KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The logistics of producing an event are tough enough for anyone to manage. Throw in all the variables involved in a rodeo, the job just got tougher – livestock, contract personnel, competitors, fans, just to name a few.
When you add the prestige and history involved in the American Royal Rodeo, there’s even more that goes into making everything work; this year’s championship is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, inside Hale Arena at the American Royal Complex.
Welcome to the world of Todd Harrington and Darby Zaremba, the co-chairs of the American Royal Rodeo committee, who have found it their tasks to produce one of America’s longest standing sports that takes place in one of America’s historic Western towns now surrounded by a metropolis.
“I had never had any dealings with rodeo other than watching it as a kid,” said Harrington, who, by day, is the vice president for business development at MHC Truck Leasing Inc. “I really had no idea how much work it took to put on a successful performance and a successful rodeo until I started volunteering for the American Royal Rodeo.”
You see, Harrington and Zaremba lead a core crew of people who donate their time, their talent and their work to help organize, fund and produce the rodeo, which is just another extension of the American Royal’s purpose, to help raise money that returns to the community in the form of charitable donations. In 2012, the American Royal provided $1.4 million in scholarship and educational awards.
None of that is possible without many of the events that are part of the Fall Festival, and the annual celebration isn’t possible without the assistance of the many volunteers.
“Volunteers make up a tremendous amount of our work force during the two and a half months of our Fall Festival,” said Bob Petersen, president and CEO of the American Royal. “We have so many things going on around our complex in that time that it takes many people to make it happen. We couldn’t give back to the community without the help of our volunteers.”
Harrington began his volunteer service to the Royal about 10 years ago. In addition to spending his time in the West Bottoms each fall, he has a little help from each member of his family.
“The reason I started was that we were trying to set a good example for our kids and show them there’s a lot more to life than working 8 to 5 and going home,” he said. “You’re not completely fulfilled as a human unless you’re giving back, whether it’s a community service like the American Royal or a church or the multitude of other services.
“It’s important to us, as parents, that our kids understood and lived that.”
That’s why his wife, Diane, and their two children, Courtney, 23, and Aaron, 20, have been key members of the enlisted staff since Harrington signed up for his service.
“A lot of people take all the events over the two and a half months at face value … the parade, the barbecue, etc.,” he said. “Those are all just instruments to generate the scholarship money that’s given every year. That’s the conduit. If the rodeo contributes X number of dollars this year, you build on that next year, and the American Royal and its mission is going beyond its expectations and fulfilling and affecting hundreds of thousands of kids’ lives … many of those kids that may not have a chance somewhere else.”
That’s the foundation of the volunteer program, one in which Harrington takes great pride. It’s why so many people are part of the American Royal.
“Whatever brought them to volunteer for the committee, we utilize all that they have to offer,” he said. “The contributions of their time and what they bring to the committee … you couldn’t pay a staff enough to do everything they do.”