President of American Royal has Tonganoxie ties
Paul McKie, president of the American Royal, says his volunteer job is well worth the effort.
"It's been very gratifying," McKie said. "Of course we get the cream of the crop, whether they're from Tonganoxie or out of the area, we get the best quality people in the country."
And, McKie said, working with the "Royal" children and teens adds to the charm.
"If you see the 4-H kids and the FFA kids that are there with their families, you know you could take all of them home with you, that's the reward."
Sarah Rowland, chairman of the American Royal horse shows, said her volunteer job is particularly rewarding because she works with McKie, whom she said, understands agriculture.
"Agriculture is much challenged," Rowland said. "Certainly when the American Royal was begun 102 years ago we were at a point in our history when the family farm was critical to our sense of well being and a very significant part of our national economy. That's greatly changed."
McKie's ranching experience, which is ongoing, is important to the American Royal, Rowland said.
McKie, 72, grew up in southwest Iowa where his father was in the cattle business. His grandfather, too, had raised cattle. Since 1971, he has raised cattle at Tailgate Ranch, three miles south of Tonganoxie.
McKie stepped away from agriculture for a number of years, after graduating in 1950 from the University of Nebraska. For six years, he served as an aviator in the United States Marine Corps. And after that, he said in a telephone interview, he began working in the candy business, a business that ultimately gave him a trademark for "butter brickle," and which eventually gave him the financial strength to begin purchasing land for Tailgate Ranch.
"If you get lucky once in your life it carries you a long ways," McKie said. "And I got lucky there."
McKie and his wife, Liz, live in Prairie Village, but spend as much time as possible at the ranch.
McKie's start in the American Royal began 15 years ago when a friend George Morris, president of the American Royal, took him to a cattle auction in Linwood.
"Then they just talked me into taking on the livestock show for the Royal," McKie said.
Now, his duties at the Royal have expanded, but McKie declines to take credit for the Royal's success. In fact, he jokingly says he's surprised to be in his position of leadership.
"The American Royal has in excess of $5 million in operations and they hired some dummy like me to do it part time," he said.
Stanley Stout, Linwood, chairman of the Royal's livestock committee, has known McKie for years. Stout is a devout fan of Kansas State University and says college allegiances pose a continual battle between him and McKie.
"He bleeds red in Nebraska," Stout said. "We can hardly stand that, but if you can overlook that, he's a great person."
On a more serious note, Stout said that McKie has been a longtime supporter of KSU's animal science department.
"Any time I ask him for some help for the school, he's always been there with financial or leadership help, whatever need be," Stout said.
McKie said the success of the American Royal is because of the workers, volunteers and participants, people like Sarah Rowland and Stanley Stout.
McKie says he's the oldest person to ever have served as president since the Royal's humble beginnings 102 years ago as a Hereford show held in a tent in the Kansas City, Mo., river bottoms. His age is related to what he says is his greatest challenge in serving as Royal president:
"Getting around," McKie said. "And there's a lot of getting around to do at the Royal, and a lot of standing and walking."
For now, a hip and knee replacement are helping McKie "get around." But, he said as soon as the Royal ends, he's going to have another knee replacement.
In the meantime, McKie said each day presents new challenges.
"I put out little fires," he said, "There's always a million little things that come up that you need to pay attention to."
Planning for this year's Royal heated up in January, the time that McKie took over. Planning means success or failure, he said.
"The work's done ahead of the show, or it isn't done," he said. "When the show arrives, you're either ready or you aren't it's too late then."
This year's Royal kicked off on Oct. 5, with a barbecue competition, and will end Nov. 17.
The quarter horse show, held Oct. 18-21, was the largest ever held, McKie said.
"We had 550 stalls and we filled all but two or three of those," McKie said. "That puts us in the big time."
All in all, McKie said, the planning and work is worth the effort.
Sarah Rowland, who termed the small family farm an "endangered species," said continuing the Royal in today's increasingly urban atmosphere requires tactical planning.
"It certainly is a challenge to make this relevant in an urban community like Kansas City," Rowland said. "The Royal is relevant, but it is difficult to make people aware of this."
The Royal, she said, has moved away from being exhibitor-based to being a compromise of exhibitor-based and entertainment-based. It's planning such as this that sells tickets.
And McKie said, ticket sales mean an economic boost to the area. He calculated the income that will be brought into the Kansas City area during the Nov. 13-17 saddle horse show:
"If you just took the number of participants and you figure that three people came with each horse and they spend three nights in Kansas City and they spend $150 each, then just that one show means $20 million to the city," McKie said. "It's an important show."