Utility vehicles rally across the prairie raising funds to benefit Emporia groups

“Green on the green” is one way to describe it.

Even better might be “Green on green for green to most-worthwhile causes.”

Whatever the terminology, nearly two dozen green utility vehicles matched colors with the glistening green Flint Hills prairie and raised green financial support for two worthwhile Emporia community endeavors.

The second annual Gator Rally coordinated and presented by PrairieLand Partners John Deere at Emporia raised $17,600 for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Flint Hills and the Emporia Friends of the Zoo, according to Paul du Toit, manager of the local host farm equipment business.

The John Deere Gator is a family of small all-terrain utility vehicles produced by theJohn Deere Corporation. They typically feature a box bed in a variety of configurations, ranging from four to six wheels to serve on farms, worksites and ranches, rather than as a pure off-road vehicle.

“We hosted a Gator Rally in 2012 with the goal to give potential buyers a chance to try the John Deere utility vehicle in a real ‘off road’ environment,” du Toit said.

“Twenty-two couples over two nights enjoyed the opportunity immensely, and eight months later were still talking about it.  That is what led us to expand the event into something to benefit our community as well,” du Toit clarified.

“This year, over four nights, we had 160 guests participate in the Gator Rally hosted on the famed Nation Ranch, southwest of Emporia,” said Susan Cline, administrative assistant at Emporia’s PrairieLand Partner.

Chip Hammond, manager of the ranch established in 1900, worked with PrairieLand staff for access across that historic property, and also a visit to “Big Spring.”

Derrick Bam of PrairieLand Partners led the group, with a follow-up person to close the gates. The evening featured a barbecue supper in the shade along a quiet creek.

“Nation Ranch is more than 7,100 acres in Chase County, and we usually do full season grazing on it,” Hammond explained.

“The Big Spring isn’t actually on this ranch, but it is a unique attraction for visitors to this area,” Hammond added.

According to du Toit, the common purpose at PrairieLand Partners is to “care for our customers, employees, owners and communities by applying care values of integrity, excellence, financial success and partnering as we conduct our business.”

He emphasized, “We are proud of these values and hold each other accountable to them through our Managing by Values (MBV) Committee which leads our team in the way we conduct our everyday business and in our community support.”

Earlier this year, the MBV leaders Nick Roth, Chris Prock and Darren Elwood met to discuss fundraising projects for the year and decided to have the Gator Rally as well as a Pasture Golf Tournament in the fall.

“We hoped that the Gator Rally would be successful enough to support two charities since we invested so much effort in the event,” Roth admitted.

“Our team brainstormed that this event could be a great opportunity for local businesses to partner with PrairieLand Partners, show their support for local charities, receive considerable advertising, and even use it as an opportunity to reward a top employee, customer or leadership of the company, while raising additional money for the charities in the process,” Roth said.

Promotional flyers, videos and radio promotions helped spread the word. “Then, our phones started ringing, and our team realized we were in for a ‘ride on the wild side,’” du Toit admitted.

Initially, the hosts were planning to use eight 2-seaters and three four-seated Gators each night.

That grew to 11 two-seaters and four four-seated vehicles per night. All of the Gators were completely booked a couple of days before it started.

“Saturday night, we had a total of 20 Gators including several customer machines out in the Flint Hills. Over four nights, we had 160 guests travel across 1,000s of acres of green pastures, to past 9 o’clock, while providing support for the charities,” du Toit credited.

Special appreciation was expressed to sponsors: Thurston’s Plus Auto Body & Automotive, Longbine Auto Plaza, Emporia Gazette, DC Sales-Frank Harshman, Emporia Truck Wash/ Dave Pumping Service, Cottonwood Valley Bank, 580 WIBW, Frontier Farm Credit, ESB Financial, Capitol Federal, Mel’s Tire, Lyon-Coffee Electric, Plumbing by Spellman, Emporia Livestock Sales and Lyon County State Bank.

“In an effort to keep this great event fresh in our memories, we’ve created a Facebook page for the Gator Rally,” du Toit said.

It is www.facebook.com/gatorrally where participants have been asked to share pictures that were taken while on the ride, or those who are not Facebook followers have been welcomed to send photographs to gatorrally@gmail.com.

There have already been inquiries about reserving spots for a Gator Rally next spring, according to du Toit, who encouraged those persons to express their interest at that e-mail address.

Information is also available for the attraction as well as for the PrairieLand Partners Pasture Golf Tournament fundraiser this fall at www.prairielandpartners.com.