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Wild West Fest 2013 ... It's a wrap

7/8/2013

By DIANE GASPER-0'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Plans are underway for the 20th annual Wild West Festival in Hays. After all, like the old saying goes, "It'll be here before you know it."

Even as cleanup crews scoured the festival grounds Sunday morning at Municipal Park, just a few hours after the closing act of the 2013 festival, WWF committee members were talking about 2014.

"We're always brainstorming to make it easier," said Bob Swift, one of only two original festival committee members along with Tom Meiers.

"Well, it's never easy," Swift said with a grin Sunday as he took a water break from folding festival signs. "But it's definitely gotten a lot easier."

Swift said people often ask him when he might call it quits.

Well, not now -- not when things keep getting easier.

"Every year, someone comes up with something to make it better," he said.

Mary Karst, WWF president, agreed.

"The group is like a big family," she said. "New committee members who come on, if they like it, they tend to stay."

"The reason this all works is because our committee is made up of people from all walks of life. We not only get ideas from so many different people then, but people who know how to do different jobs, too."

The festival committee has gotten more efficient each year, too, with numerous community groups coming on board to help.

For instance, committee members used to pick up trash Sunday.

Now, members of Boy Scout Troop 101 in Hays does most of that work and gets to keep the money garnered from the aluminum cans to boot.

Karst stressed proceeds from the event go back to the community.

"We make improvements to the park that the community can benefit from," she said, nodding toward one of two limestone shelter houses the festival committee built in 2005 and '06.

Every festival is unique, Swift said.

This year will be remembered for the pleasant weather and the performance each night of Rylee Werth singing the national anthem.

One of the performers -- Friday night's main act, country artist Neal McCoy -- was so impressed with the 11-year-old Ellis girl's earlier performance he brought her back up on stage to sing the national anthem along with his accompanist.

"What a talented young girl. I think everyone enjoyed that," Swift said. "And this year, we were blessed with this weather."

Wednesday's temperatures were in the 80s during the day, and even Saturday's 100-plus daytime temps cooled by nighttime.

"And," Swift said, "everybody we've talked to have said they were so happy with how the entertainers entertained."

Thousands of people converged on the south end of town for three nights of concerts, carnival rides and games, and a public fireworks display Thursday.

People have come from near and far for nearly two decades to take part in the festivities. Many folks decide to come back after their first experience.

One of those is Diane Riddle from Phoenix, who was in town visiting her mom, Lora Buckman, and other family members.

Riddle and her family -- husband John and children Taylor, 3, and Aubrey, 2 -- went home Sunday with a guitar signed by all the festival performers.

Diane Riddle won the bid in Saturday's auction, from which the proceeds go to the Special Olympics Kansas Basketball and Cheerleading Tournament that takes place annually in Hays.

The cause was near and dear to Riddle's heart, too. She is a foster caregiver for special-needs children.

"I heard Friday they were doing this," Riddle said, "and I thought I'd go up to a thousand."

The final bid was $1,150.

"I kind of got caught up in (the bidding)," she said with a smile.

Swift knows the feeling.

"It kind of gets in your blood, and you look forward to it," he said. "I'm already looking forward to next year's."