When Terry Gass heard about the Gering-Fort Laramie Canal breach, he knew that something needed to be done. As he watched a Western Nebraska Pioneers game, he turned to KNEB’s Bill Boyer.
“I said, ‘We’re going to put on a concert, 21st Century Equipment is going to sponsor it and you’re going to do the advertising,” Gass, the district manager and vice president of marketing for 21st Century Equipment, said. “Bill said, ‘I’m listening.’”
In that moment, plans were set into motion for the Oct. 5 Farmer Strong benefit concert. All proceeds from the ticket sales and auction will be donated to a specialized fund managed by the Oregon Trail Foundation that will be distributed to producers who were impacted by the canal breach.
The breach, which occurred in July, came after a 2,200-foot-long tunnel collapsed along the main Gering-Fort Laramie canal south of Fort Laramie, Wyoming. The Bureau of Reclamation shut down the delivery of irrigation water, leaving approximately 107,000 acres of land in Wyoming and Nebraska without a water source for nearly six weeks.
For 21st Century Equipment, the decision to help was an easy one, Gass said.
“Our organization in general has a big heart for agriculture,” he said. “Most of us who are involved in this business have strong, deep agricultural roots. It’s more than just a job. It’s our passion, it’s our livelihood, it’s our families. These people are more than just customers.”
The company agreed to underwrite the performers for the concert and the day after Gass and Boyer talked at the baseball game, Boyer was reaching out to the managers of Ned LeDoux and Chancey Williams and the Younger Brothers Band to see if they’d play the show.
“The reason we selected those bands is that they are both from ranches in eastern Wyoming and they both have ties to agriculture,” Gass said. “Both of them draw large, energetic crowds.”
Gass said they hoped to have a strong presence from Goshen County, because about half the residents affected by the canal breach live there. Organizers approached Lex Madden of Torrington Livestock and asked him for insight and a benefit auction was added to the night’s line up.
The auction will take place between the two acts and items will be auctioned off by Madden and Mike Nuss of Helberg and Nuss.
Kelley Bean also got on board, offering to help sponsor the event.
The group approached the City of Gering to see if they could use Five Rocks Amphitheater for the concert and the city agreed to waive the fees that are generally associated with booking the venue.
Despite all having full-time jobs, organizers have been dedicated to meeting weekly to plan out every aspect of the benefit from parking to port-a-potties.
As they ironed out the details, local businesses began approaching them about helping out. Some donated auction items, others offered up the use of their equipment.
Murdoch’s promised the use of fence panels to help keep the crowd off the stage. Lisa Weborg, owner of the Weborg 21 Centre, pledged to donate a portion of proceeds from alcohol sales at the concert to the cause and food vendors who are involved have made similar commitments.
Colleges offered up free years of tuition for the auction, while seed companies donated totes of seeds. The list goes on.
“The most heartwarming thing was other businesses calling us,” Gass said. “We didn’t have to call them asking for help. They called us offering help. It really gives you a sense of community.”
He said he feels part of the reason businesses have been so quick to get involved is because they feel a sense of obligation to the farmers and ranchers that help make up the area’s largest industry.
“Every business in our region is heavily dependent on farmers and ranchers,” Gass said. “When they do well, we all do well. When they struggle, we all struggle.”
Now, Gass is calling on rest of the community to help out by buying tickets to the event. Tickets are $50 for the front reserved seating, $35 for the next level reserved seating, and $25 for general admission.
Those who can’t make the concert but would still like to give are encouraged to contact Gass at 308-632-4440 or tgass@21stCenturyEquip.com. or Regina Narjes at 308-254-2511 or rnarjes@21stCenturyEquip.com.