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Fisk brings new generational ideas to Medora Foundation

Justin Fisk, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation's marketing director, is pictured in front of the Bill and Jane Marcil Life Skills Center on May 19, 2016. (Press Photo by Sydney Mook)

MEDORA—Without Harold and Sheila Schafer, it's possible that the Medora that is visited by about 120,000 each year would have never become a destination hotspot in western North Dakota.

The Schafer's renovated and reconstructed Medora in the 1960s and spent years improving on the Medora experience until their deaths—Harold's in 2001 and Sheila's in 2016.

In Harold's obituary, a small glimpse into his feelings for the place he rebuilt with his own hands was shared.

"In later years, Harold would walk, with great difficulty, through the streets of Medora simply marveling at all that had been accomplished," it read. "He loved it. The happiest days of his life may have been those he spent with Sheila in Medora."

Now, people like Justin Fisk, the marketing director for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, make sure to carry the torch into the future with the same ideas that Medora was built on.

"It all comes back to the same thing, really, to do more good things to help more people enjoy Medora and the Badlands, and it's really fun doing that," Fisk said.

Fisk, a Minot native, started as the media director in August 2013, after working with the foundation on an advertising campaign with KK Bold.

"If you're in marketing and advertising in North Dakota, there is one or two clients that you really, really want to work for and work on their stuff, and Medora is one of those," he said. "If you're thinking about tourism and doing really good events and being able to promote a really great experience, that's Medora."

Ed Schafer, an heir to the Schafer legacy and the chairman of the board of directors for the foundation, said that it was an asset to have Fisk be hired on after working for the foundation on a campaign.

"He came in already committed to and engaged with the Medora Foundation and our efforts," he said. "That's a huge advantage."

Schafer said Fisk's ability to bring in a new understanding of social media and communication was important for the longevity of Medora.

"His ability to live in that world is really important to us because that's the future of the foundation," he said. "The social aspects of communication are much different than the traditional media that my generation all grew up."

Fisk, along with the marketing team, also instituted bringing on non-Medora Musical acts to fill in "dark nights" when the musical wasn't running.

"If we're going to do something, we really try to do it at a really high level, which makes me proud to be a part of the organization," Fisk said. "It's just fun to constantly be trying to get to that next level, and we get to do that here everyday."

Schaffer said that Fisk's ability to provide statistical evidence in what younger generations are looking for in the Medora experience has helped the board.

"So he has brought with him, the ability to not only collect that feedback or the data, but he has a way of shaping that data that is meaningful to the strategy and direction of the foundation," Schafer said. "The marketing department, that he has developed, has allowed a comfort level to (the foundation) to experiment with new things."

Fisk said that the marketing team wants to keep the old-world charm of Medora while keeping it new and exciting for younger generations.

"(The vision is) to preserve the past and offer more opportunities for people to be inspired by it but also to keep adding really natural fits—in terms of more experiences for people to enjoy and new experiences for people to want to come see more often," he said. "The thing that I know to be true, is any little bit of progress comes from the hard work of lots of people."

And he notes that Medora is a "tag-team effort" by all of the community leaders, institutions and businesses that call the town home.

He drives between Bismarck and Medora throughout the year with the exception of the summer months when he is stationed more in Medora.

He makes the drive to also be a part of volunteer boards that he serves on in town, including being a board director for the Medora Convention and Visitors Bureau and a member of Save the Maah Daah Hey.

When he travels to Medora, he said that he still gets the same feeling as the first time he saw the Badlands.

"I remember making that trip over on the interstate, and you make the right hand turn at Painted Canyon, and I was just awestruck. I remember the feeling today, and I actually still get it every time I drive back and forth from Medora," he said.

Without the Schafer's dream of building a vacation destination, Fisk might have never known the hidden gem in western North Dakota.

He notes not only the importance of the Schafer family but also the key roles people like Marquis de Mores and Theodore Roosevelt had in Medora in 1883.

The Medora Foundation was formed almost 100 years later in 1986. And the Medora Musical celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015.

"There are these milestones along the way, and different people had really important roles in each of those things, each of those landmarks, and ... I want to be a member of the team and leading a group to help the next evolution of Medora," he said. "For me, if I can help lead the evolution along with the rest of the community members, that means that more people can get a chance to enjoy Medora in the future and bring their kids to Medora—the way I get to—so that they can enjoy it with their kids one day."