Today I’m bringing back our feature series “10 Questions With…” highlighting some wonderful people within the Calgary Stampede organization.  We hope this will enlighten and entertain, as well as provide some behind the scenes information to our loyal blog readers. Even the most seasoned Calgary Stampede veteran can learn a thing or two from these interviews!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ruth Ann Rayner, a Stampede Caravan committee volunteer who has been with the Calgary Stampede for 30 years! Ruth Ann has been officially named the “Voice of Caravan”, she truly loves to speak about the Stampede and her fellow committee members- so much so, that I’m going to split this post in two. Tomorrow I will post part 2, so be sure to check back for the second half! So without further ado I present to you:

10 Questions with Ruth Ann Rayner, Member of the Stampede Caravan Committee

 1. How long have you been a Calgary Stampede Caravan volunteer, and what made you decide to get involved?

I joined 30 yrs ago, with my late husband Doug- he was a batter beater! Those were back in the days when we used a clean broomstick to beat the pancake batter in a pail- there were only 30 of us volunteers on the committee at the time and we did one breakfast a day Monday to Friday (Stampede was only a week long!). Anything Doug participated in he wanted me to share, so this was just another way for us to spend time in each other’s company. I truly enjoyed the very beginnings of my time as a Stampede volunteer, driving to the breakfasts together and me calling in to Country 105 to advertise each morning. This was the start of my road to becoming the ‘Voice of the Caravan’ and an MC.

As an MC, my duties are to entertain and inform our guests who are welcome to join us from 9 a.m. -11 a.m. each morning. I will announce where to find the kid zone for the petting zoo and other areas of interest at each particular venue we are at for the morning. I’ll also introduce the Stampede Royalty (Queens and Princesses & Indian Princess), Stampede dignitaries such as President Mike Casey or Mayor Nenshi… its similar to running a 10-ring circus- you’re never sure what will be happening ten minutes later! I thoroughly enjoy it!

2. Just how many pancake breakfasts does Caravan offer thru the year, and more specifically…how many during the 10-day Calgary Stampede? You must have a very organized calendar to keep track of everything!

So during the 10-day show, we have 7 days where we have two breakfasts a day that feed on average about 5000 people. (That’s 70,000 just in 14 breakfasts!)  Then, on the first Sunday we are responsible for cooking for Suncor Energy Family Day which will see about 20,000 people lining up for our pancakes from 7-930am.  (*Sarah’s note: for those that don’t know, there will be free admission on park from 6-9 a.m. and FREE breakfast is served in the Grandstand Courtyard from 7-9:30am!)

On top of our Stampede breakfasts, we do run smaller outside breakfasts that we host for various communities and charities.  This year in particular, being the 100th anniversary, we will be hosting 14 additional breakfasts linked to the Stampede celebration for the Centennial (just another cool 34,000 people!). These breakfasts include the BURNCO 4-Corners community events happening thru May and June of this year. (*Sarah’s note: there are two 4-Corners events remaining- one this Saturday, May 26 at Cardel Place and lastly, Saturday, June 2 at Westside Recreation Centre. We hope to see you all there!)

So some grand totals from May 1- July 15: we will have served approximately 150,000 people attending our breakfasts. Our committee has grown from 30 to 160 strong- we work extremely well together and can be likened to a well-oiled machine- we are truly so organized.

3. Putting together a Caravan breakfast doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work, I am sure- could you tell us what a ‘typical’ morning looks like in the eyes of a volunteer?

Since we have 2 breakfasts a day, we have two identical teams. So say 80 of us might be at Southcentre Mall, but the other 80 are at Sunridge Mall. There is no difference between the two- its exactly the same Caravan breakfast.  If you attended one, then decided to head up Deerfoot for the other- you’d likely not notice much of a difference!

My day starts at 5 a.m.  I will call the radio stations to let them know where the 2 breakfasts will be that day, organize appearances from radio/tv! (*Sarah’s note: can you get the impression of why Ruth Ann is named the voice of caravan!)

On a typical morning, we all know our specific roles. We know who is driving the batter van, who is in charge of the Kids Zone, etc.  Some folks will head to Big Rock (our sponsor that generously holds the goods- frozen sausage, eggs etc) at 6am for loading batter vans and equipment. Usually they are preloaded at lunch for the next day other than the foodstuff. Then they’ll proceed to their location of the day. From 7-9 a.m. we all set up for breakfast. Staff breakfast is at 8 a.m., and then we go to the station we’re working. Feed and entertain from 9-11 a.m. We’ll break down, then meet the other crew to have lunch at Big Rock for 2 p.m. Most head home for a nap after that, take a shower…then its time to head to the Chucks! The only days we don’t have a breakfast during the 10-day show is Parade Day Friday or the Final Sunday.

4. Your schedule sounds grueling but also I’m sure, quite rewarding. Has there been a highlight breakfast that you have attended thus far?

The very first one. It was incredible! To watch these 30 people set up tables, set up the stove (back then we used to fry bacon and put the batter over that). To see how everyone worked together! To me, the fun the volunteers had and the people who attended to get the free breakfast- the appreciation of what we did. That’s all it took and I was hooked- my enthusiasm was sky-high. I will never forget it- it was on the corner of McLeod Trail and Southland Drive.

 5. I know that these amazing gatherings are not limited to Calgary, where else on the globe has a community been privy to such great Stampede hospitality?

You might be able to say that we have conquered the world one pancake at a time. We’ve literally been all over the globe. Some highlights include the 2003 Toronto SARS Fest, in 2006 the Canadian Embassy invited us to serve breakfast on Canada Day in Washington,DC when the Alberta exhibit was at the Smithsonian. The Stampede stage drove down and was back by July 7! There was 2008 Quebec Winter Carnival, we’ve been to Hong Kong, England, Scotland, Florida, Montana, Oregon, all over Canada…the list goes on!

**Phew! This is Part 1 of a 2 part blog post interview with Ruth Ann- please be sure to come and read the second half tomorrow!  

Should you have some burning questions in the back of your mind that you’ve always wanted to ask a member of the organization, why not drop us a line? We’d be happy to take any request into consideration. Stay tuned for more new and exciting “10 Questions With…” as we approach this year’s 100th Calgary Stampede.

For updates and info on everything Stampede, make sure you follow us on Twitter at @calgarystampede and @CS_NGC, on Facebook through our official Facebook fan page, and stay tuned to the official Stampede Blog to learn more about some of the things happening Here. All Year.