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Hospice fundraiser adopts local flavor

Morgan Kerzman, 7, was the first of many to get a free ride on this coin-operated horse, just one part of a fun-filled fundraiser for hospice Tuesday morning, the Hoedown for Hospice. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)1 / 5
The first annual Hoedown for Hospice pulled all the stops, inviting the very talented Burning Hills Singers from the Medora Musical to kick this fundraiser into high gear on Tuesday morning in Dickinson. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)2 / 5
Turnout was strong for Tuesday's Hoedown for Hospice, with cowboys and cowgirls of all ages rustlin' up some good eats and great tunes, all to raise money for local hospice care in Dickinson. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)3 / 5
Tom Fath lets loose a lasso to tangle up an ornery bull during the first annual Hoedown For Hospice on Tuesday, which raised money for local hospice care in Dickinson. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)4 / 5
Volunteers served up a mighty meal to all comers at the first annual Hoedown for Hospice on Tuesday morning. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)5 / 5

Cowboy hats, baked beans and good ol' country music — that's the makings of a grand time in Dickinson, and that's exactly what was had Tuesday morning as folks gathered at the Prairie Hills Mall to tap their feet and raise some money for hospice care.

"This is the first year for Hoedown for Hospice and, in fact, Choice Financial has partnered with us to make this an annual event," said Wendy Baumgarten, director of hospice for Dickinson's CHI Home Health and Hospice, which were the beneficiaries of the event. "We cover Dickinson and a 60-mile radius covering seven counties."

This was the first Hoedown for Hospice in Dickinson, but Choice Financial has been a supporter of hospice in North Dakota for at least five years. It started in Fargo and has expanded to Bismarck, Dickinson and soon Grand Forks. Choice Financial offers banking, investment and insurance services, with 18 branches throughout North Dakota.

Choice Financial's involvement with hospice, however, comes from a more personal place.

"It really came a long time ago from a lady named Norene Bunker," said Erv Inniger of Fargo, the community relations director for Choice Financial. "She was a friend of mine, she didn't have any kids, her husband had passed several years (ago) and I was kind of the executor of their estate. So I saw what hospice had done (for her) and before she passed away I told her, 'We're going to do a hospice event for you in your name.' It was originally supposed to be just one year."

Bunker's impact didn't just last one year. The Dickinson event featured a "Norene Bunker Wall" where people were invited to write down the names of loved ones they've lost whose lives were improved by hospice care. Inniger recalled that the fundraisers started small.

"We started slow, 300 to 350 people," he said. "Then it grew a little bit, then it grew a little bit, to 1,200 people. This year, we've had ours (in Fargo) already: 2,300 people went through and we raised $134,000."

For Choice Financial, the goal is to eliminate event expenses for the benefiting hospices. In other words:

"Choice Financial is just the backing of it," Inniger said. "We feel there should be no expenses taken so that you know, in your heart, everything you give is going to hospice. I would bet at the end of the day we'd have $30,000 raised."

The goal for the day was $20,000. Choice Financial's Dallon Bitz was the mastermind behind turning the fundraiser from a Hawaiian theme into a hometown hoedown.

"So Choice, their big deal is supporting hospice," Bitz said. "They brought it to Bismarck last year and they did the Hawaiian theme, but we didn't think Hawaiian fit with Dickinson. So we threw it together. There were awesome people who helped us out and here we are."

Even the Medora Burning Hills Singers came out to lend their pipes to the event, which was in the Prairie Hills Mall parking lot. A sumptuous feast of baked beans, foil-wrapped baked potatoes and thick chunks of savory meat was served up to all comers, with a $5 minimum donation asked. The atmosphere was lively, with music thrumming in the air, cowboy-themed tunes setting a hoot-n-hollerin' pace to the proceedings.

"We reached out to (Medora) ... it was an opportunity to support them," Bitz said. "We reached out and they came to sing a couple songs for us."

These fundraisers are fun-filled, but they serve a vital purpose, as local hospice finds itself short on funds from traditional revenue sources.

"We raise funds because our reimbursement rates don't cover nearly enough of our daily rates for each patient," Baumgarten said. "We get reimbursed from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. However, we're typically short about $25 a day for every hospice patient we serve. So these things are really important."