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9/28/2012 6:00:00 AM
An event that seems to grow every year - Beef-A-Rama
Consistent winners and long-time volunteers agree, Beef-A-Rama only gets bigger and better
(1980) "Dale Burbie displays one of the best-looking beefs in Minocqua."

Lakeland Times photograph

Sarah Hirsch
Features editor

For 48 years running, Beef-A-Rama has brought thousands of people to the Island City for a common goal – to enjoy the company of family and friends, make new friends, and celebrate beef. 

“It’s the one day in the Lakeland area where we’re all excited about one goal, and that’s Beef-A-Rama and making people smile and having a good time,” Randy Gilson, longtime Beef-A-Rama volunteer, said.

And it seems like every year it gets a little bit bigger and draws in more people. At least, that’s what Dale Burbie has noticed over his time in downtown Minocqua as the owner of Omni Clothing.

“Oh, Beef-A-Rama has gotten so huge. I think I’ve only missed the first one or two Beef-A-Ramas,” Burbie said.

Burbie along with Harold Helterhoff and Tony Podhora made up the Beef-A-Rama committee for years, and worked with Jim Ford the spice king.

“In fact, I’ve gotten a few trophies over the years,” Burbie said.

Burbie is a three-time Beef-A-Rama champ with the trophies and plaques to prove it.

“Maybe more,” Burbie said. “They used to give away spice racks when Jim Ford was here.”

Since he won a few spice racks, Burbie can’t account for all of his winnings.

A motto that Burbie and his group of friends lived by as “work hard, play hard.” Beef-A-Rama was one time that they played hard.

“What a party. I remember when we’ve had rain on Beef-A-Rama and they used to cut the roasts in the community building downstairs where the basketball court was,” Burbie said. “There were times where we couldn’t sell all the roasts, so we would sell them in chunks of three or four pounds to people.” 

A new tradition Burbie has started in the last few years is giving away 150 dozen donut holes to Beef-A-Rama goers.

“One hundred-fifty dozen donut holes, and I go through them all,” Burbie said.

Another business that has the claim of a Beef-A-Rama champion is TJ’s Butcher Block – 16 times over, in fact. 

“And that’s in different categories. The last thing I think we won was first in flavor and taste, and we’ve won best chef and we’ve won appearance. We’ve won a conglomeration,” Larry Stenz of TJ’s Butcher Block said.

Their secret to success? Just enjoying the Beef-A-Rama atmosphere.

“We always went in there with an attitude of just having fun,” Stenz said.

Volunteers make it all possible

Without those who dedicate some of their time, or their entire day, Beef-A-Rama wouldn’t be what it is today. 

“This is the most excited I’ve ever been about Beef-A-Rama because I think we’re going to give better service for the people that come and they’re going to be happier,” Gilson said. 

With downtown closed to traffic and a goal of serving more than 4,000 beef sandwiches, there’s plenty to look forward to at the 48th annual Beef-A-Rama Saturday, Sept. 29. 

But to have the day run smoothly, the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce is looking for more volunteers to help out.

“We do need a lot of volunteers because in order for this process to work, we need people who are willing to be giving of their time,” Gilson said. “The more volunteers we have, the smoother this process is going to be.”

For at least 12 years Gilson has offered his time, and he wouldn’t do it any other way. 

“We always have fun when we’re volunteering because it’s not something you have to do. When you’re volunteering, you’re there because you want to be there. It’s like a big party,” Gilson said. “We work hard but we also laugh hard and play hard, too. Here’s an opportunity to laugh 1,000 times a day.”

And just like Burbie, Gilson commented on how much the event has grown.

“Every year is bigger and better, but we certainly need volunteers to make it all possible,” Gilson said. 

Joanne and Dick Strucel, owners of Aqua Aire Motel, are two more long-time Beef-A-Rama volunteers.

“Myself and my partner, Dick, we’ve been at the motel here for 30 years. We’ve helped out every year but one when I had knee surgery, so we’ve actually been doing it for 28 years,” Joanne said. 

For the Strucels, volunteering at Beef-A-Rama is just as much fun as attending the event as a guest. 

“It’s such an excitement in the air all over the place for everybody that’s up here,” Joanne said. “It is so much fun, so much excitement. We would never miss it.”

And she agreed with both Burbie and Gilson. 

“Every year it seems like it grows a little bit bigger. We even have some of our guests [at the motel] dress up just to be in the parade,” Joanne said. “In our motel here, we’ve got probably about half our people make reservations for the following year when they leave.”

While enjoying the beef and atmosphere of Beef-A-Rama this weekend, be sure to take the time to thank the volunteers who make this event possible.

Sarah Hirsch may be reached at shirsch@lakelandtimes.com.

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