KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Whatever history there is to tell about the American Royal, a Dillingham surely can tell it.
“As a family, when it pertains to the American Royal, we’ve been involved in it for generations,” said Bill Dillingham, now part of the fourth generation of his family to participate in the charitable organization, joining his brother, Allen Edwards Dillingham, who serves on the Royal board. “My father helped write the history book for the American Royal, so he’s a great historian of the Royal.”
The book showcases the first century, from 1899-1999, and Dillingham’s great-grandfather, Allen M. Thompson, as the first president of the incorporated American Royal. So history definitely is on Dillingham’s side.
“My great-grandfather was one of four gentlemen who put together the American Royal horse and livestock show,” he said. “Then my grandfather, years later, was president of the Kansas City Stockyards for 30 years. As a result, for many years, the stockyards also helped run the Royal. He, too, was president of the Royal.”
Now Dillingham is carrying on a family tradition, and it comes on both sides of his family. Roy Edwards, his mother’s uncle, also served as the Royal’s president.
“This not only is a big part of our family, but also it’s important because anything you do is for the city of Kansas City,” Bill Dillingham said. “The American Royal is Kansas City’s history. Agriculture and livestock … those are the things that really put Kansas City on the map.”
How important is it?
Dillingham holds his family’s legacy for many reasons. He is the chairman of the American Royal Youth Horse Show, while his wife, Keri, also volunteers much of her time. It’s something they have seen from Bill’s parents, John and Nancy Dillingham, who were recently recognized by the organization with the Lifetime Achievement Award; Nancy Dillingham just celebrated her 50th year as a BOTAR and has served as that auxiliary’s past president.
Though he has never served as president, John Dillingham has handled numerous roles within the association, from serving as a governor, director, volunteer and chair of the American Royal’s history committee. That served as a powerful foundation for his son.
“I’ve always had a liking to the agriculture side, but I was never involved in it to an extent,” Bill Dillingham said. “I wasn’t involved in 4H or FFA, but I had the opportunity to own some horses. It would be neat to see my kids show someday.
“I’ve also had the opportunity to work with a lot of good people that volunteer their time to really make the show first-class. When you take Kim Rowley, Ruth Charpie, Carol Petrus and Royal staff member Allyssa King, you can see that none of this would be possible without them. They truly run the show, and I’m very fortunate to work alongside them.”
He just concluded his sixth Youth Horse Show as the committee chairman, but he’s been whole-heartedly involved in Royal activities for about a decade.
“I just started volunteering when we could on various things,” he said, noting that he’s found a niche with the Youth Horse Show. “I started to take it on as my baby. It’s just trial and error every year. I’m always trying to learn new things, because I’ve never shown before. Each year, I’m just trying to tweak a few things, trying to accommodate the exhibitor.
“To me, it’s fun being around the animals. I love being around the kids and seeing them work so hard for what they get.”
Those youngsters develop a passion that, in all likelihood, will carry them through the ranks of showing. Maybe they’ll want to try their hands at cutting, which will have its show Nov. 6-8. Maybe they’ll return to take in the pageantry of the UPHA American Royal National Championship, which occurs Nov. 12-16.
“The West Bottoms is a big part of our history in Kansas City, and the American Royal does so much for our community,” he said. “I’m fortunate that I have the opportunity to volunteer for an organization that gives back to the community like the Royal does. It means a lot to me to be involved.”
No matter what, if the exhibitors have the same passion for showing that Bill Dillingham has for serving his community and the American Royal, they’ll find plenty of success.