Late into the night of October 30, 2020, contestants for the South Dakota Barrel Racing Association (SDBRA) Finals awoke to the smell and sight of thick smoke and a fiery blaze on the South Dakota State Fairgrounds. Quick actions on their part to call emergency personnel and remove what they could from the barn helped slow the flames from engulfing other structures surrounding the 96,000 square foot complex known as the “Beef Barn.” No lives were lost and no injuries occurred.
After hearing of the tragedy on Halloween morning, memory lane took me back to my first beginnings in the “OCB.” The South Dakota State Fair, or “Dirt Fair,” is known to many as the “Great Reunion.” In that barn, I made friends from far, near and a few no longer here in that dirt-floored old dark barn.
As a “country bumpkin” I spent most of my summer on the ranch or in my show barn. There wasn’t time for t-ball or swimming lessons with cows around and summer camps were out of the question. I got to show cattle and that kept me busy and (for the most part) out of trouble.
Early mornings and late nights were spent under high powered fans while I brushed and rinsed my heifers at home and dreamed of banners and buckles to win when the State Fair would roll into Huron. A full week spent socializing at my stall, catching up with kids I only saw once a year and showcasing what I'd spent the whole summer doing. THE FAIR! 4-H dances, midway, the best food, strawberry smoothies, late nights, chilly morning chores and sweating in places I didn't know I had out in the show ring. It was paradise to me.
Over the 13 or so years I spent exhibiting cattle I was blessed enough to stand in front of the winner's backdrop in that big building many a time. And I learned about how to walk out of the roped-off ring with my chin up when things didn’t go how I’d dreamed all summer. I’ve aged out of the “cow showing,” so now I get the privilege of sitting on the announcer stand (can you believe someone hands me a mic?) and taking in the next generation’s trials and triumphs. And then just this fall, for the first time, I got to watch my oldest son Lawson compete atop a horse versus a hold of a heifer in the same barn I’ve loved for so long.
You see this building wasn't just a staple during the State Fair. It was home to not only beef shows, but Little Britches Rodeos, barrel races, team ropings, available for winter horse stalling, open riding and cold storage for large farm equipment. Nearly every weekend in the summer, it was occupied, claims Peggy Besch, manager of the SD State Fairgrounds. And per the SD State Fair Calendar, the Beef Complex was in use 196 of 365 days. That’s 54% of the year!
While some concerns arise regarding WHAT will be put up in its place, I have no doubt the loss of the old “OCB” has proven its poignancy.
“The building will most likely be rebuilt,” stated Besch. “But when and by whom is undecided. It appears the State Fairgrounds personnel and the SD Department of Agriculture, who oversees the State Fair, will both be involved in making decisions. At this point, there is no timeline for when the new building will be built and it will likely not be done in time for the 2021 State Fair. I’m confident that we will have a beef show at the Fair in 2021 but we’ll have to get creative and it might look a little different.”
As the ashes settle and scheduled activities are canceled, event producers, participants and regular winter riding and stalling patrons of the Open Class Beef Barn aren't just reminiscing of what the barn meant to them, they are taking action to ensure a facility is built that continues to fulfill needs for several different categories.
Penny Schlagel, a member of the SDBRA and host to several different barrel races as well as team ropings often held in the Beef Complex has reached out to friends and fellow barrel racers to help spread the enthusiasm for a building to be rebuilt.
“We need to contact our state legislatures and make sure we get the point across that this building serves many purposes. If we want it to have universal use, we need to speak up,” Schlagel explains.
And the best way to that, she describes, is by written word. Because the South Dakota State Legislature is not currently in session, Schlagel feels it may be most effective to email your representative. Here is a checklist of things to include and tips she put together:
1. Use your own words, do not use a pre-written message.
2. Include a return address so the legislator knows you are from their congressional district or state. They might also want to mail you a response.
3. Introduce yourself. Tell the person reading your letter where you live and a little bit about yourself.
4. Be clear and concise about why you are writing and what position you want your lawmaker to take.
5. After you have explained your issue, include a personal story explaining why you care about the issue.
6. Include some statistics. Add data to your personal story to strengthen your argument. Make sure the stats you use are correct and up-to-date. If you have personal data such as money you personally spent at a hotel, on fuel or meals or if you know of tax revenue, that is super. FACTS and NUMBERS speak very loudly, especially when asking for money.
7. Lastly, show how the issue impacts other people in your area or district.
8. Be courteous and respectful.
9. Make sure your letter is well-written and free of grammatical mistakes. Read it. Reread it. We need to convey the widespread impact the building had.
Finally, if you're looking for your South Dakota State Representative, here's a link to the official website. https://sdlegislature.gov/#/Legislators/Listing/43
While the cause of the fire has not been determined, Besch said as of last week, it was accidental. The financial loss has also not been determined, but Besch said it includes the building’s contents: tractors, rodeo arenas, panels, bleachers, the public address system, timing system, and more.
Moving forward I am certain of more shows, more rodeos, barrel races, football in the show ring, pizza parties and more celebratory socializing. ... it is a staple and I have no doubt will continue to be a place of memories made after some regrouping. Do you have fond memories of the “OCB?” If so, don't hesitate to share with the South Dakota State Fair, our legislators, or simply contact them to see what one can do to rebuild the beef barn.