Ray Morrell wants people to know more about North Dakota's western heritage and culture. The organization he's involved with is making that possible.
Morrell, who lived in Minot for a time, was named executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame this year, beginning the position July 1. He replaced Darrell Dorgan, the organization's first executive director, who retired.
Morrell said the organization is important to the state of North Dakota and its people.
Ray Morrell, right, executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, waves to the crowd from his seat by Bud Redding, left, of Velva, driver of the horse-drawn carriage, the organization’s entry in the State Fair Parade in Minot in July. Morrell began as executive director that month.
"North Dakota's western heritage is a part of all of us. At some point in our childhood, we all wanted to be a cowboy," said Morrell.
But, he pointed out, the urbanization across this countryside is slowly eroding western history and the cowboy way of life.
"I question how long before it is gone for good," he said. "As the rodeo road grows longer the memories and champions may be lost on the trail."
Morrell said the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame is an organization about more than just recognizing the achievements of a few through the induction process. "It is about preserving, interpreting and presenting the stories, the art, the cuisine, the entire way of life of rodeo, ranching and Native American ways within North Dakota from yesterday, or even today, and having them available for tomorrow's generations," he said.
Born and raised in Mandan, Morrell moved his family to Minot in 1997 when he became manager of the RCC Western Store in Dakota Square Mall. As a member of the Minot area community, he and his wife got involved with the Minot Y's Men's Rodeo, Minot Trail Riders and area Jaycees chapters. He also helped with rodeo planning/production which resulted in the first National Barrel Horse Association Super Show coming to town, the Velva youth rodeo and the Glenburn Rodeo.
Prior, he served six years (1986-1992) in the U.S. Marine Corps and has served as state president of several organizations. He continues to serve on several boards and committees. He was nominated by the Minot Jaycees and recognized as the Outstanding Young North Dakotan in 2001.
Morrell's wife, Mary, re-established the Miss Rodeo Mandan Queen Pageant and helped launch the Miss Rodeo State Fair Pageant.
Morrell got involved with the N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame when it was still a dream of founders Phil Baird of Mandan and Evelyn Neuens of Bismarck.
Morrell said Neuens, her sister Goldie Nutter, also of Bismarck, and Baird, author of "40 Years of North Dakota Rodeo" came up with the idea for the organization while driving home on U.S. Highway 83 from the 40th anniversary of the Y's Men's Rodeo in Minot.
At the time, Morrell was producing the Mandan Jaycee Rodeo and managing the Lonesome Dove Lounge in Mandan. Morrell and Baird met, shared the vision and Baird asked him to join the effort.
Morrell was part of the organization's original chartering in 1995 and served on the board of directors "since day one." He stepped down from the board when he became executive director.
The NDCHF, now on its way to its 20th anniversary, is undergoing other changes besides having a new executive director. There are three new board members and some staffing adjustments, Morrell said.
"This past July, we moved the corporate office from Bismarck to a more accessible location in the historic Lewis and Clark Hotel in Mandan," Morrell said. Computer technology in the corporate office and the organization's Center of Western Heritage & Culture: Native American, Ranching and Rodeo, an interpretive center in Medora, is being upgraded. He said the technology upgrades are allowing them to do more within the office and not needing to outsource, which gets costly.
Morrell is assisted in the Mandan office by Judith Hammer, originally from Velva, who handles membership. Kathy Miller, a Carrington native, is the Medora site director.
The organization's website (www.northdakotacowboy.com) was completely redesigned. "The website is now smart phone compatible and will soon push out electronic newsletters for all to enjoy," Morrell said.
He said the organization's presence in social media is expanding through its Facebook page and YouTube channel. The Cowboy Chronicle, a publication for NDCHF members, also went through a redesign.
"Both have proved to be a great source of information. More people are turning to the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame for research," Morrell said.
Cathy Langemo, of Bismarck, is continuing as editor of The Cowboy Chronicle.
This past summer a new audience was introduced to some of the Hall of Fame inductees during the N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame Radio Moment, two-minute audio stories produced and broadcast in partnership with Dakota Air Radio and supported by radio stations across the state and Cloverdale Meats sponsorship. Plans are to continue the series, Morrell said.
Membership is a big part of the organization and in sustaining its revenue, Morrell said. He said membership is not restricted to ranchers, rodeo performers or those inducted in the NDCHF.
"If you are a cowboy or cowgirl at heart or an avid western enthusiast and want to help preserve North Dakota's rich western heritage and culture, we want you to join as a sustaining member of the NDCHF," Morrell said.This past summer, he said, an entire new membership structure was established with three categories: individuals/families, non-profit/government and business/corporations.
There's also an endowment program that former Gov. Art Link and his wife, Grace, were instrumental in establishing. Any individual or business can contribute.
Morrell said the organization has a special group of members its trustees. Currently, there are 209 trustees. Trustees are appointed by the board of directors up to 25 trustees in each of the 12 districts and one at-large district comprised of those living out of state.
The trustees' primary duty is validating and submitting eligible candidates for consideration for induction to the NDCHF Hall of Honorees, Morrell said. He said they also cast the written ballots of the approved slate of nominees for induction each year. To date, the Hall of Honorees has 148 inductees, Morrell said.
Morrell said the N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame's current objective is to pay off the $1.2 million construction loan for the Medora Center.
"With a tourism season of four months, admission fees and gift sales are a driver of our revenue but membership and donor contributions are a significant part of our financial sustainability," Morrell said.
He said they are implementing new ways to generate revenue that will support operations and financial commitments, including marketing the Medora Center as a rental option for weddings, conferences and other events. They are also working on other plans and ideas.
Morrell has set goals to achieve in his executive director position with the organization including continuing to make the organization financially sound through increased donor participation, membership recruitment, sponsorship involvement and overall revenue of its Medora Center.
He hopes to increase the awareness of the organization and get more people involved through multi-media marketing and outreach.
"The NDCHF name and induction activity are well known but the story of North Dakota's horse culture through Native American, ranching and rodeo needs to be heard by a continually expanding audience," he said.
The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame is nearing its 20th year which coincides with the 10th year of its Medora Center, Morrell said. "We are taking this opportunity to readdress who we are, what we do and how we connect with people, communities and organizations," he said.
Morrell will be right there when those celebrations take place.
On Feb. 23, the organization will hold its annual meeting in the Seven Seas Hotel at Mandan. The annual banquet/fundraising auction is open to the public. For more information call the NDCHF office in Medora at 250-1833.
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