A fair deal

Volunteer Alan Shammel dedicated to making Central Montana a better place
Deb Hill
Wednesday, November 24, 2021
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Among his many volunteer activities, Alan Shammel spent 10 years as a fair board member, working to improve the experience of fair goers. Pippi the Clown was one of Shammel’s “finds.” Photo courtesy of Stephanie Shammel

“I just saw things that could be done better, so I kept on working on it.”
That’s how Hilger rancher Alan Shammel explains volunteering for 10 years as a member of the fair board.
First appointed to take over the remaining two years of an outgoing board member’s term, Shammel was reappointed twice to the volunteer, and highly intensive, job of fair board member. And he loved it.
“When I was a kid, the fair was the highlight of summer,” Shammel said. “When the fair was over, it felt like summer was pretty much over. That feeling kind of stuck with me as an adult, and when I had the opportunity, I put my name forward for the board.”
Shammel said one of the best parts of volunteering for the board was being on the entertainment committee.
“I was just thinking all the time of what we could do, who we could get as entertainers,” he said. “I might be out on the tractor and an idea would come to me. Working on the Night Show was very rewarding. I got to meet some many of the entertainers, and they all thanked us for bringing them here to play. It seemed like, no matter how big a name they were, they were just lonely people out on the road all the time. Just normal, real people. I remember one famous act spent all his time asking about my ranch and dogs.”

Aside from meeting performers, Shammel said it was the response to the committee’s work that kept him going.
“I loved looking in the stands and seeing how many people were there, and how much they were enjoying the performance. It felt like we had done something good.”
Shammel retired from the fair board this year, and perhaps it is no coincidence that this was the year one of his biggest goals was accomplished.
“Ever since I got on the fair board, I thought, ‘why don’t we get rid of the gate fee?’” Shammel said. “It seemed like it would be good for families, that they could afford to come more than one day. Or people who work in town could come out to the fair for lunch. They’re not going to do that if they have to pay a gate fee plus the cost of lunch.”
Shammel said the “phenomenal” attendance numbers showed his idea could work, and the fair was still able to “pay the bills.”

Of resources, fires and kids
The Central Montana Fair isn’t the only organization that has benefitted from Shammel’s volunteer spirit. He had donated countless hours to support 4-H, FFA, the Central Montana Resource Council and the Hilger Fire Department.
In fact, Shammel was one of the early founders of the Hilger Fire Department.
“I helped raise the money to get it started,” he said. “The district formed in the 1980s. We all put in a lot of hours. A year like this shows how important having that district is. I was so proud of our crew when they stopped the [Moccasin] fire from crossing the highway. Our volunteers are invaluable.”
Shammel said he is still listed as a fire fighter, and will go on the line if needed.
When his kids were young, Alan and his wife, Stephanie, spent many years involved with the Christina Busy Bees 4-H Club.
“I was in 4-H and FFA when I was young, and I think they instill lifetime values. The public speaking they teach, in particular, is so important,” he said. “I am still involved with helping put on the FFA mechanics contest at Fergus High. We get teams from all over the state. I just feel it’s important to continue to support these organizations because of the values and skills they teach. They helped me so much, I feel I should give back.”
That concept, giving back to those who have helped you out, is one Shammel says he learned from his parents.
“I was taught to make where you live a little better, if you can,” Shammel said.
For that reason, Shammel is actively working with the Central Montana Resource Council’s solar energy project.
“I was pretty proud of the big solar display we put in at the fairgrounds,” he said. “We are working to ‘solarize’ Central Montana. We help people who are interested to learn what the cost would be and what the payback period would be.”
CMRC’s project to support Country of Origin labeling on beef (known as COOL) is another reason Shammel stays actively engaged.
“I believe in COOL. It really upsets me when I read things like we are importing more and more Brazilian beef. I think consumers really want to know where their beef comes from. I’ll be spending more time on this now that I’m not on the fair board,” he said.
While Shammel said he doesn’t know how many hours he donates to these and other causes, he believes it is important to stay connected to the community. He also encourages others to do the same, and said it is not that hard to get involved.
“Decide what it is that is important to you and start looking for an organization that does that,” he said. “There are young people who want to get involved but sometimes we shut them down because they have new ideas. It can be discouraging. I’d say to them, ‘don’t let it bother you, just keep on.’ This is such a good community of people who want to help, but some don’t know how. I think it’s important to bring them in.”