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Medora volunteers crucial to keeping tourist attractions running

Medora volunteers Jeannie Sovak, left, and Kathy Wachter are lifelong friends who grew up in Watford City and spend a week together at Medora every year. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

MEDORA, N.D. — Some call it a working vacation. Some just call it fun.

About 650 people are volunteering at Medora this summer, ushering at the musical, staffing the mini golf course and getting tables ready for pitchfork fondue.

"We don't want to get paid. We're just having fun," said Jeannie Sovak, a volunteer from Minot, N.D.

The volunteers, mostly retirees, spend a little over a week in Medora working at 16 venues.

They work an average of six to seven hours a day, supplementing the work of seasonal employees, said Denis Montplaisir, volunteer coordinator for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, adding that the volunteer program is in its 20th year.

"Volunteers have been just absolutely crucial in filling a lot of positions that we just couldn't fill otherwise," Montplaisir said.

Allen and Diane Dockter, of Bismarck, volunteered for the ninth time this summer. Allen Dockter said "renewed friendships and also new friendships" keep them coming back.

"There's a lot of people we've known coming out so many years," said Allen Dockter after the couple finished a shift folding pizza boxes at Badlands Pizza Parlor.

For the second year, the Dockters volunteered with their friends Dan and Kathy Schumacher, who lived next door to them in Bismarck for more than 35 years until moving to Minnesota.

"It's a way for us to come back and meet a lot of friends and family," said Dan Schumacher, as he and his wife volunteered as greeter and usher at the Old Town Hall Theater.

Volunteers pay their own way to Medora, but the Medora Foundation provides housing at the Spirit of Work Lodge and meals. The volunteers also get to see the Medora Musical, the shows at the theater and visit other Medora attractions for free.

"They take real good care of us," Schumacher said.

Several volunteers said their favorite jobs are the ones that allow them to interact with kids.

"I get a kick out of the shooting gallery," said Allen Dockter.

Some volunteers use the week as an opportunity to spend time with friends or family.

Sovak, from Minot, and Kathy Wachter, from Bismarck, are lifelong friends who grew up in Watford City and now they spend a week volunteering together in Medora.

Sisters Marlys Carlson, of Spiritwood, N.D., and Karen Wendel, of Sanborn, N.D., volunteered together for the fifth time this year.

"This is our sister time here together," Carlson said.

Each week, a new set of 24 volunteers arrives in Medora. The volunteer program gets so many applicants, about 150 were not selected this year, Montplaisir said.

People typically hear about the volunteer program through word of mouth.

"It becomes really a recruiting tool," Montplaisir said. "Many times they see the volunteers having so much fun, they say 'How do I do this?'"

Many are repeat volunteers, such as Phyllis Johnson, who volunteered with her husband for the fifth time this summer.

"You work six hours a day, but it's fun," she said.

Applications for the next season open in mid-November and are available at medora.com.

"We couldn't do what we do without the volunteers. It continues to grow in enthusiasm and energy and impact," Montplaisir said. "It's fun to be a part of it."