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New Medora fund makes wishes come true

Bill Sorensen and John Wright take in the western twilight before Friday's showing of the Medora Musical. It was John's wish to visit Medora -- a wish their new endowment fund allowed them to grant. (Iain Woessner / The Dickinson Press)

Twice a week during the Medora Musical season, children are allowed to attend the show for free—and during the performance, they are even invited onto the stage, to get a taste of what it is like under the spotlight.

A number of the performers in the musical's current cast started that way—just one of a gaggle of bright-eyed kids gathered on Medora's iconic stage. Many North Dakotans get their first Medora experience as children, and Don Clement is no different.

"I started coming here with my grandmother in the 1950's," Clement said. "If you talk to people, about 70 percent of the people who come here are from North Dakota ... they say they came here as a kid and they're gonna bring their children here."

Clement never forgot the joy and excitement of his first musical experience. In the company of his family he was there on Friday evening to see the realization of a simple, but earnest effort to share that joy with everyone.

John Wright is from Spearfish, SD. Born with physical disabilities, John cannot speak—but his smile communicates beyond words as he tightly grips the hand of Bill Sorensen, Medora's premiere prestidigitator, leading him around the scenic overlook that gazes down on the musical stage.

Wright has had a great eagerness to visit Medora and that wish was the first to be granted thanks to the Medora Wish Endowment Fund—a fund that Clement co-created alongside his wife, Patty, and another family, Michael and Vicki Zaun.

"The Medora Wish Endowment Fund is created for two reasons. One, one of our long-term goals is to make kids free for everything in Medora," Clement said. "On top of that we'd like to have the privilege, really, to give somebody their wish. John, one of his wishes was to come to Medora and he's getting the full treatment, he gets to go to everything—all expenses paid, including travel."

Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation (TRMF) President Randy Hatzenbuhler said that the fund's use would be flexible and not fixed on any one thing—so it could go one year towards making additional musical dates free for children or it could go towards providing children free access to other attractions.

"Their goal is, in time, to grow the fund so it can make Medora more affordable to all families. They wanted to make it not fixed on one thing," Hatzenbuhler said. "Right now kids days are free, but as the fund grows they may add a third kid's day for one season or for another season kids will be invited to play golf at Bully Pulpit."

Hatzenbuhler spoke to the excitement in the moment at this first wish being granted.

"That's why there's smiles all around. It's the very first day and we have our first beneficiary of the endowment fund, John Wright, and you can see him walking around here," He said. "He's thrilled to be here."

Clement said that children are the future of Medora—the musical is a tradition to be preserved.

"Think of it—it's just like, if you don't keep that tradition, what's Medora going to be in 20 years? The next generation? When those people didn't have that experience ... and you never know which kid that gets to come here is going to be the one that gets on the board at Medora here," Clement said. "That's why we're doing it. We're trying to help all people."

Anyone interested in providing support for the wish endowment fund can do so by contacting TRMF and Hatzenbuhler or through their website at https://medora.com/give/projects-for-the-future/medora-wish/.