Genuine characterThroughout its history, the Medora Musical has had its share of colorful names for its hosts, from Prairie Dog Pattie and Buffalo Dale to Chuck Wagon Charlie.
By: John Odermann, The Dickinson Press
Throughout its history, the Medora Musical has had its share of colorful names for its hosts, from Prairie Dog Pattie and Buffalo Dale to Chuck Wagon Charlie.
The one exception to that rule was the host in 2004 and 2005, who has since become the face and voice of Medora — “Gentleman” Wade Westin.
“Gentleman Wade wasn’t a character name,” said Randy Hatzenbuhler, Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation president. “People knew he wasn’t playing. He was just being Wade.”
Westin, the public relations and marketing director for TRMF since 2002, died Friday at St. Alexius Health Center in Bismarck as a result of suffering from cardiac arrest on Tuesday.
Westin had spent Tuesday with his wife Lesley, daughter Hanna, 4 and son Wyatt, 2, after a weekend away advertising Medora for the foundation.
Hatzenbuhler said Westin’s impact goes beyond the Burning Hills Amphitheatre stage, and it’s impossible to measure how many people’s hearts he touched.
“He had an influence that made people better people,” Hatzenbuhler said. “You hate to lose somebody like Wade Westin. ... Then you just have to say you were lucky to have known and worked with Wade Westin.”
Hatzenbuhler said the loss will leave a void not only in Medora, but the state.
“He’s the face of Medora and the Medora Musical, he is ‘Gentleman Wade and he is Mr. Medora and that is heartbreaking for all of us,” Hatzenbuhler said. At age 34 there’s no question he was a part of making Medora really enjoyable for a lot of people, Hatzenbuhler said.Andrea Geer, who was the choreographer for the musical when Westin started as a Burning Hills Singer in 1999, had a chance to visit with him last weekend in Minneapolis. She said off the stage you couldn’t have asked for a better friend.
“Wade was one of those people that when you were with him he always made you feel important,” Geer said. “If he said he was going to do something, he was going to do it and he did it with a happy spirit.
“I’m sure a lot of people today are thinking, ‘boy, I’ve got to spend each day being more like Wade.’”
Bonnie Borst-Clowney, who was a Burning Hills Singer in 1999 and 2000 and was in the Shoji-Tabuchi Show in Branson, Mo. with Westin, said she feels lucky to have known him.
Westin was always able to lift everyone’s spirit with his very presence and he was notorious for being “super chivalrous,” Borst-Clowney said.
During his time as host of the musical, Westin was a crowd favorite, executive producer and director Curt Wollan said.
“The world just revolved around him on stage. He made the audience comfortable and they wanted to like him and they wanted to listen to him while we paraded all the crazies around him,” Wollan said. “He was the rock, kind of like Andy Griffith.”
Hatzenbuhler said there was always something special about the native of Zahl, N.D. singing “Come Home to North Dakota” and the Medora Medley during the musical.
“For him, he grew up with it and that was fun to have a North Dakota kid not just to be a Burning Hills Singer, but to be the host,” he said.
Hatzenbuhler said Westin’s optimism and positive attitude is something everyone should strive for.
Westin was constantly a source of positive thinking around the TRMF offices, Hatzenbuhler said.
“Around Medora and around the foundation we laugh because if something isn’t good or isn’t going well about the worst you’re going to hear Wade Westin say is, ‘Good grief,’” Hatzenbuhler said. “And he could hardly say that without smiling.”
Geer said Westin’s attitude touched everyone and she was shocked to hear the news.
“It’s one of those that’s hard to make sense of because if anyone in the world deserved a miracle he was certainly on that list,” Geer said. “He’ll continue to bless people’s lives.”
Hatzenbuhler said TRMF plans to establish a scholarship fund for Hanna and Wyatt in remembrance of their father.
Geer said Westin loved being a husband and father and he tried to live his life as an example for his children.
He would say, “every decision you make you want to make a good one because you know your kids are going to learn from that and he took that to heart,” Geer said.
Hatzenbuhler said the support that he’s seen for Westin over the last week through calls and prayers is evidence of how his approach to life connected so many people during his all too short life.
“Wade was ... he makes me smile,” Hatzenbuhler said. “He was just a special, special friend.”