kiplinger arena, Darren and Tana brought more vendors, producers, presenters, sponsors and visitors.
“McCook, Nebraska has two, full-size, indoor rodeo arenas,” said Darren, amazed by the reality. “The closest comparable facilities are in Denver and at state fairs.”
Darren had 200-220 vendors the first year. “It was a little challenging the first year,” he admits. “It was in the middle of harvest, and it was something new and different here.” But with time, effort and perseverance, Darren and Tana have grown their farm and ranch expo into a premier destination event, both for vendors and visitors.
“It’s been fun to see it grow,” Darren says.
Ten years ago, Darren was looking toward his own future. He and Tana, who live near Bird City, Kansas, had a toddler, and Darren wanted “to control my own time … to work for myself.”
There was nothing like a farm and ranch exposition in Southwest Nebraska, Darren said. “I looked at a map, and McCook was perfectly in between large shows in Kansas, eastern Nebraska and Colorado,” he said. Hmmm … a perfect location … a perfect venue at the Kiplinger …
“I brainstormed the idea, and started planning from scratch,” Darren said.
He soon learned the location he picked was the right choice. “McCook has been the most gracious host,” he said. “Whatever I ask, whenever I ask, the answer has always been ‘Yes.’ Vendors, sponsors, business people, the visitors’ committee.”
Charlie (Collins), in charge of maintenance at the fairgrounds, does a fabulous job of getting the facilities ready, Darren said. And Deb (Lafferty), the fair board’s secretary, keeps us organized. So many business people step in to help when help is needed. “It’s always been a great team effort,” Darren said. Small components that come together for the larger picture, he said.
And each new Kiplinger building has afforded Darren and Tana the opportunity to expand their expo. This year, the Alice Arena has more than doubled in size.
Tom Kiplinger (Dec. 24, 1928 - July 29, 2017) has passed on, but his influence and his dreams for the arena facilities will be carried on by the Tom and Alice Kiplinger Endowment Fund and its board of directors. The Kiplinger complex is unlike so many other arena complexes, Darren said. “It’s privately funded. It was gifted to the county — no taxpayer money, no bond issue.”
Darren and Tom were very close friends. “We’d talk … I’d bounce ideas off of Tom. I was so honored to have been a pallbearer at his funeral,” Darren said.
Darren escorted Tom around last year’s farm and ranch show on a golf cart. “He truly enjoyed visiting with people, the spectators, the vendors,” Darren said, adding, with a grin, “ … the pretty cowgirls.”
Tom will be greatly missed by so many, but Darren offers consolation. “Tom had things where he wanted them, and now in the hands of a board of directors … a great group of people to make decisions for him now,” he said. “Tom was a true leader. The arena complex will be successful and continue successfully into the future. Tom left his legacy for generations to come.”
The future of the farm and ranch expo looks bright as well, Darren said. “Farmers and ranchers are naturally resilient … they’re in it for the long haul,” he said.
To each of their McCook expos, Darren and Tana attract vendors and guest speakers and presenters from throughout the United States and Canada. The couple also organizes farm and ranch expos in Great Bend, Kansas, and Wichita Falls, Texas.
“Even though our home address is Bird City, Kansas, when we talk to people outside of Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas, we call McCook ‘home’,” Darren said. “We’re proud to be ambassadors for McCook.”
The 2017 farm and ranch expo is Wednesday, Nov. 15, from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., and Thursday, Nov. 16, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., on the fairgrounds in the 1500 block of West Fifth. Admission and parking are free.
Darren expects more than 400 vendors and special presentations including J.D. Wing, horse training; Dr. Ron Hansen, succession planning for farm and ranch families; Nebraska Cattlemen, strategic heifer retention; and a ranch horse sale Wednesday at 6 p.m., and live cattle displays.
For a complete schedule, go to Facebook or www.starexpos.net.