Imagine Branson 2018 Publication

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2111 S. EASTGATE AVE., SPRINGFIELD, MO 65809 PHONE: 417-883-7417 / FAX: 417-889-7417 417MAG.COM PUBLISHER ary



EDITOR ose Marthis




EDITORIAL DIRECTOR atie Pollock stes




olken heeler



STAFF WRITER van reenberg










ttie Berneking, en Bishop, rin regory, Matt Lemmon, Lillian tone, Jabet


T C Photography, dward C. obison III, ince Cook, wift hots Photography, Anna Burgess, Art Meripol, Adam Hughes, Mike

illiams, atie ay, Jeff ose,

MeadowsImages, Brad weerink






Photos courtesy Bigfoot on the Strip, Silver Dollar City, cover photo by TGC Photography

Dr. Sheny Alex of CoxHealth, his wife Dona Alex and their daughter Nina Alex are happy to call Branson home.


Taking Fun to New Heights With all of Branson’s new attractions, you’ll always have an answer to the question, “What are we doing this weekend?”


Standing the Test of Time We dive in to the story behind one of Branson’s most famous places: Silver Dollar City. Learn the Herschend family’s history and their ties to the area, and how one cave turned into an award-winning destination theme park that welcomes millions every year.







Lake Living What you need to know to be a part of the water-loving community in Branson and its surrounding towns.


Training the Next Generation How Boys & Girls Club of the Ozarks is helping area youth, plus nonprofits with which you can get involved.


 Get Outside Branson is abundant in natural recreation. See the best places for hiking, biking, fishing and camping.


Dinner and a Show

Photos by TGC Photography, Edward C. Robison III, Brandon Alms, courtesy Cox College

One-stop-shop entertainment for date night, family night and impressing visiting friends.


Farm to Market


Education Guide The area is full of top-notch schools for learning at all ages. We give you a quick guide to primary education, high schools and local colleges.

Get to know your local farmers and when to get the freshest haul at the Branson Farmers Market.



The local shopping scene is filled with locally owned shops and nationally known retailers. Find our favorite spots for fashion, home furnishings and can’t-pass-up deals.

Professional and recreational golfers alike can find a hole they love on Branson’s world-class courses.

Let’s Go Shopping


A Taste of Home Why Fidel Gomez thought Branson was the perfect place to start his business and build a tasty empire.

Life on the Links


A Theatrical Powerhouse Sight & Sound Theatre is an influential local employer that brings talent, and guests, from all over the world.


Supporting the Badge A local restaurateur and athlete created an event that has raised over $100,000 for local law enforcement.


Photos courtesy Branson CVB

The city of Branson is surrounded by beautiful landscapes, like Lake Taneycomo and Table Rock Lake, that are ready for you to explore.


e developed the I mag ine B ranson concept to allow future residents, businesses and job relocators to understand why the Branson area is successful and how they might fit into the big picture. The following pages will guide you through stories from people who have actually done it they have relocated here, invested here and are currently building a future for their families in Branson. Picture yourself in a community that has the charm of a small American city combined with world-class amenities not found anywhere else. After experiencing Branson in real life, or just through reading this publication, you transform into an ambassador, forever advocating a better way to live, work and play. hen you’re ready, we will be here to help you get your business off the ground, find the perfect house or job or enjoy the live shows, family fun and outdoor adventures.



JEFF SEIFRIED, President/CEO, Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau

Awards & Accolades

We know Branson is great, but it’s nice when the rest of the country knows it, too. Check out this list of even more reasons to call Branson home. named Branson the No. 1 Best Value Destinations of 2017 for the second year in a row.

“Branson’s golf scene in the Missouri Ozarks is the peak of the sport.” — in 2017

College of the Ozarks ranks No. 1 in Best Value Schools and No. 5 in Best Regional Colleges Midwest in U.S. News & World Report.

Cox Medical Center Branson is No. 10 in Missouri in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Regional Hospitals and has the highest performance rating possible in three procedures or conditions.

Branson is named No. 3 of Best Lake Towns out of 917 U.S. metro and micro areas by in 2018.



building a healthier community


oxHealth is well-known for being one of the best places to work in the area. In fact, they’ve been voted “Best Place to Work” by 417 Magazine readers for the past two years. The recruitment team at CoxHealth says, “Once we bring candidates to Branson, it’s easy to recruit them to stay.” To be honest, the Branson community is pretty hard to say no to. “We have almost any activity that an outdoor enthusiast could want, excellent schools, great entertainment, limitless shopping and a wonderful atmosphere,” the recruitment team adds. It’s evident CoxHealth is invested in more than just their own success—they’re invested in the community. Now, CoxHealth is investing even more. They’ve made Branson patients’ lives easier with the addition of two clinics—the Welcome Clinic and the expansion of the Women’s Center. These two clinics are changing the way Branson patients seek care, making your next trip to the doctor more accessible and convenient.

with the recent expansion of their Women’s Center, a hassle-free, onestop shop for women’s health. While the Women’s Center has long been the go-to imaging center for mammography, ultrasound and bone density scans, they’ve expanded their offerings to now include full OB/GYN services, a pelvic wellness program and lactation support. Thanks to a Legacy Grant awarded to CoxHealth this year by the Skaggs Foundation, they’re now able to offer services to help women with addiction and perinatal depression. These new services will provide treatment and support options for women as their needs change through every stage of life— all in one place. Perhaps the most convenient addition is the option to schedule dual appointments in which you come in just once for your annual visits. Well-woman exam? Check. Mammogram? Check. All in one quick, easy visit. Save yourself a trip this year and schedule a dual appointment.

A health care option for all “Going to the doctor” can mean a lot of things. We have yearly check-ups, visits for preventative care, follow-ups after procedures— the list goes on. The Welcome Clinic was created for those who need ER or Urgent Care follow-ups and either can’t get in with their current doctor or don’t have a primary care physician yet. It’s perfect for patients trying to establish care with CoxHealth or who are in between providers. The name says it all—everyone is welcome: insured or uninsured, current CoxHealth patients or new CoxHealth patients. They won’t turn anyone away. The Welcome Clinic offers general medical care and medication and health reviews, as well as pulmonary function testing, EKG’s, X-rays and lab work. Keep in mind they do not prescribe or refill controlled substances.

Common sense women’s health Let’s be real here, ladies: when was the last time you looked forward to your yearly wellness exam? What about your annual mammogram? We all know these visits aren’t the most fun, but they aren’t something you should ever put off. CoxHealth makes your regular visits a breeze

Branson Welcome Clinic and Occupational Medicine 121 Cahill Road | Branson, MO 417-335-7022

Women’s Center 525 Branson Landing Blvd, Suite 408 | Branson, MO 417-348-8313

Open Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Open Monday–Friday 7 a.m.–5 p.m. 10


Receiving treatment shouldn’t be a challenge, and CoxHealth is going the extra mile to provide access to excellent care. They’re making it even better to live and work in Branson.



Photo by Vince Cook

Tube your way through Branson’s summer season on one of the three area lakes. For more information on lake activities, visit p. 12.


Branson Jet Boats is a popular attraction for those wanting to experience beautiful Lake Taneycomo.

The patio at Cantina Loredo is a beautiful spot to finish out a busy lake day.


LAKE LIVING Escape dry land and jump into one of three area lakes only minutes from town. BY JENNA DEJONG


C losest ac c ess t o B ranson: 9 miles sout h w est of B ranson at St at e P ark M arina Clear water, an abundance of recreational activities and close proximity to Branson make Table Rock Lake a wildly popular destination, especially in the summertime. At normal pool, Table Rock covers more than 43,000 surface acres and 745 miles of shoreline. Like all lakes in the White River watershed, Table Rock Lake levels are controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of ngineers and uctuate based on local and regional rainfall amounts. Fourteen marinas and 16 public campgrounds service lake-goers here. One of the largest, State Park Marina, is located near the dam and the Dewey Short Visitor Center. Lakeview homes and property can be found all over the lake in Branson and in other lakeside towns, such as Branson West, Kimberling City, Shell Knob, Hollister, Ridgedale and Reeds Spring.


D ow nt ow n B ranson Situated between Table Rock Lake and Bull Shoals Lake, Lake Taneycomo is much smaller, covering about 2,800 surface acres and 40 miles of shoreline. The source for Lake Taneycomo is the cold tailwaters of Table Rock Lake. When the dam generates power, the temperature of Lake Taneycomo drops noticeably, and the current gets stronger, making it seem more like a river than a lake. These conditions make it ideal for trout fishing, a



year-round sport for many visitors. The Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery releases 700,000 trout into Lake Taneycomo and recycles fish waste and dead fish. ot a fisher? Take a spin on Branson Jet Boats, a jetpowered ride that stops, spins and dances on the lake during an hour-long tour that might make a splash along the way. Tours are open May through October and launch from the Branson Landing, so stop in to schedule a tour. Much of the shoreline along Lake Taneycomo is privately owned and offers some of the best lakeview properties in central Branson.


C losest ac c ess t o B ranson: 1 5 miles nort h east of B ranson in F orsy t h The last in a chain of four lakes that make up the White River watershed, Bull Shoals Lake is the largest, with record lake levels reaching more than 40 feet above normal pool. Because water levels can uctuate so drastically, a wider swath of shoreline is owned by the Corps of Engineers and remains preserved, untouched and undeveloped. Lakeview property is situated further from the lake, but stunning lakeview properties are out there, and landowners can apply for private dock permits in designated areas. Folks love boating on Bull Shoals Lake because it is less crowded, but fishermen, water sports enthusiasts and scuba divers call the lake home as well. Bull Shoals Lake covers approximately 48,000 surface acres and 740 miles of shoreline.

JUST JACKIE’S RESTAURANT Bull Shoals Lake Finding a lunch spot can be difficult on Bull Shoals Lake because a large part is not developed, so stumbling upon Just Jackie’s is a real treat. A burger and pizza place on Pontiac Cove Marina, the hole in the wall is only open on the weekends and is perfect for satisfying that greasy food craving.

BLACK OAK GRILL Lake Taneycomo Grab some all-American grub and bite into a savory sandwich right on the Branson Landing. Serving lunch and dinner, Black Oak Grill has everything from pulled pork sliders and pot roast to a turkey burger and grilled meatloaf. While you’re there, try the Flip & Sip Margarita made of Cabo Wabo Blanco tequila, cointreau orange liqueur, Monin agave nectar and a flipping lime.

CANTINA LAREDO Lake Taneycomo Revel in Mexican cuisine as you sit outside on Cantina Laredo’s gorgeous lakeside patio located on Branson Landing. The menu is inspired by authentic native dishes with a modern twist and offers brunch, lunch and dinner and a fully stocked bar with an expansive drink menu.

FLAT CREEK RESORT BAR & GRILL Table Rock Lake Whether you’re boating or driving, Flat Creek Resort Bar & Grill is known as a local favorite, and with three locations all offering views of the lake, it’s hard to beat. The restaurant is known for its fried catfish, barbecue ribs and fried chicken. Finish the meal off and choose from more than 50 kinds of beer. Live entertainment also plays occasionally, so drop in for a tasty end-of-day snack.

Photos by TGC Photography, courtesy Branson CVB


Take a break from the water and boat over to these lakeside lunches. All ingredients are fresh, are made daily and taste even better after a day in the sun.


CEO Stoney Hays recently introduced the Missouri Forty-hour Internship Tryout to help students gain real workforce experience.

GET INVOLVED  Students Sarah H., Carissa F., Kamiko T. and Elexis M. shadowed two Branson Airport employees and experienced all aspects of the facility, including airport operations, accounting, marketing and the cafe as part of the new Missouri Forty-hour Internship Tryout program.

TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION Boys & Girls Club of the Ozarks implements Missouri Forty-hour Internship Tryout, creating early workforce exposure for its youth. BY JENNA DEJONG

Photos courtesy Boys & Girls Club of the Ozarks


eginning at 2:30 p.m. every weekday afternoon, the Boys & Girls Club of the Ozarks (1 4 6 0 B ee C reek R oad , B ranson; 4 1 7 - 3 3 6 - 2 4 2 0 ; b g c oz ark s. org ) welcomes 450 students into a supportive, loving environment. The afternoon begins with homework help, a hot meal and recreational activities before moving into workshops focusing on three core areas. “The Club focuses on three main areas and that’s academic achievement, healthy lifestyles and character and citizenship,” says Stoney Hays, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of the Ozarks and recipient of the 1 ational xecutive of the Year award from The Professional Association with Boys & Girls Clubs of America. ome of the Club’s offerings include T Mbased programs, a rock-climbing wall, a game room, homework help and tutoring, a gymnasium and classes focused on making good choices. The Club reaches students on all levels but, with the help of Hays most recently started focusing on helping them succeed once they graduate from high school through the Missouri Forty-hour Internship Tryout (FIT).

Make a difference in your community with these local nonprofits.

JESUS WAS HOMELESS 417-335-9915 What started as a Thanksgiving meal has grown into a weekly service providing more than 1,400 free meals to the sheltered homeless and working poor population of Branson. The nonprofit organization offers an employment training program, access to a health care program, community barbecues, service projects, mental health assessments and more.

SKAGGS FOUNDATION Through FIT, students graduate from two of the club’s workforce development programs before applying for the internship. The programs, Money Matters and Career Launch, are designed to expose youth to personal finance and career choices before they take the next step after graduation. The first internship program accepted up to 30 students who worked 40 unpaid hours during their spring break. Beforehand, students completed a questionnaire detailing their likes and interests, which determined their placement with one of the 10 partnering businesses, including Branson Airport, CoxHealth, State Farm Insurance and Arvest Bank. ventually, IT will be offered more frequently. Hays says the Club hopes to make the program more exible, meaning students could potentially work one day a week for eight weeks instead of fitting it all into one school break period. “We are trying to help these young people become more informed about the world of work and introduce them early,” Hays says.

417-348-8998 Working to make Stone and Taney counties a healthier place to live, the Skaggs Foundation supports community wellness initiatives. The organization holds fundraising and community educational events throughout the year, offers diabetes testing supplies, provides meals for cancer patients, supports a community-wide substance abuse recovery initiative and awards cardiac and pulmonary rehab scholarships.

FAITH COMMUNITY HEALTH 417-336-9355 Operating as an income-based health care facility, Faith Community Health offers primary medical, vision and mental health services as well as prescriptions and a KWIKCare Clinic to Taney and Stone counties. The nonprofit organization serves as a means of access to health care to those working low-income jobs.




MOVE Branson’s community continues to thrive, and businesses and families alike find themselves relocating to this area built on innovation, growth and prosperity. Whether you want to start your own business or put down family roots, make your favorite vacation city your home, and let one of these two businesses guide you along the way.

Throughout the past 40 years, Branson has made itself a thriving location for families and businesses.


One of America’s favorite destinations isn’t just for living. If you’re looking to move your business to the heart of the Ozarks, seek out Commercial One Brokers LLC to help you find the perfect spot. With more than 60 years of experience between co-founders Steve Critchfield and Bob Huels, this commercial realty business helps identify ideal placement for restaurants, o ces, retail, warehouses and property management. They also provide site selection, landlord and tenant representation, property management, financial analysis and brokerage. hen Critchfield and Huels built the foundation for Commercial One Brokers 11 years ago, they wanted their knowledge to build on data. Within six months of starting their business, the partners developed a database of properties with 5,000 square feet or more and multi-tenant space that has been maintained since. As one of two businesses in town focusing exclusively on commercial real estate, the pair can give detailed market information like rent, square feet, operating costs and more about virtually any commercial space within city limits. Most of their business comes from small to midsize companies, but they’ve also worked with larger corporations, so whatever the client’s needs, the partnership will deliver. Besides being armed with information, both Critchfield and Huels are Certified Commercial Investment Members. They have the experience and knowledge to



point any business in the right direction. Wary of uprooting your entire business? Housed on their website is an annual report, a relocation guide and visitor data about the Branson area.


If you would have told La ora ay 6 years ago that Branson would become what it is today, she wouldn’t have believed it. “We were closed for six months of the year, and the only restaurants you could find were those like McDonald’s,” Kay says. Having been a broker since 1986, Kay’s conversations to potential clients about the Branson area have changed dramatically. Since its development, Branson has gone from a suitable place to retire to a diverse community of families and vacationers. At Good Life Realty of Missouri, most of Kay’s business comes from out of towners purchasing vacation homes or relocating. She closes on more than 200 properties each year and keeps about 120 listings on her website each day. Because she has so many listings, she has divided her business into task-oriented focus areas—one employee might only develop the marketing and promotion of a property, while another might solely help prospective buyers homes. As a result, her agents can fully dedicate themselves to clients and narrow their tasks for more thorough, dedicated service. Kay’s business is made up of seven agents who are known for giving a personal experience to clients and delivering valuable

information about the area. Because she has been immersed in Branson for so long, Kay and her team have the utmost knowledge of the surrounding community and know why it will work for prospective buyers, no matter their reason for moving.

Looking to move to Branson? The Taney County Partnership provides services in five areas: business retention and expansion, small business and entrepreneurial development, business and industry attraction and marketing, workforce development, and project management. Contact Executive Director Jonas Arjes (417-243-2126; to take advantage of the program.

Photos courtesy Shutterstock, Jonas Arjes




Photo courtesy Shelly Lane

Realizing Branson is not just a weekend destination, the Lane family recognized Branson’s unique charm and decided to purchase a local business and plant their roots here permanently.

Shelly Lane, owner of Branson Bean Coffee Roasterie, and her family moved to Branson from Little Rock, Arkansas, 11 years ago and haven’t moved since. Before relocating, the family bounced from town to town for their jobs and finally decided to plant their roots in the Ozarks. The destination was close enough for family to visit and was a stable place for their kids to grow up. It was here that Lane eventually purchased the already established Branson Bean Coffee Roasterie (417-231-1971; The business roasts its own coffee and sells it to area grocery stores, several local shops and in a couple states. Since moving, Lane has complimented almost every aspect of Branson and couldn’t think of a better place to live with her family. “The area itself is so inviting and family-friendly,” she says.





All across 417-land, schools in Branson, Hollister and Forsyth are dedicating time and resources to developing strategies for students to have a wide range of experiential learning opportunities in and out of the classroom. BY JENNA DEJONG

The Branson High School football team takes the field.



Five elementary schools filter into one junior high and one high school in the Branson School District. Students at the elementary level learn through a comprehensive literacy model and experience early use of technological resources. Once the student reaches the secondary level, dual credit courses, Advanced Placement courses, vocational opportunities, foreign languages and fine arts become available.

Two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school make up the Hollister R-V School District. There is a wide range of unique extracurricular opportunities offered to students to explore, including Broadcasting Club and a golf driving range and a student-operated weather station.

The mission of Forsyth R-111 Schools is to “equip students for their next stage in life.” The district is made up of Forsyth Elementary School, Forsyth Middle School and Forsyth High School, all located on one campus in the heart of Forsyth. Throughout the district, there are 33 extracurricular activities for students.

Number of Students: 1,362 Employees: 246 Average ACT Score: 19 Student-Teacher Ratio: 17:1 Graduation Rate: 98.94 percent Accolades: Want to speed up the education process? Students in the Hollister R-V School District can go through the Four Years Two Degrees Program, in which students can earn their diploma and associates degree while in high school. About the District: There is something for everyone at the Hollister R-V School District. Students are exposed to early learning programs like a flight simulator where students can earn their first 10 hours of flight school before entering high school. For students interested in farming, there is an agricultural center with a machine shop, trailer production and hog farm to learn about the career. The district also offers vocational school, the 1:1 Technology Initiative, a trap shooting range and Cub Club for extra tutoring for kindergarten through first grade.

Number of Students: 1,170 Employees: 165 Average ACT Score: 19.2 Student-Teacher Ratio: 19:1 Graduation Rate: 97.47 percent Accolades: The Forsyth School District has established itself as a frontrunner in providing educational experiences designed to prepare graduates for the 21st century. About the District: Each student in grades five through 12 is provided a district-owned laptop as a learning tool and is engaged in the classroom. Forsyth Schools offer extracurricular and co-curricular activities and dual credit courses in partnership with Missouri State University and Ozarks Technical Community College. Outside of the classroom, the middle school offers eight clubs and seven sports. Once students reach high school, they can participate in the 17 clubs and organizations as well as 12 sports available to them, including Pep Club, Dance Squad, Thespian Society, golf, Bass Fishing Club and basketball.

Number of Students: 4,806 Employees: 677 full-time Average ACT Score: 20.1 composite Student-Teacher Ratio K–6: 23:1 Student-Teacher Ratio 7–12: 25:1 Graduation Rate: 94 percent Accolades: Students who attend schools in the Branson School District exceed state and national standards on assessments annually. About the District: The district is progressive and focuses on community learning to benefit its students. Elementary schools use the Leader in Me program in which students receive early exposure to leadership principles. In all levels, community partners often visit classrooms for readings, lectures, mentoring and volunteering. Cox Medical Center Branson also provides opportunities for students about careers in the health care industry. Each week, a representative visits Branson High School to promote career options.




LEARNING Three other schools are close to Branson and offer top-notch education.

REEDS SPRING SCHOOL DISTRICT 20281 State Highway 413, Reeds Spring 417-272-8173 GIBSON TECHNICAL CENTER 386 West State Hwy 76, Reeds Spring 417-272-3271 TRINITY CHRISTIAN ACADEMY 119 Myrtle Ave., Hollister 417-334-7084

Photo by SwiftShots Photography





Education doesn't have to have a set ending point. Those looking to get more experience or prepare to enter a certain professional sphere have several 417-land learning options. BY JENNA DEJONG

Photo courtesy Cox College

COX COLLEGE 1423 N. Jefferson Ave., Springfield 417-269-3401 Fall 2018 enrollment: 915 Tuition cost for 2018–19: $25,000– 45,000 Cox College offers six programs to help individuals continue or start their careers in health care professions. Programs offered include undergraduate nursing, radiologic sciences and imaging (RSI), undergraduate medical assisting and research and graduate studies. Each offers one to three degree options—associates, bachelor’s and masters—and the college has a 96 percent job placement rate. More than 900 students are currently attending this private college. Cox College’s Medical Assisting program, a year-long program, has a 100 percent pass rate on the RMA. Seventy-five percent of its courses are online. Whether online or in-person, all courses are small, giving students easy access to instructors. Students finish their practicum at designated CoxHealth sites. A two-year program, the X-Ray Technology program at Cox College is co-hort style. Longevity of the program is greater than 30 years. After graduation, students can bridge into specialty programs. The Diagnostic Medical Sonography program is a full-time seated program requiring 40 dedicated hours a week. During the program, students earn certifications in abdomen, obstetrics and gynecology, vascular and echocardiography. Students spend their time at CoxHealth, Jordan Valley and Freeman Health Systems. The

program guarantees a 100 percent job placement rate and 100 percent employer and graduate satisfaction. The last of four programs, the Undergraduate Nursing program, is the largest Cox College offers. The LPN program is an evening and weekends-only program, and the ASN program is an evening/ weekend program. Weeknight classes meet twice per week with a Saturday clinical. They’re the most popular because they allow students to keep their jobs while attending school. For those holding a bachelor’s degree, Cox College offers a 16-month Bachelor of Science in Nursing accelerated program. Most clinicals are at CoxHealth, where 90 percent of graduates secure a job.

OZARKS TECHNICAL COMMUNITY COLLEGE TABLE ROCK CAMPUS 10698 MO-165, Hollister 417-336-6239 Fall 2018 enrollment: 510 Tuition cost for 2017–2018: $108– 216 per credit hour Ozarks Technical Community College Table Rock Campus helps students earn a bachelor’s degree at another institution through Associate of Arts transfer programs. The Table Rock Campus is home to Practical Nursing and Associate of Science in Nursing programs, which prepare LPNs and RNs to meet the health care needs of the community. In fall of 2019, the Table Rock campus will add three new programs: construction technology; heating, air conditioning and refrigeration; and computer information systems.

Cox College students like Kenneth John can take advantage of four health care programs.

Accolades: Ozarks Technical Community College is a 2017 Aspen Institute Program finalist. Distinguished local alumni include State Representative Diane Franklin, State Representative Elijah Haahr and entrepreneurs Paul Sundy and Rick Hughlett.

TANEY COUNTY UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI EXTENSION 122 Felkins Ave., Forsyth 417-546-4431 Courses at Taney County University of Missouri Extension are not for college credit. Instead they provide professional development and enrichment. Most classes have fees, but some are free. Programs cover topics in agriculture, lawn and garden, emergency management, home and consumer life, nutrition and health, family, natural resources, business and career, 4-H youth development and Master Gardener. Through MU extension, area child care providers can obtain continuing education hours through a series of classes. Staff also assist community organizations looking for federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit status or needing help with strategic planning, board and resource development, organizational management and more. Class locations vary.

OTHER OPTIONS There are other awardwinning institutions less than an hour away.

COLLEGE OF THE OZARKS 100 Opportunity Ave., Point Lookout 417-334-6411 MISSOURI STATE UNIVERSITY 901 S. National Ave., Springfield 417-836-5000



Drs. Kimberly and Arthur Hale are invested in the Branson arts community and do a lot of work with Owen Theatre downtown.

LOCAL HEALTH CARE The Mercy system is adding facilities and services that offer game-changing access to care for Branson residents. BY ROSE MARTHIS



MEET THE DOCTORS Dr. Arthur E. Hale Jr. and his wife, Kimberly Hale, have worked for Mercy for nearly 20 years in family medicine and physical therapy, respectively. We asked them what drew them to Branson and what has made them stay for two decades.

Imagine Branson: What first brought you to the area? Dr. Arthur Hale: We really wanted to do rural medicine. We wanted a small town. That’s a hard thing to do, and we were impressed with Mercy’s commitment to doing the rural clinics and helping the underserved. You look at some of the big systems, Mercy is one of the leading systems for health care in rural areas. I.B.: Over those years, how have you seen the community grow? A.H.: There’s been a lot of growth. We enjoy the Branson shows, and that has a lot to do with Kim’s mother—she loves them, so we would take the kids a lot to those shows. The ironic thing is our kids got involved in the theater, and they really took it and ran with it. All throughout school they did lessons and singing and everything. We kind of enjoyed the opportunities here for kids in the performing arts. They could get lessons from really, really qualified people who have been on Broadway and the East Coast and in really good conservatories who were here now because they were in the shows.

Kimberly Hale: The opportunity with the arts and the culture and the symphony is really growing in the area. That’s why we’re really involved with the Branson Regional Arts Council because we’re trying to help promote that through a conservatory approach. I.B.: What would you say to people who are considering moving to Branson? A.H.: I think if people haven’t visited they’d be really surprised at the outdoors and how beautiful it is. The cost of living is very reasonable. You can have a nice home with land if you want—anything from a condo to a farm. K.H.: Branson is a great place to live due to all of the family friendly things there are to do in the area. There are plenty of outdoor activities, cultural activities [and] great places to eat, shop enjoy nature and relax. A.H.: The school system in the area provides quality academics and the teachers are great. Our two children grew up in the school system here and are now both attending Stanford University. We had a foreign exchange student from Germany this year and he was very impressed by the school system.

Photo by Brandon Alms


he Mercy Specialty Clinic Branson is set to open by the end of 2018, bringing specialty services that Branson citizens haven’t had access to before. The 53,000-square-foot clinic provides space for virtual care, a chemotherapy infusion suite, cardiology services including nuclear and echo stress tests and services in pain management, urology, orthopedics, podiatry and ENT. “This whole program is designed to make it easier for those patients who seek care through the Mercy system to be able to do that without having to travel,” says Dr. David O. Barbe, vice president over regional operations for Mercy and the president of the American Medical Association. “This is going to be a great asset to residents of south Stone and Taney counties.” Physical therapy services will also be moved to this new clinic, which sets aside more space in a building that is adjacent to other clinics so patients can come for follow-up appointments and go to physical therapy easier. Another big focus of the clinic is technology and staying on the cutting edge of virtual care. More and more patients prefer to take care of issues outside of the hospital, and this facility is specifically designed to do that, Barbe says. “ inety-five percent of care takes place in an ambulatory setting,” he says. “This building and the services in it are designed to make that 95 percent the best they can be.” Separate from the specialty clinic, one of the most exciting additions to the Mercy network is the 1,100-square-foot Autism Clinic. By partnering with Arc of the Ozarks, the clinic provides autism screening and basic therapy services to children in Branson and southwest Missouri.



BADGE Branson restaurateur and softball player Nolan Fogle hit a home run with his Benefit the Badge fundraiser idea, raising a total of $110,00 in support of regional law enforcement. BY REN BISHOP


verything Nolan Fogle does, he does big. He owns seven restaurants in Branson that served 1.7 million people in 2017. He sponsors the professional softball team he’s on, Nightmare, and his home run record at Plato High School has stood for 30 years. So when Branson Police Chief Stanley Dobbins asked him to host a fundraiser softball tournament, he had a big idea. “When he asked me to raise $35,000 for a softball tournament to fund National Law Enforcement Week, I told him I could maybe do it with 100 softball tournaments,” he says. “So my son and I, we dived into it. He was almost 15 at the time, and we spent a lot of time brainstorming different events. e arrived at 12 events, all in one weekend.”

Nolan Fogle worked with local businesses, famous musicians and athletes and countless others to put on Benefit the Badge to benefit regional law enforcement.

Photo courtesy Nolan Fogle


The 1 Benefit the Badge ended up being a weekend extravaganza of competition. Events ranged from traditional team sports like bas“Donations, facility usage, sponsorships, volketball and volleyball to an indoor miniature unteer opportunities, you name it, every single golf tournament, checkers, pingpong, dodge- one said yes except for one,” he says. “We had ball and others. local business owners who would build someFogle, his son and their family designed the thing and donate it. It was all they could do, but Benefit the Badge Multi- port Tournament it’s so humbling to know that they just did it Series so that every person at every skill level to support our police o cers.” And Branson can participate, compete or volunteer at the locals weren’t the only ones who said yes. event. “We want to get everyone involved be- Celebrities, internationally acclaimed athletes cause this event isn’t just about competing, it’s and famous musicians all contributed items to about supporting our local law enforcement,” Benefit the Badge’s silent and live auctions. he says. “We had so many volunteers who “Tom Brady sent a signed picture,” Fogle says. made the event successful, and around here, “We had signed guitars from Garth Brooks, everyone knows a member of law enforcement. Toby Keith, all of the Rolling Stones. People They’re a friend or a family member, and so donated pieces like a signed photo of all five supporting them is important to all of us.” living presidents and a guitar signed by Elvis. And all of it came with letters of authenticity. It SLAM DUNK SUPPORT was amazing.” While Fogle was organizing the fundraiser, the Fogle Family Foundation and event organiz- HOME RUN RESULTS ers reached out to dozens of small business- In all, Benefit the Badge raised 11 , in its es, large companies and corporations with first weekend. Law enforcement from tone Branson ties. The City of Branson awarded the County, Taney County, Branson, Branson Fogle Family Foundation with a $35,000 grant West, Hollister and Merriam Woods all bento market the weekend.

efited from the event, with life-saving e uipment purchased for o cers. But Benefit the Badge’s impact keeps growing. Due to the fundraiser’s success, Miken Sports asked Fogle to be their spokesman and ambassador for Heroes Mission, the company’s nationwide fundraising efforts for first responders. And this year, Miken will create a Benefit the Badge bat, featuring the Benefit the Badge logo. Proceeds from the bat sold in stores nationwide will support the fundraiser. But for Fogle, raising money is just one big goal among many. “My dream would be in 10 years, we have accomplished the recognition of all the positive, amazing things that law enforcement o cers do across our country,” Fogle says. “I hope we save multiple lives in the line of duty. But I also hope we help change the environment around police o cers who do so much for all of us.” To participate in or volunteer at Benefit the Badge, visit To purchase a Miken Benefit the Badge bat, visit






Photo by Springfield, MO CVB

The whole family can learn about sea creatures at Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium.


Kick off summer fun by taking your family to Table Rock Lake.

GET OUTSIDE Whether you like hiking, fishing or soaking in the sun, you’re just steps away from enjoying all that the Ozarks has to offer. BY JABET WADE



wildlife at Dogwood Canyon so that visitors can enjoy this natural environment and all the activities here for many years to come. For just $10 for adults ($5 for kids ages 3 to 11), folks can gain access to certain areas of the park for the day, including a fully functioning grist mill, the Nature and Conservation Center, the artifact display, the Canyon Grill Restaurant overlooking Little Indian Creek and the half-mile Hickory Ridge Trail. For additional fees, there are bike trails (bring your own or rent one there), tram and Segway tours, horseback trail rides and trout fishing. Ask about self-guided or guided fishing and the brand-new Fly Fishing Academy.

BUSIEK STATE FOREST AND WILDLIFE AREA 5 U.S. Route 65, Highlandville, 417-895-6880 Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area is located in Christian County 15 miles north of Branson. Those looking to get outside and explore nature in a primitive, forested setting will enjoy spending time here. There is no fee to visit Busiek, and it is open year-round, but the scenery is especially beautiful during the spring bloom and in the fall when the colors deepen. Highway 65 dissects the 2,500-acre area, with trails on both sides of the highway, plus a shooting range on the west side. The trails are well-marked and la-

Photo by Anna Burgess

DOGWOOD CANYON NATURE PARK 2038 West State Highway 86, Lampe, 800-2256343, Visitors to Dogwood Canyon Nature Park in Lampe can plan to spend a few hours or an entire day exploring, walking, biking, hiking or taking in one of the many other familyfriendly outdoor activities offered at this nature preserve. Owned and managed by the Dogwood Canyon Foundation, the park covers 10,000 acres of unspoiled Ozark Mountain territory. The overall theme of the foundation is conservation, preservation and education. It is dedicated to protecting the natural plants and

P L AY Camping in the Ozarks is a great way to explore all the region has to offer.

Pass on a love of fishing at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park or one of the area’s many other bodies of water.

Photos by Vince Cook, Art Meripol, Edward C. Robison III

Biking and hiking trails abound in the Branson area. One family favorite is at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park.

beled by colors. The difficulty ranges from fairly level, easy paths for hiking or biking to steeper, rockier terrain that includes some creek crossings. Horseback riding is a popular pastime here, and when the weather is nice, it isn’t uncommon to find the parking lot full of horse trailers and families with children and leashed dogs partaking in the beauty of this forest. Primitive camping permits are available. The forest is open to non-campers from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. There is no running water. Visitors should take out whatever they bring in.

TABLE ROCK LAKE Multiple access points located just southwest of Branson, Lake lovers will be thrilled to note that Branson is just minutes from the beautiful clear waters of Table Rock Lake. A pristine body of water managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Table Rock is a destination for families, fishermen, boaters, campers and water sports

enthusiasts. More than a dozen marinas service this lake—one of the closest is State Park Marina (380 State Park Marina Road)—and the Corps of Engineers operates at least as many public campgrounds adjacent to the lake. The Dewey Short Visitors Center is situated near the Table Rock Dam. Here you’ll learn about the history of the White River Watershed, of which Table Rock is a part. Pick up a trail map while inside, then venture out on the Table Rock Lakeshore Trail, located adjacent to the visitor center parking lot. Moonshine Beach (133 State Highway 265) is a must-see. It’s the largest sandy beach on the lake, and it’s a popular spot where families can hang out and swim or paddleboard on any given sunny, sweltering summertime day.

HERCULES GLADES WILDERNESS Accessible from Highway 125, Blair Bridge Road and Broken Back Bridge Road, 417-683-4428 The Hercules Glades Wilderness Area, located in Taney County, is part of the Mark Twain

National Forest and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The wilderness area is just as it sounds—a wild and untamed natural territory, where visitors should tread lightly and strive to leave the pristine trails and unspoiled forest exactly as they found them. There are three trailheads leading to a combined 32 miles of trails of mostly difficult and rocky terrain. Visitors are welcome on foot or on horseback and can expect to see any number of wildlife species, such as deer, rabbits, birds, squirrels and even snakes. The scenic countryside of this 12,413acre wilderness consists of rocky hills, glades (open grassland), forested knobs and creek beds. There is no running water, so bring plenty of refreshments for your hike. Dispersed camping is allowed at Hercules Glades, which means campers should choose sites at least 100 feet from trails, water, roads and other campers, and they should leave no sign of their camp when they are finished (i.e., fires should be completely extinguished and dispersed).



FAMILY FUN We rounded up what you need to know about the most popular Branson stage shows. BY JENNA DEJONG



Photo by Adam Hughes

Just some of the







February 1–December 21

The SIX brothers sound like a full band, but they’re only using their voices!

3425 W. 76 Country Blvd. 877-843-7469

March 14–December 30

The Million Dollar Quartet’s good luck charm is a candy jar signed by Carl Perkins that sits onstage.

Photos courtesy Million Dollar Quartet, Legends in Concert, Presleys’ Country Jubilee, Sight & Sound Theatres

Photo by Adam Hughes


LEGENDS IN CONCERT February 2–December 31


March 9–December 15

Since 1983, Legends in Concert has showcased the best in tribute artists across the globe. Unlike a lot of shows in Branson, each year Legends in Concert offers four new shows every couple of months.

It was the first theater built on Highway 76, performing there for more than 50 years!

With over 40 years of storytelling under its belt, Sight & Sound brings in talent from all over the country!


March 3–December 29

1984 State Highway 65 417-337-7469 welkresorts. com/branson

1600 W. 76 Country Blvd. 800-374-7469

2920 W. 76 Country Blvd. 800-335-4874

1001 Shepherd of the Hills Expressway 800-377-1277 TURN TO P. 58 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW THE PRODUCTIONS COME TOGETHER.


Dive deep into the country music vault and watch electric performances of country classics on the Starlite Theatre stage.



SHOW You don’t have to plan to eat before you get entertained—these Branson attractions satisfy your hunger and your need for excitement. BY JABET WADE



3 1 1 5 W . 7 6 C ount ry B lvd . , 4 1 7 - 3 3 7 - 9 3 3 3 , st arlit et h eat re. c om The Starlite Theatre provides one of the most unique vistas of Highway 76 in Branson. It is the only five-story glass atrium in the city, and the front of the building portrays a downtown street scene, featuring streetlights, window boxes and a box o ce complete with a large neon marquee. The Starlite welcomes two new shows to its lineup this year: A J anic e M art in C irq ue Sh ow (featuring music, magic and aerial stunts) and Th e P rop h ec y (a Trans-Siberian Orchestra–style show). Other long-time favorites include B uc k et s n B oard s—a comedy show that will make the whole family laugh—G ene W at son, Larry F ort une, Larry ’ s C ount ry D iner, R aid ing t h e C ount ry V ault and R aid ing t h e R oc k V ault . Before or after the show, guests can grab a bite to eat at Big ’s BB and fill up on Texas Style Angus Brisket, Memphis Style Baby Back Ribs and tasty sandwiches. The diner can seat 200 guests.

 DOLLY PARTON’S STAMPEDE DINNER ATTRACTION 1 5 2 5 W . H ig h w ay 7 6 , 4 1 7 - 3 3 6 - 3 0 0 0 , d p st amp ed e. c om

D olly P art on’ s St amp ed e D inner A t t rac t ion is an iconic Branson dining and entertainment experience, famous for its friendly North versus South showdown that includes audience participation. Dolly herself claims that it’s “the most fun place to eat!” This dinner show features trick riders on horseback, riding full-speed in a 35,000-square-foot arena, pyrotechnics, dancing, family-friendly comedy and much more. It’s lively and exciting and concludes with a tribute to America. This is a high-intensity dining experience, so be prepared to be on the edge of your seat. But you won’t leave here hungry—the four-course meal includes a whole rotisserie chicken, pork loin, corn on the cob, potato, creamy vegetable soup and dessert. Go again during Christmastime, when the theatre becomes a winter wonderland with a live nativity and a fun-loving battle between the North and South Poles’ elves.

Photos courtesy The Starlite Theatre, Dixie Stampede, by Mike Williams



See Table Rock Lake in a whole new way aboard Showboat Branson Belle.


4 8 0 0 H ig h w ay 1 6 5 , 8 0 0 - 7 7 5 - 2 6 2 8 , silverd ollarc it y . c om/ sh ow b oat - b ranson The howboat Branson Belle offers a uni ue dining experience as guests enjoy breathtaking views of Table Rock Lake aboard a riverboat themed after the 1800s paddlewheel-style showboats. The Branson Belle has been in service for more than 20 years, providing passengers with a stunning view of the lake from one of four outdoor decks. Tickets range from general seating (prices start at $55 for adults and $28 for children) to preferred seating or premium seating and dining. Upgrades include earlier boarding times, prime seating for dinner and the show and expanded menu options. The show features live music, comedy, magic and dancing. This year has more cruises on the schedule, plus a brand-new fireworks finale on select cruises in July. The howboat Branson Belle also offers specialty cruises, such as the Princess and Pirate cruises, Southern Gospel– and Christmas-themed cruises. The Belle runs March through December.




Branson is perfectly positioned near great getaway spots for a long weekend escape or a quick trip full of exploring. BY ADRIENNE DONICA


Just a few hours from Branson, this northwest Arkansas city has a thriving cultural scene, delicious dining and outdoor wonders galore.



Try a cajun-style brunch, lunch or dinner at Cafe Rue Orleans ( c af erueorleans. c om) , or stop by Penguin Ed’s B&B ( p eng uined s. c om) for finger-licking good barbecue. The pulled pork sandwich is a customer favorite, and don’t leave without having a slice of fried pie or a monstrous homemade cookie. Wash down your meal on the Fayetteville Ale Trail ( f ay et t evillealet rail. c om) . Grab a passport and get sippin’ on suds from 10 area breweries and one cidery.


Tuck in at the charming Inn at Carnall Hall ( innat c arnallh all. c om) . The University of Arkansas dormitory-turned–boutique hotel features 50 rooms, an on-site restaurant and lounge and a wraparound porch. For a modern retreat, The Chancellor Hotel ( h ot elc h anc ellor. c om) is located two blocks south of Dickson Street and steps away from the entertainment district.



 Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium is a can’t miss in Springfield.


Make America’s first national river your new playground. Hike, paddle, fish or zipline your way through the Ozarks’ natural beauty along the 135-mile Buffalo National River ( np s. gov/buff and, about an hour east of Fayetteville.


ue north of Branson, pringfield has big-city attractions with a small-town feel just an hour away and perfect for a day trip.


Take yourself out to the ballgame at Hammons Field as you watch the Springfield Cardinals (, a Double-A affiliate team of the t. Louis Cardinals. or a night of family fun, catch a live taping of The Mystery Hour ( t h emy st ery h our. c om) , an Emmy Award–winning late night talk show.


Satisfy your sweet tooth and tour nationally renowned and delicious Askinosie Chocolate ( ask inosie. c om) before enjoying scrumptious Peruvian fare at Cafe Cusco ( c af ec usc o. c om) , housed nearby. If you’re in the mood for cuisine closer to home, dig into a juicy, artisan burger from Black Sheep Burgers | Shakes ( b laaac k sh eep . c om) .


Prepare to be wowed at Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium ( w ond ersof w ild lif e. org ) . Spot 35,000 critters in the 1.5-million-gallon aquarium and walk through more than 350,000 square feet of jaw-dropping wildlife galleries and dioramas.

Photos courtesy Springfield, MO CVB, by Katie Day, Jeff Rose

ive into all ayetteville has to offer with a visit to Dickson Street. The entertainment district features boutiques, restaurants, bars, public art murals and live music. A mustsee and crown jewel is George’s Majestic Lounge ( g eorg esmaj est ic loung e. c om) , the oldest and longest-running live music venue in the state. Continue your cultural explorations at one of the more than 180 annual festivals, such as the fall NWA Hispanic Heritage Festival ( f ac eb ook . c om/ nw ah h f est ival) that coincides with National Hispanic Heritage Month. Join thousands of people to celebrate with a parade of nations, live music, games, food and more.



MARKET Fresh, local produce and other delicious goodies are ripe for the picking at the Branson Farmers Market. BY JENNA DEJONG


Photos courtesy Shutterstock, Mackenzi Pitman, Katie Petersen

BRANSON LANDING BLVD., BRANSON When They’re Open: Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m., from mid-April through the end of October What You’ll Find There: Each week 1,500 to 2,000 shoppers can be found at this market buying goods from around 40 or 50 Missouriand Arkansas-based vendors, many of whom are located within a roughly 100-mile radius of Branson. Why We Love It: Started in 2015 as an offshoot of Springfield’s popular Farmers Market of the Ozarks, the Branson Farmers Market is in the parking lot at the north end of the Branson Landing but could be moved to a different location on the Landing for this upcoming season. It hosts food-focused annual free events such as berry- and squash-themed festivals (in June and September, respectively) and a gathering in July featuring a grilling competition and cooking classes. Each week features live music from local artists like Brett & Sophia and Dallas Jones. As you

Katie Petersen and friend post on social media about the Branson Farmers Market lemonade while they explore the market.

ON YOUR WAY OUT, STOP AT THE FLEET OF FOOD TRUCKS LIKE SPORK EXPRESS, WHICH SERVES UP A MIX OF SALADS, SANDWICHES AND SOUPS. Mackenzi Pitman posts her fresh finds from the Branson Farmers Market on social media.

walk up and down the market, community organizations might hand out information about their business and may sometimes bring free giveaways like mugs and stickers. Some may even put on kid-friendly activities like face painting. For those looking to shop, there are plenty of options to choose from. Some popular regular vendors include Branson’s McKenna Family Farm and Peak View Farm, which provides sustainably raised chicken, lamb, pork and more. Britain Farm also provides beef and pork raised naturally without hormones or GMO treatments. Besides groceries, the market also hosts artisans like Lake Time Craft, a local vendor who sells handmade sewn pieces like linens and

aprons. And when you find yourself getting hungry on your way out, stop at the fleet of food trucks like Spork Express, which serves a mix of salads, sandwiches and soups. Worried about lugging your heavy bags to the car? No matter the location of the market, there is plenty of close parking, so don’t let that fear keep you from making the trip. The best part is that regardless of the entertainment you take in, how many food trucks there might be or the seemingly endless amount of vendors, admission is always free.




Co-owners Brad Leighninger, Derrick Melugin, Jason Roberts and Tammy Roberts are serving up some of the most-loved food while taking the country by storm with their flavorful barbecue.



he start of Gettin’ Basted and Downing Street Pour House happened by chance and with a lot of hard work. Brad Leighninger loved cooking and worked in the food business for years before deciding to create a competitive barbecue team, called Gettin’ Basted, in 2012. It was a lastminute decision to enter in the Rotary Clubs of pringfield Missouri’s annual ock’n ibs BB estival, but the team went home having finished seventh out of 70 teams. They started traveling and scored their first win a few months later at the Roots’n Blues’n BB festival in Columbia, Missouri. They began taking home win after win and won the attention of Leighninger’s friends, errick Melugin and Jason Roberts. The two had a combined history of more than 50 years in the restaurant business, and they were growing tired of the corporate world. Eventually, the three sat down and developed a menu for a Gettin’ Basted food truck while Leighninger continued cooking in competitions.



Today the three co-own two restaurants, compete in barbecue competitions in half the states and continually develop menu items and dishes that get guests salivating right as they walk in the door. Leighninger continues to travel, earn titles and develop new dishes while Roberts and Melugin run the restaurants based in Branson and work newly created items from a competition setting into a restaurant. Between competing, developing a food truck and co-owning two restaurants, Leighninger says the most challenging part of getting their system running was delivering freshly cooked meat in a ready-to-order business. “When we’re cooking for a competition, you’re cooking four or five racks of ribs, and you know when it’s going to be served, so being able to take that kind of food and have it ready when it’s ordered and not have the quality drop is really a significant undertaking,” Leighninger says. Eventually, they found a way to use the Gateway Drum Smokers, a method that cooks meat quickly in hot temperatures. “Derrick and Jason have found ways to make sure our food

GO-TO FAVORITES Gettin’ Basted 417-320-6357; 2845 W. Highway 76, Branson; What started as a competition team turned food truck–slash–delicious barbecue restaurant is a popular stop for tourists and locals along Highway 76. The restaurant is the perfect ending to a fun-filled day on the strip and offers mouthwatering menu items like the Blackout, a sandwich piled high with one pound of smoked brisket, pulled chicken, pulled pork, sausage, barbecue sauce, slaw and pickles. Not as hungry? Try out the popular and specially made pimento cheese, made daily with extra-sharp white cheddar and roasted peppers. Downing Street Pour House 417-320-6106; 24 Downing St., Hollister Co-owner Brad Leighninger gets to experiment with his creative hand and develop dishes a little more upscale and perfect for a casual date night in this pub setting. Although not barbecue, the meats are cooked the same way using a Gateway Drum Smoker. Guests are pleased to find delicious burgers made with American Kobe Grind, but Leighninger recommends trying The Spread, a starter composed of marrow, pork rillettes and blackberry jam. Not a fan? Sink your teeth into pub favorites like the fish and chips, shepherd’s pie or the Pub Plate.

Photo by Brandon Alms

From left to right, the co-owners of Gettin’ Basted: Derrick Melugin, Brad Leighninger, Jason Roberts and Tammy Roberts and next to them, a full rack of ribs with housemade pork rinds and potato salad.

is not sitting there,” Leighninger says. “They’ve come up with systems to allow us to have barbecue all day but still allow it to be fresh.” With that problem solved, the team was ready to expand into brick-and-mortar territory. The Starlite Theatre’s new owner needed food experts to work its in-house restaurant and since little investment had to be made, the trio quickly set up shop and had their new business up and running in eight weeks. The new eatery took Branson by storm and soon the owners of Ye Olde Inn asked the trio to fill its pub space. owning treet Pour House was born. Just this year, Gettin’ Basted opened its own location along Highway 76, and the two restaurants remain popular spots for anyone within the area, whether it’s a tourist needing a dinner spot after a long day or a local craving a go-to favorite. Daily specials of newly concocted dishes are available at each restaurant and discounts for first responders are also offered. ventually, the trio hopes to have a presence in pringfield.

In addition to shopping the Branson Landing also hosts annual events, like The Liberty Light Up event, for visitors to gather around the fountain.



Whether you’re shopping for pleasure or to run errands, these three retail hubs in Taney County have you covered. Use this guide the next time you hit the town. BY JENNA DEJONG

Photos by MeadowsImages, courtesy Branson CVB

BRANSON LANDING 100 Branson Landing Blvd., Branson; Stores You’ll Know: Bass Pro Shops White River Outpost, Bath & Body Works, Belk, Chico’s, The Children’s Place, Christopher & Banks, J. Jill, Victoria’s Secret, H&M. Local Stores We Love: Seasons Home offers seasonal home decor, gifts and custom florals. Natures Treasures is a natural history gallery and gift shop. Science and history lovers will enjoy shopping for museum quality fossils, preserved insects, sea life and geodes. On the Ball Sports is a sports memorabilia store featuring items from more than 100 professional and college teams. Smith Creek Moonshine has tastings, a barbecue restaurant and a shop that sells bottled moonshine, jams, sauces, dry rubs and apparel. Why We Love It: The Landing is a happening place right in the heart of downtown Branson on Lake Taneycomo. Here you’ll find shopping, restaurants, hotel suites and entertainment along a mile-and-a-half lakefront boardwalk. Don’t miss the famous fountain show and Parakeet Pete’s waterfront zipline across Lake Taneycomo. The Landing also plays host to many parades, 5K races, mu-

sicians and lots of other performers all year long. Visit bransonlanding. com for a list of events throughout the year.

TANGER OUTLETS 300 Tanger Blvd., Branson; Stores You’ll Know: Lots of them! But, to name a few: Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Bass, Bath & Body Works, Chico’s, Christopher & Banks, Coach, Disney, Eddie Bauer, Fossil, Gap, Gymboree, Harry & David, Helzberg Diamonds, Nike, Old Navy, Pandora, Polo Ralph Lauren, The Children’s Place, Vera Bradley and White House Black Market. Local Stores We Love: There are two locally owned eateries at Tanger Outlets: King Subs & Deli and the A

& W Restaurant. Both serve food and beverages for all-day shoppers who need a refresher between stores. Why We Love It: The Tanger Outlets are along the Highway 76 Entertainment District. Tanger is made up of more than 75 name brand and designer factory outlet stores. Check out the gadgets at Direct Tools and Kitchen Collection, choose from fun and exciting items for kids at the Disney Store, plus check out the selection of shoe stores and athletic apparel brands. You’ll also find some of the best deals at Tanger Outlets. Coupon booklets and Tanger Club memberships are available for additional discounts.

THE SHOPPES AT BRANSON HILLS & BRANSON HILLS PLAZA 999 Branson Hills Parkway, Branson; Stores You’ll Know: Bed Bath & Beyond, Dollar Tree, Best Buy, Sprint, Books-A-Million, dressbarn, Petco, Kohl’s, Michaels, Pier 1 Imports, TJ Maxx, Shoe Carnival, Ulta Beauty, Walmart, Bedding Mart, AJ Elite Nails and Spa, Home Depot, GameStop, Maurices, Pearle Vision. Local Stores We Love: AJ Elite Nails and Spa is the only locally operated

business within these two plazas. Before starting your to-do list, pamper yourself and try one of its seven services, including lash extensions, manicures and pedicures, waxing, skin care, nail enhancements and massage therapy. Restaurants We Love: There are plenty of fast food restaurants to choose from while shopping if you’re wanting a delicious savory snack. Choose from Arby’s, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut/WingStreet and Wendy’s. If you’re feeling something a little higher up the food chain, stop at Chili’s then wrap up your trip with some sweet, mouthwatering custard at Freddy’s Frozen Custard. Why We Love It: This plaza is a one-stop-has-all shopping center complete with 33 well-known stores. Grab groceries at Walmart one minute and pick up a new pair of shoes at Shoe Carnival the next, or cover your home decor bases by grabbing a new centerpiece or a couple throw pillows at Pier 1 Imports. The plaza is ideal for those looking to get away from touristy destinations, and it hosts a few fast-food restaurants for a grab-and-go dinner. The center is seeking out retailers to fill the empty spaces, so more of your favorites could pop up throughout the year.




LINKS Golf courses in and around Branson showcase the Ozarks natural beauty and continue to remain a top spot for golfers. BY JENNA DEJONG


ithin the past few years, Branson has not only reveled in its entertainment district—it’s grown to be a world-class golf destination. Johnny Morris has worked with big names like Tiger Woods and Coore & Crenshaw to produce exquisitely built courses ranging from simple 13-hole walking tours to difficult 18hole challenges. In a short time, Big Cedar Lodge and the area around it have turned into a golfing mecca.


Set your sights on September 2018 because Ozarks ational is opening as the fourth addition to Big Cedar Golf. The course focuses on the love of golf and, like others at Big Cedar Lodge, also has incredible vistas and breathtaking views. Along the way, golfers find strategic bunkering and slopes that enhance their experience. The course is a challenging 18hole layout with natural elements coming into play, including a 400-foot wooden beam and



plank bridge connecting the tee box and fairway of the 13th hole, standing 60 feet above a owing creek. TOP OF THE ROCK GOLF COURSE

Every die-hard golfer must take a trip to Top of the Rock for the swing of a lifetime. Eight years went into the making of the whole complex with the help of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. The par-3 course is PGA-tour sanctioned with state-of-the-art facilities like the Arnold Palmer-designed practice facility and a Jack Nicklaus Signature Course. Perched above Table ock Lake, the course gives golfers views of peaceful waterfalls, creeks and bass-filled ponds. Before you get started, take lessons with seasoned golf professionals for one-on-one time no matter your skill level. BUFFALO RIDGE SPRINGS GOLF COURSE

Redesigned into the impeccable beauty it is today, Buffalo idge prings olf Course is another Big Cedar Golf course every golfer will want to try. Renowned architect Tom azio helped Johnny Morris create his vision that now sprouts springs, ponds, waterfalls and bunkers. Participants can even spot free-

ranging buffalo from the nearby ogwood Canyon Nature Park. Don’t believe it’s all that? The course has been rated the No. 1 Public Course in Missouri by G olf M ag az ine and has been named one of the Top 10 Missouri Courses by G olf D ig est since 2001. PAYNE’S VALLEY

et to open in 19, Payne’s alley is the first public TGR Design golf course in the United tates. Led by Tiger oods and with Johnny Morris’ help, the course appeals to families and pros alike as they take part in the newest 19hole course at Big Cedar Golf. Because Woods was initially drawn to the beauty of the Ozark curves, scenic views are a must. The course connects players with natural beauty like majestic views of exposed rock outcroppings, mountain ridges, valleys, streams and mature trees. To finish the course, the 19th hole, called “The ock,” is one of the most dramatic holes in the golf world. Stay tuned for more to come. BRANSON HILLS GOLF CLUB

Golfers of all skill levels love the Branson Hills Golf Club for the six tee boxes on each hole. From 2012 through 2017, G olf w eek has named it the No. 1 public course in Missouri.

Photo by Edward C. Robison III


Not even a year old, Mountain Top Course is the most recent addition to Big Cedar Lodge and is a world-class short course designed by World Golf Hall of Fame legend and professional golfer Gary Player. Opened in August 2017, the course is intended to appeal to all skill levels as it is only 13 holes and walking only. Most notable landscaping features are the jagged rock formations that can be seen from each hole. The third and fourth hole are connected by a bridge, giving golfers a view of 300-million-year-old natural rock formations. After finishing the course, stop and eat at the Mountain Top Grill, which serves a delicious salmon salad.

Golf’s greatest legends return to Big Cedar Lodge to compete on the new Mountain Top Course designed by Gary Player.

With Zoysia fairways, several dramatic elevation changes and a range of wildlife, the public course is a popular destination for state associations’ tournaments. Schedule a morning tee time then enjoy the new menu at the club’s restaurant, Magnolia Grille.


GREATS Bass Pro Shops

LEGENDS OF GOLF at Big Cedar Lodge

Dates: April 22–28, 2019 Where: Multiple locations at Top of the Rock. Go to for maps and directions. Tickets and Info: Call 1-888-347-4426 or visit for tickets and more information.


Standing the test of 34






›here’s something unique about Silver Dollar City. It’s not just the awardwinning rides or the craft village or the magical Christmas displays. There’s something about the charm, the excitement, the hustle and the culture that wraps Silver Dollar City in a shroud of nostalgia mixed with modernism. It’s part of why this 1880s-themed amusement park has stood the test of time. It’s why it’s garnered national attention and why in 1963, the City edged out attractions in larger cities like Kansas City and St. Louis to become Missouri’s No. 1 tourist attraction. The secret to Silver Dollar City’s success? A careful balance of family fun, modern thrills and Ozarks charm. HUMBLE BEGINNINGS


Today, more than million guests ood ilver Dollar City each year, and among the rides, the —Brad Thomas, president of Silver crafts and the shows, some of them walk right past the very attraction that first put The City Dollar City Attractions on the map: Marvel Cave. More than 200 feet below the earth’s surface, the cave is home to a dizzying underworld that first captured THE RISE OF THE CITY the attention of adventurers and dreamers Even in the early years, Silver Dollar City foin the 1860s when its limestone chambers cused on providing a balance of entertainment were first discovered. By 1 9 , the cave was and thrills. “Our strategy is to create a unique opened for public tours, which eventually drew experience that visitors from around the counin the cave’s future owners Hugo and Mary try will want to enjoy,” says Brad Thomas, Herschend. In 19 6, the Chicago natives were president of Silver Dollar City Attractions. vacationing in the Ozarks when they visited “That’s not a new strategy. It’s a continuation.” and fell in love with Marvel Cave. By 19 , the The first ride at The City was unveiled in 196 family, including the couple’s sons Jack and and featured authentic 1880s stagecoaches Pete, took over management of the cave. pulled by teams of horses. In 1963, the park ven in the ’ s, before ilver ollar City launched its first craft festival with 19 crafts on rose out of the rocky hillside, the cave’s mys- display including blacksmithing, candle-maktery and allure drew crowds by the thousands. ing, soap-making and woodcarving. When Fire In the summer of 19 , with the Herschend in the Hole opened in 1972, it was the park’s family newly at the helm, Marvel Cave attracted 8,000 visitors. With one popular attraction already in place, the Herschends started brainstorming above-ground entertainment. When the family heard about an old mining town that once stood sentry at the mouth of the cave, they had an idea. By this time, much of the country’s imagination had been swept up by the curious lifestyle and undeniable beauty of the Ozarks. Thanks to Harold Wright’s best-selling novel Sh ep h erd of t h e H ills published in 1907, the sleepy Ozark Mountains were part of public lore. With much of the country already hooked on the nostalgia presented by life in the Ozarks, the Herschends decided to revive the long forgotten mining town. The 1880s-themed village opened as ilver ollar City in 196 , and in its first year, the park welcomed more than 1 , visitors.



Silver Dollar City visitors enter Marvel Cave through a sink hole that opens up into The Cathedral Room.

Before the roller coasters, the first ride for visitors was an authentic 1880s stagecoach pulled by a team of mules.


very first roller coaster. Today, ilver ollar City is dotted with more than rides and attractions. Every few years, the park unveils a new thrill, and in 2013, it captured the attention of the country with the completion of Outlaw Run. Priced at $10 million, the scream-inducing roller coaster made headlines as the first wooden coaster to send riders on a stomachchurning double barrel roll. That thrill alone is worth headlines, but throw in a 162-foot drop at 81 degrees and top speeds of 68 mph, and Outlaw un found itself named the Best New Ride of 2013 worldwide. It wasn’t just the Ozarks applauding the newest addition to Silver Dollar City. The park landed coverage from the LA Times, Th e C h ic ag o Trib une, Th e

N ew Y ork Times, Fox News, Travel Channel, U SA Tod ay and BC ews. It even made it into uinness orld ecords in 1 as the steepest wooden roller coaster. It was also the world’s first and only double-barrel roll on a wooden coaster. But ilver ollar City one-upped itself yet again when the park announced an even steeper thriller, and this time the budget shot up to $26 million. “This is the largest investment in a single ride or attraction in park history,” Thomas says. Opened in spring 2018, Time Traveler—a nod to the park’s 1880s roots—leaves Outlaw Run in the dust. ith top speeds of . mph, three inversions, a vertical loop that tops out at 9 feet, a 10-story, 90-degree drop and the steepest point of the coaster reaching 100 feet in the air, Time Traveler is being called the world’s fastest, steepest and tallest complete-circuit spinning roller coaster. “ e wanted a significant ride experience,” Thomas says. “We worked with incredible engineers from Germany who created the concept of this unique spinning ride. And they came up with a design that would work in our terrain.” Unlike Disney’s spinning teacups, Time Traveler’s rotation is calculated. “This is not meant to spin uncontrollably,” Thomas says. The spin adds a different experience, but it’s still attractive to the whole family. “We have dozens of rides,” Thomas says. “Some are family rides, some are for small children, but there will always be experiences the whole family can share. It’s about balance. What sets us apart from other theme parks is that we strive to offer a balanced experience.” At The City, that balance means combining entertainment, shows, festivals and crafts.




If the rides and roller coasters are synonymous with Silver Dollar City, so are the crafts. There are 1, employees who work at The City, and 1 of those are resident craftsmen. Jeff Walker is a master craftsman who heads the park’s pottery studio. He’s been with Silver Dollar City for seven years as a full-time potter, but he started out as a visiting artist during the National Crafts Festival hosted at the park each fall. “I came to the festival for 20 years,” Walker says. “I would come to Branson for eight weeks a year and did another 26 to 30 art shows across the U.S.” One year as Walker was setting up his booth before the festival, one of the park’s owners asked him why he didn’t work at The City full-time. A few days later, Walker had a job offer. Like most of the craftsmen at The City, alker spends hours a week in


the studio. uring the park’s off season between January and mid-March, Walker and his team of potters have the daunting task of filling the shop’s stock of pottery. “We’ll run the 80-foot gas kiln once every week,” he says. “We get about 300 pots per load.” If Walker’s math is correct, that means the team produces some 3,000 pots in less than three months. And that’s just the pottery available for sale in the studio. Once the park opens for the season, Walker and the rest of the pottery team spend their time demonstrating to park visitors. And they do it in character. In a lot of ways, Silver Dollar City is the Midwest’s Disney. Employees are in character as soon as they enter the park and are expected to project the skills and lifestyle of the 1880s mining town. There’s even a costume shop that creates period-authentic garb for the craftsmen and employees to wear. But unlike Disney, where Cinderella already has a personality and backstory, Walker and the rest of the craftsmen at Silver Dollar City can largely be themselves. “It’s not hard for us to hold character,” Walker says. “This is who we are, and Silver Dollar City lets us pass on information about our craft to the public.” It’s the craftsmen’s knowledge and skill that’s really on display. The character and his-

Candy makers June Ward, left, and Lynn “Silky” Baldwin make Fool’s Gold, a sugary, chocolatey favorite. RELOCATION AND INVESTMENT GUIDE

Jewelry makers like Steve LaRance work at Silver Dollar City’s National Crafts and Cowboy Festival.

torical period are just the groundwork. In fact, not all of The City’s craftsmen come in knowing a specific trade. inding a skilled blacksmith is probably a little harder today than it was in 1880, so a lot of the team is trained on a specific skill. hat’s really important is an employee’s ability to interact with park guests. “Most interns or new artists are pretty nervous for the first three or four weeks,” alker says. “They don’t want to mess up when demonstrating.” But even alker messes up sometimes, and he’s trained as a production potter. Mess up a pot or a coffee mug, and alker just tosses the misshapen clay aside. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and he loves the job. “Potters never stop working,” he says. “We’re always playing in the mud.”


Walker isn’t alone in his love of Silver Dollar City. Jon Williams is another longtime employee. He’s worked at The City for 18 years and now serves as the director of maintenance and construction. hen he first joined the park, he was just a teenager looking for a summer job and worked at White Water as a lifeguard. “I just loved the company and what it stood for,” Williams says. “You can’t talk enough about the culture of the company. You take care of each other, and it’s really easy to fall in love with that.” As director of maintenance and construction, Williams handles all the day-to-day operations and ride and facility maintenance. His busiest time of year is the few weeks in the winter when the park is closed for the season. “This is when we tear apart all the rides and put them back together,” he says. As the park’s season inches its way toward becoming year-round, Williams’ two-month maintenance window is getting shorter. Christmas is now one of The City’s busiest times of year. “Forty years ago, summer was the biggest season for us,” Thomas says. “But those shoulder seasons like

thrived, and it’s exciting growth for both park staff and visitors. “ e always look at what is trending and what’s new out there,” Williams says. “But we always have an eye on what fits our culture and our clientele. We are geared toward families, but we have college kids come here and empty nesters and school groups. We want the latest and greatest, but at the same time you have to be mindful that it has to be wrapped in an 1880s theme.” It’s all about the balance between historical roots and modern attractions. It’s a business model that worked in 1960 and one that continues to work today. With 12 restaurants, 60 shops, more than rides and attractions, 1 stage venues, 1, employees, more than


The Saloon Show entertained guests in the mid-1970s.

spring and fall are certainly important, and Christmas keeps getting bigger.” In 2017, The City’s Christmas festival, which kicks off in early ovember, brought in more than , visitors. And that beat last year’s attendance, which broke the record at the time. Thanks to new thrill rides, speedy coasters and endless festivals, Silver Dollar City has

five decades of success and more than 1 million guests since first opening, it’s clear the Herschends were onto something. In fact, when it’s all said and done, the diamond of Missouri tourism has contributed more than $100 million to the state’s economy. That’s not too bad for a project that started as a hole in the ground.

Christmas celebrations abound at Silver Dollar City, including performances of A Dickens’ Christmas Carol.



NEW HEIGHTS With new thrill rides and nightlife options, Branson entertainment seeks to please all ages and demographics.




ew to the Branson Landing is Branson Jet Boats. Each boat is 1,200 horsepower, holds up to 65 passengers at no age limit, and takes travelers on a 14-mile round trip around Lake Taneycomo. This attraction allows guests to see the beautiful views of the lake with the boat’s design allowing it to traverse exceptionally shallow waters. These rides are better

for the environment because of the jet power source. The Jet Boats will run during daylight hours, approximately May 15 through October 15, and 7 days a week during the summer. Guests are encouraged to check the schedule online for additional dates. Rides are weather dependent. The Branson Jet Boats may be reserved for parties, and reservations can be made online at

Photo by TGC Photography




ew to Silver Dollar City in 2018 is a revolutionary roller coaster known as Time Traveler. This coaster is the world’s fastest, steepest and tallest complete-circuit spinning roller coaster. Silver Dollar City is working with renowned coaster manufacturer MAK RIDES of Waldkirch, Germany on the new attraction, and the custom design cost $26 million. The two companies had a dream to create this one-of-a-kind ride that combines

a variety of coaster elements with mountainous terrain. Time Traveler travels at a top speed of 50.3 mph and has a 10-story, 90-degree vertical drop straight down. This coaster is custom-engineered to have an immediate out-of-the-station, gravity-driven drop down an Ozarks mountainside. Additionally, it is custom-designed for mountainous terrain, with its tallest point at 100 feet, providing a scenic view of the Ozarks landscape. This

is the first and only coaster with three inversions and a 95-foot-tall vertical loop. Time Traveler opened in spring 2018. Silver Dollar City is open seasonally from March through January. Time Traveler joins more than 40 additional rides and attractions at the park, which is also known for hosting 10 festivals and events, showcasing demonstrating craftsmen, offering unique dining options and showcasing a huge cave. Learn more at



Photos by Edward C. Robison III, courtesy Silver Dollar City

un Mountain has activities for the entire family in a truly one-of-a-kind, adventurous environment. With underwater themed bowling and electric go-karts arriving this spring, Big Cedar Lodge has something for everyone. Fun Mountain features traditional activities, such as an arcade and bumper cars, presented in a new way. Guests enter the building to a scene of a sunken pirate ship that features multiple slides, one of which is nearly 30 feet long. The attraction also has an interactive climbing wall for kids where they can play games while rock climbing and a “Flip Zone” that has one-of-a-kind bumper cars that can’t be found anywhere else in the region—guests flip upside down when they get bumped! In addition to the electric go-karts, Fun Mountain will be opening a ropes course this spring, providing participants with a beautiful view of Table Rock Lake.




igfoot on the Strip offers wholesome family fun that appeals to all ages with world-class experiences that guests can’t get anywhere else. Bigfoot marries several activities that have never been together before to create a family entertainment destination with something for everyone in a more compact setting. Everything in the attraction is Bigfoot themed. The Bigfoot Discovery Expedition is a 4x4 off-road tour that takes travelers to Bigfoot Farms, one of largest Scottish Highland Farms in North America. It combines animal viewing and off-roading in



the scenic Ozarks with state-of-the-art technology (developed specifically for this project) to create an experience that rocks guests to their core. The 200-foot-tall action tower features two thrill rides, the Super Sling and Gravity Bomb, that have guests either screaming or unable to! Additionally, the other attractions in Bigfoot include 18 holes of Bigfoot-themed mini-golf, Yeti Fun Zone play area with Monkey Jump, Bigfoot Arcade featuring some amazing redemption prizes and an 8Di Movie Action Ride. More information can be found at



he Mountain Coaster in Branson features the longest track in the area at nearly 5,000 feet. This coaster car can accommodate one or two guests who have the opportunity to control the ride— and it even lights up at night! Guests load the car of the Mountain Coaster at the bottom of the track and are pulled up a 2,000-foot hill. They then wind their way down, controlling the speed of the car up to 30 mph. Ages 3 and older are welcome on the Mountain Coaster; children 9 and older are welcome to travel without parental supervision. The Mountain Coaster track was carved into the Ozark Hills by hand, allowing guests the opportunity to get a scenic view of their surroundings. The attraction is open March 2 through the end of the year. During the summer and spring breaks, it is open 7 days a week, with long weekends in between. The Mountain Coaster is located off of Highway 165 between Titanic and the Table Rock Dam. Details are available at

Photos courtesy Branson Bigfoot, Branson Mountain Coaster, by Brad Zweerink



ndy B’s Entertainment & Bowling Centers currently has 10 locations throughout the United States, with an all-new location joining the retail and recreation at the Branson Landing in 2018. The Branson facility is the first boutique-style concept the company has developed. The facility includes a variety of social games and attractions, including nine lanes of boutique bowling, karaoke rooms, table games, virtual re-

ality and express escape rooms to complement the experience. The center also offers an extensive food and beverage selection, indoor-outdoor bar, social lounge and stage to host live music. The new location introduces fun for all ages to enjoy, serving as a destination for family dining and entertainment, group and corporate events and nightlife. Andy B’s opens midsummer 2018. More information can be found at






Photo courtesy Sight & Sound Theatres

To put together its grand and sprawling productions, Sight and Sound requires all hands on deck, from cast and crew to set builders, animal handlers and everyone in between.


A TASTE OF HOME How Fidel Gomez is building his restaurant empire. BY JENNA DEJONG




he saying “loving what you do” is an understatement for Fidel Gomez, co-owner of Little Hacienda (3 3 7 5 Lit t le P et e R oad , B ranson; 4 1 7 - 3 3 5 - 2 0 0 8 ; lit t leh ac iend ab ranson. c om). He started working as a dishwasher when he was 19 years old for a restaurant in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and already planned to open a business of his own. For the next five years, he learned the basics of operating a business while adopting English as his second language. “I wanted to gain enough experience so I could eventually open up my own business,” Gomez says. “My background has always been in restaurants.” He emigrated from Mexico in search of better opportunities, and knowing he wanted to own a restau-

rant helped drive his passion into a success. He stayed in Fayetteville working various jobs and saving money before moving to Branson, where he had seen opportunities available years before. “I came here to take a vacation with my family, and I saw the potential because there weren’t very many restaurants here at the time,” Gomez says. His dream became a reality when he opened his first location of Little Hacienda with his brother. Now Gomez owns two locations of Little Hacienda along with two other restaurants, Grandma’s Café and Red Barn Café. “I always loved my job, no matter what I was doing, no matter if it was a dishwasher or a cook, and I think to be successful you need to love what you do,” Gomez says.

Photos by Brandon Alms


Little Hacienda’s Top Shelf Margaritas are made with hand-squeezed juice, keeping in line with the restaurant’s commitment to quality.

Little Hacienda co-owner Fidel Gomez, bartender Matt Wilson, and the entire restaurant team are committed to delivering an outstanding experience to all their Branson customers.


tacos to choose from ranging from $1 to $3.50 on Tuesdays Sitting on top of a hill overlooking Little Pete Road, Little Hacienda is a fine dining Mexican restaurant with a unique flair for authenticity and homemade food. The menu was developed by Gomez himself and uses the freshest ingredients for every dish, down to hand-squeezed juice for margaritas. The newest location in Branson was built from the ground up and was inspired by Gomez and his team. All the artwork was done by his son or Colette Stresak, his assistant, and a wide, expansive outdoor patio is usually full during the summer months. Since Little Hacienda opened, Stresak has heard customers praise the food and the restaurant, and she believes this is a

must-stop for delicious Mexican cuisine. “We hear a lot that this is not something you would expect to see in Branson,” Stresak says. “It far exceeds the expectations, meaning the quality of service, the menu items, the experience. People are just blown over that this is here.” Little Hacienda’s short rib taco is one of many menu items not to be missed.

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BRANSON CHIC Wild Orange Boutique brings affordable, versatile apparel for the woman on the go to the Branson area, featuring popular brands and placing an emphasis on putting the customer first. BY LILLIAN STONE



Photos by Meadows Images

Erin Wicker dreamed of opening her own boutique since she was a little girl. With Wild Orange Boutique, that dream is now a reality, and her passion bleeds into the store’s clothes.


Wild Orange Boutique sells a variety of clothing and accessories. Wicker makes a point to keep most items below a $50 threshold to appeal to the families and tourists that frequent the Branson area.

Wild Wild Orange Boutique’s staff is committed to helping women find trendy clothes at an affordable price. The store collaborates with other businesses in what is a thriving and growing Branson community.


ince opening in July of 2017, Wild Orange Boutique has sought to connect shoppers of all shapes and sizes with trendy, affordable apparel. The boutique, owned by Branson resident Erin Wicker, is based in the Lakeside Shoppes shopping center adjacent to the Branson Landing. Wild Orange carries sizes up to 3X in popular brands like Umgee, Hem and Thread, Simply Southern and more. The boutique’s eclectic, bohoinspired selection is a riff on Wicker’s personal style, which combines a passion for trendy fashion with the lifestyle of a busy mom and self-described “lake rat.” According to Wicker, the Branson Landing’s steady stream of tourists and new businesses makes it the perfect place to fulfill her childhood dream of owning a boutique. One thing is certain: The uplifting, comfortable atmosphere at Wild Orange reflects a level of hospitality only found in Branson.

Imagine Branson: You’ve been in business since 2017, and you’re already generating a lot of buzz within the local market. What made you decide to open a boutique? Erin Wicker: I’ve wanted to own my own

“The most important thing is to know your market.” —ERIN WICKER, OWNER OF WILD ORANGE BOUTIQUE

place ever since I was a little girl. I used to set up a pretend boutique called Pop Rocks. When I opened Wild Orange, I decided to make that dream a reality. I.B.: What’s the story behind Wild Orange Boutique’s name? E.W.: The color orange is associated with joy and sunshine. It represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success and encouragement. That’s how we want our store to make you feel when you walk in. I.B.: How would you describe the overall business climate in Branson? E.W.: Overall, there’s a lot of collaboration and support in this community. I collaborate with a few [other businesses] in the surrounding area. That’s not even to mention the Landing itself, which is constantly growing. In addition to the shops we have

now, we’re getting several new shopping and entertainment spots like H&M and Andy B’s Bowling Alley. I wouldn’t want to set up shop anywhere else. I.B.: Branson is an affordable, family-friendly vacation destination. What advice do you have for other businesses looking to market to that audience? E.W.: The most important thing is to know your market. Branson gets 9 million tourists each year, and Silver Dollar City drives a lot of that traffic. It’s essential to play to that family-oriented audience. It’s also important that business owners recognize that Branson is an inexpensive vacation destination. You have to cater to that; that’s why most of our merchandise is under the $50 price point with the exception of jeans and handbags. We want the store to be accessible to the everyday shopper, the everyday woman who is short on time—running kids to ballgames, grocery shopping, working,—but [who] also enjoys girls’ or moms’ night out. We have specifically picked items that make the average woman feel pretty at an affordable price.


WORK director for performance integration and innovation at CoxHealth. “He said the great thing about students is that they don’t come with all the preconceived notions of why things aren’t going to work,” she says. In turn, students are getting real-world experience while providing potential workplace solutions. Part of what enables students to think nontraditionally is the program’s structure. Students meet daily for an academic year—for GO CAPS Branson students, that’s in a classroom hosted by CoxHealth—but the rest of the program varies. Students tour businesses, shadow professionals, hear from guest lecturers and instructors, learn soft skills—think resume building and elevator pitch crafting—and tackle business projects through a research capstone project.

Students participating in the GO CAPS program learn about industries predicted to have strong future job potential before graduating high school.



High schoolers approaching graduation are faced with the daunting task of choosing a career path. But what if you could take intimidation out of the equation? The GO CAPS program aims to ease students into prospective career paths so they’re better equipped for their future. BY CLAIRE PORTER


hat would you give to go back in time and give your career a test run? Would your decision have changed or your excitement piqued if you had gotten a sneak peek of what was to come? That’s exactly what the Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies (GO CAPS) program aims to do by exposing high school students to prospective career paths.

Photos courtesy Go Caps Photos


“At the heart of it, it’s a career exploration program,” says Kristen Mills, medicine and health care instructor for GO CAPS Branson. High school juniors and seniors learn about industries—called strands—by working with local partner businesses. Strands are determined by labor data indicating high-need industries with strong future job potential. Currently, GO CAPS offers strands in medicine and health care, business and entrepreneurship, IT and software

solutions, engineering and manufacturing and teacher education. O CAP came to pringfield in fall 1 , and the program expanded to Branson two years later with the medicine and health care strand. “The Branson community has been supportive of the CAPS program from the very beginning and active in the growth of our partnership,” says Lindsay Haymes, executive director of GO CAPS and vice president of workforce development with the pringfield Chamber of Commerce. More than organizations in Branson partner with GO CAPS, including CoxHealth, Silver Dollar City, Big Cedar Lodge and Mercy. These organizations open their doors for student tours, job shadowing opportunities and mentorship.


Although they’re still learning on the job, the students offer a fresh perspective, which enables them to solve longstanding puzzles. Haymes relayed feedback from Scott Rogers, system

The results of the program speak for themselves. Because students are immersed within their respective strands, “their networking is phenomenal,” Mills says. According to Haymes, CoxHealth has hired nearly O CAPS students while they’re still in high school, and Mills notes that those continuing their education are above the competition because of their hands-on shadowing and training opportunities. Not only does the program add an impressive mark on resumes, but Mills says, parents should note the value of opportunities for personal development. “It’s asking their child to really stretch, to step out of their typical high school role into a professional role,” she says. “That’s hard, but if students come with a willingness to try and a commitment to put their best effort into this, they are going to grow by leaps and bounds.”

One of the industries open to students through GO CAPS is the medicine and health care industry, where students can shadow professionals.


Is your student interested in GO CAPS? Visit for more information on the program, and talk to a high school counselor to learn how to apply.


Participating students gather for J-Day at Moonshine Beach to celebrate with food, games and culture presentations.


AND BEYOND The J-1 Summer Work Travel Program brings students from all over the world to Branson to broaden their cultural horizons while helping meet the community’s workforce demand. BY ROSE MARTHIS


hile Branson is working to become a year-round destination, there is still a higher in ux of visitors from Memorial Day to Labor Day and in November and December, increasing the need for local seasonal workers. One way to tackle that is through the J-1 ummer ork Travel Program, bringing international college and university students to the Ozarks to gain work experience, cultural experience and more. The Summer Work Travel program, directed by the U.S. Department of State, gives foreign students an opportunity to live and work in the US during their summer vacation from college or university to experience and to be exposed to the people and way of life in the United States. Students in Branson enjoy the opportunity to spend their summer break living and learning,



while working for a local employer to cover expenses and take some money back home. The tri-lakes area also operates the J-1 Trainee and intern programs that are designed to allow foreign professionals to come to the United States to gain exposure to U.S. culture and to receive training in their chosen occupational field for 1 to 1 months. tudents, recent graduates and young professionals can apply for this program, which must fulfill professional objectives of the host employer and not displace American workers. This particular program also provides an opportunity for the host employer to enhance the company’s understanding of the world. The success of these programs is made possible due in part to the J-1 International tudent

Outreach Program and Community Support roup. This collaborative effort, composed of local employers, businesses and visa sponsors to support the J-1 programs in Branson, was launched in 1 by Cultural xchange etwork and adopted by the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce in 1 . These J-1 programs have had success in Branson, with nearly 1, students participate since 1 . The ummer ork and Travel program participants make up the majority of J-1 students coming to Branson on this visa and directly impacts Branson’s seasonal workforce. “Summer Work and Travel students provide critical support to Branson’s economy and its American workers during the resort’s high summer season,” says Robyn Walker, xecutive irector of the Cultural xchange etwork, a J-1 visa sponsor. The Hiltons of Branson has seen this impact firsthand. Hilton has participated in the J-1 Program since 1 to hire workers for the housekeeping department. While the students help hotels take care of customers during the busy season, their impact goes way beyond that. “This program increases the engagement of our guests when they meet an employee from another country and promotes diversity,” says Sara Mueller, the Regional Human Resources Director for Hiltons of Branson. These experiences are creating a win-win solution for Branson employers and international students by creating lasting bonds and elevating Branson’s reputation on the map. “Many of the students become part of the Branson family,” says Branson Mayor aren Best. “ mployers have traveled to see their student ‘family members’ in their native country and to meet their families.” It is a program that Best and other Branson o cials are focused on because the impact has proved to be invaluable. “With the increase of international and national travelers, the J-1 cultural program provides incredible opportunities for the international workers,” she says. “ ot only do they fill a gap for seasonal employees, they learn about our incredible Ozarks culture which is filled with hospitality.” Sara Mueller has seen the impact J-1 Program students can make for the last three years.


To learn more about J-1 Program resources, visit programs/summer-work-travel.

Photos courtesy Branson J-1 Summer Work Travel Program, Sara Mueller


WORK Michelle Welch, RN from CoxHealth visits several universities in Puerto Rico to recruit nursing students for their nurse residency program.


Although the city is known for its tourist industry, other Branson markets are steadily booming, and finding a stable job placement has never been easier thanks to career-focused resources.

The OnPoint Career Finder,, was launched in October 2016. Heather Hardinger, Programs and Communications Director for Taney County Partnership, shares five reasons why you should log in to apply.


SEARCH FOR BETTER JOBS Find a job that’s right for you with OnPoint’s job search engine, featuring employer profiles and a wide variety of jobs. “Our site features in-depth job postings generated by employers, as well as feeds from and CareerBuilder,” Hardinger says.


CREATE A PERSONAL ACCOUNT Workers looking for jobs can upload their resumes including information about potential target job needs and start dates if they’re relocating.


GET PERSONAL ASSISTANCE Once an account is made, users can receive personal assistance from OnPoint when connecting with an employer. “I can help connect people who are looking for a job with an employer who has an opening that might match their strengths,” Hardinger says.


CONNECT WITH DIGITAL RESOURCES Learn more about free career services available to individuals looking for employment within the Branson area. Plus, get instant access to job search advice from the experts before you step into an interview.


DIVE INTO BRANSON LIFE The Living Here section of the website is the best (digital) way to discover the Taney County lifestyle. Real people share their stories of why they love to live, work and play in the Branson area.


Photo courtesy Heather Hardinger


reate a resume. Write a cover letter. Network and nail an interview—getting a job can be hard. But thanks to Missouri Job Center Branson (2 7 2 0 Sh ep h erd of t h e H ills E x p ressw ay , B ranson; 4 1 7 - 3 3 4 - 4 1 5 6 ; j ob s. mo. g ov , finding a job that’s right for you has never been easier. There is a plethora of trainings, events, seminars and programs to assist anyone looking for a new career. Start online at and navigate through the site’s user-friendly clicks. Acting as a segue into the rest of the center’s functions and events, the site helps users plan their career and find hiring events, workshops, short-term training opportunities and Missouri-registered apprenticeship programs. The site even has information on Missouri’s top jobs and lets readers know what markets are booming and the growth rates of various fields. There is something for everyone wanting to learn a new skill. When navigating the site, you’ll notice a list of trainings. Scroll through and narrow the search to the Branson area where you can find workshops like health care training, mechanical engineering, certified nurse training, patient care technician training and apprenticeship opportunities. Also keep your eye out for career fairs and hiring events happening throughout the year, including dedicated recruitment trips to Puerto Rico.

Not sure where to start? The Missouri Job Center Branson holds no-cost events throughout the year for those looking for general information. Some of these workshops include Career xploration, Career etworking, Resume Preparation, Interview Process and Basic Computer Skills. If you’re an employer looking to network, learn new practices and adopt new ways to run your business, the center has a portal online where you can register and take part in a hiring event if your firm is looking to expand its employees. The newest segment to the Branson location is pop-up centers. These little setups are placed in high-tra c spots in the Branson area with information about upcoming seminars. The pop-ups are a liaison and used for people who don’t normally have time in the day to visit the center itself and can act as a starting point for those wanting to get more information, whether it’s how to learn a new skill or which businesses are hiring. ven greater, throughout the year the Ozarks Promise program, funded by the epartment of Labor, offers grants to underemployed or unemployed individuals looking to become nursing assistants through the Ozarks Technical Community College Table Rock Campus. For dates and more information, visit


Photo by TK Person


Guests far and wide travel from all over the country to get a breathtaking glimpse of the majesty of both Big Cedar Lodge and the rolling hills of the Ozarks.

Johnny Morris’ Big Cedar Lodge focuses on highlighting the beauty of the Ozarks and offers multiple scenic overlooks on the property.


Golf courses currently open or in development on Big Cedar properties: Top of the Rock, Buffalo Ridge and Mountain Top are open; Ozarks National and Payne’s Valley are in development

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INDUSTRY LEADERS Behind the scenes and inside the impact of three longtime leaders in the Branson business community. BY MATT LEMMON

Stone wood-burning fireplaces at Top of the Rock (four on the golf course itself)

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Covered boat slips at Bent Hook Marina; bass boats, ski boats, pontoon boats and canoes are available to rent by the hour or by the day.

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Fireplaces in total at Big Cedar Lodge and Top of the Rock

Photos by Edward C. Robison III


When Johnny Morris, a noted conservationist and founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, purchased Big Cedar Lodge in 1987, the original plan was to make the 4,600-acre property a lakeside fishing camp for Bass Pro employees and Tracker Boat customers. But the scenic majesty of Table Rock Lake, plus Morris’s own memories of a childhood spent outdoors, eventually led to Big Cedar growing into what it is today: one of the nation’s preeminent lakeside retreats. Recognized as the top resort in the Midwest for two consecutive years by Travel + Leisure, Big Cedar offers fishing, boating, hiking, golf and spa and wellness opportunities. Inspired by nature, the grounds and facilities are true to this theme at every turn, and outdoor enthusiasts

can wander from sun up to sun down exploring all the Ozarks region has to offer. The conservation impact of the pristine property, combined with its attraction of guests from across the United States and around the world, makes Big Cedar one of Branson and Taney County’s most important community assets. “Johnny Morris founded this resort with a mission to give families a chance to connect with nature by discovering a passion for outdoor activities surrounded by the beauty and serenity of the Ozarks,” says Janet Glaser, PR manager for Big Cedar. “Since our doors opened, we have had the opportunity to serve millions of guests with genuine Ozarks hospitality. We have been able to share in the making of some amazing, lifelong memories and look forward to more to come.”

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Rooms available at Big Cedar Lodge, including lodge rooms, cottages and log cabins. Each is decorated with rustic decor with maximum privacy for a relaxing vacation.

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Acres at Top of the Rock, sitting on the highest point in Taney County

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Square feet in the Ancient Ozarks Natural History museum, celebrating the fascinating history of the Ozarks




President and CEO Joe Loth is known around Branson for giving legendary customer service and supports area organizations like the Branson Airport and Branson Public Schools.


Branches in Taney and Stone counties

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— 70 — Total employees

— 3,159 —

Volunteer hours reported by Central Bank of the Ozarks employees in 2017

The downtown main branch is one of five locations in Taney and Stone counties, allowing easy access to all of Central Bank of Branson clients.

scoreboards at district athletic facilities. For the past decade, every student and staff member in the nearby Hollister school district has received a T-shirt in support of its Character Education program courtesy of Central Bank of Branson. “Central Bank of Branson’s long history is based upon legendary customer service,” says Joe Loth, president and CEO of Central Bank of Branson. “We will carry on with that standard as we serve our customers’ financial needs. In addition, we will continue to invest in our community with our financial resources and our employees with giving of their time.”

— 32,500 —

Total square feet of bank’s main offices in downtown Branson (original facility plus 1994 expansion)

— $50,000 —

Total investment in the risk mitigation fund for Branson Airport

— $50,000 —

Total contributions to Branson Public Schools for athletic scoreboards

— $335,296,000 — Dollars in total assets as of the end of 2017

Photos by Alex Solomon

Central Bank of Branson was chartered on July 29, 1950 as Peoples Bank & Trust Company, with assets that year reaching $1,126,000. With Branson still a few years from being established as a major entertainment hub, the bank truly has grown with the city and surrounding region, and provides innovative services for customers and a foundation of support for the surrounding business community. In 1961, the bank opened its first drive-in facility in downtown Branson’s “triangle.” In the mid-1980s it relocated to Highway 165 to better serve customers on the west end of Highway 76. Following its purchase by Central Bancshares in 1988, the bank’s name was changed to Ozark Mountain Bank. A new facility in downtown Branson followed in 1992. Additional locations to maximize customer service have followed since. The bank changed its name to Central Bank of Branson in 2015. Central Bank of Branson is a Platinum Partner with the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and a Bronze Level partner with the Table Rock Lake Chamber of Commerce. Community investments are a common aspect for the company and include contributions to the risk mitigation fund for the Branson Airport and to Branson Public Schools for three new

Presidents Central Bank of Branson has had in its 67 years of existence


INDUSTRY LEADERS The Branson Ferris Wheel is the newest attraction to The Track Family Fun Parks and was originally the Chicago Navy Pier Ferris Wheel.

Since it opened in 1981, The Track Family Fun Parks now holds three locations along Highway 76. Stop in for a thrilling race on its three exhilarating racetracks and grab a bite to eat afterward.


Total go-kart tracks at three The Track locations, suitable for kids of all ages

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Other rides and attractions to help create unforgettable memories

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Year-round employees of The Track Family Fun Parks

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Semitrucks needed to transport the Branson Ferris Wheel from Chicago’s Navy Pier to Branson

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Photos courtesy Branson CVB


The Track is one of Branson’s longest-running entertainment companies, started in 1981 as a partnership between Lee Wescott and Eldridge Fridge. The original business partners were nearly all teachers and coaches from the community and the primary attraction, as you might have guessed from the name, was go-karts, with other games and attractions like arcades and miniature golf, all in the name of “creating unforgettable memories” for families. Over the years, The Track expanded to three locations on Highway 76. In 2001, 2002 and 2011, respectively, The Track added high-rise go-kart tracks at each location; these daring speedways are named The LumberJack, Wild Woody and Heavy Metal High Rise. Additional food options were added in 2005 and 2006 (popular chains Andy’s Frozen Custard and Pizza World). Today The Track still employs a number of teachers

and coaches from local schools, upholding tradition from when the company first opened. More recently The Track made its largest (literally) contribution to Branson yet when it opened the Branson Ferris Wheel, which you might know as the former Chicago Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, which was disassembled and reconstructed on Highway 76 in 2016. The $4 million investment, completed in just six months with the help of many community partners, is expected to be one of the city’s most popular— and, standing 150 feet above Highway 76, most visible—attractions. “The Branson community is known for its Ozark Mountain hospitality,” says Craig Wescott, CEO and owner of The Track Family Fun Parks. We hope that our passion of creating unforgettable experiences for our crew and guests enhances that community spirit.”

Temporary jobs contributed to the Branson economy by the transport and re-assembly of the Branson Ferris Wheel

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Feet above Branson’s Highway 76 the Branson Ferris Wheel reaches

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Arcade games across the three locations

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Seasonal employees of The Track

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Total Branson Ferris Wheel capacity

— 144,000 —

Individual LED lights on the Branson Ferris Wheel


WORK Each performance at Sight & Sound Theatres is Bible-focused. Check out the latest show Samson, about a man given superhuman strength who falls victim to pleasure.

POWERHOUSE Using local and international talent, Sight & Sound Theatres brings crowds from all over into the heart of Branson. BY JENNA DEJONG


o say Sight & Sound Theatres is a thing of wonder is an understatement. Based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the wraparound theatre opened a second location in Branson in 2008 and performs massive productions 10 times a week. Each show takes three and a half years to produce and more than 650 people to produce it, premiering first in Lancaster before moving to Branson, all showcasing stories from the Bible. Once ready to perform, the show premieres throughout the following year. With over 40 years of storytelling under its belt, Sight & Sound Theatres is a massive business. But like any success story, it wasn’t always a powerhouse. The theatre began as a



small, family-owned business now run by the third generation, including Katie Miller, corporate communications manager. Growing up immersed in the family business, Miller developed a foundational love for the company she continues to work for as a professional adult. “When I was a kid everyone a part of the organization was family,” Miller says. “Before the show I would hand out programs, then right before I would change into my costume and act and then afterward I would be cleaning the bathrooms.” Since Miller’s years as a child actor, Sight & Sound Theatres has turned itself into an organized business offering a range of unique and sometimes peculiar employment options in Branson. Job

Many departments must work together to produce a single Sight & Sound performance, including 3D artists and lighting designers.

Photos courtesy Sight & Sound Theatres


opportunities range from animal handlers, 3D artists and lighting technicians to customer service representatives and ushers. “We’re not your average workplace because every day is different,” Miller says. “You could go outside and run into a camel and then go upstairs and people are in biblical costumes.” One such person who has taken advantage of these opportunities is animal supervisor Ty Harwell. In his 22 years of working for Sight & Sound, Harwell oversees between 40 and 50 animals at a time including donkeys, llamas, pigs, horses, pigeons, camels, alpacas, sheep and goats and accustoms them to unusual sit-


“We have a 300-foot wraparound stage and a typical Broadway stage is 40 feet, so we have enormous sets and huge casts.” —JEFF BENDER, WRITER AND PRODUCER OF SIGHT & SOUND THEATRES

uations. “Before we ever get to the first day of rehearsal, there must be so much preparation and planning,” Harwell says. “One animal may be affected by lights, so we work with the lighting department to practice on our own and get them used to it.” Harwell’s efforts are not wasted. According to director, writer and producer Jeff Bender, the theater’s biggest draw is the opportunities the expansive stage offers to directors and the audience. “The canvas is huge,” Bender says. “We have a 300-foot wraparound stage and a typical Broadway stage is 40 feet, so we have enormous sets and huge casts.” The latest show to premiere at Branson’s location is Samson, a story about a man giv-

Each show at Sight & Sound Theatres takes over three years and hundreds of people to produce.

en superhuman strength to carry out God’s work but who falls victim to pleasure and lack of self-control. The show first debuted at the Lancaster location, but Bender says the production has proved more successful in Branson. Working as a writer and director for Sight & Sound Theatres for the past 15 years and as an actor for five years before that, Bender helped put together the shows using storylines directly from the Bible. Part of his

job is finding a healthy balance to accurately describe events in a family-friendly way. “We design all of our shows to be family-friendly and the story of Samson has a lot of violence and has a sensual side, so that was the biggest challenge right off the bat: how to stay true to the principles of the story but keep it family-friendly.” Buy tickets to Samson and other shows online at



Six Questions with

Yakov Smirnoff

For 22 years, comedian Yakov Smirnoff made our stomachs hurt with laughter at his jokes (wisdom?) about love. In 2015, he left to pursue goals in Hollywood, toured the world and went to school to earn his doctorate. But this year, he plans to return to Branson for more tomfoolery. Here’s what he’s been doing and why he’s planning to come back to Branson. BY JENNA DEJONG

I.B.: When are you coming back to Branson? Y.S.: October and November of this year. I.B.: Why are you returning to Branson? Y.S.: I always develop something during the time that I am there. It’s like my laboratory of laughter. All of the things that I am now getting the doctorate degree in, all of that has been tested in Branson. Branson to me is like an amazing opportunity to get in touch with the reality of middle America and what is important



to them. They let me know with their laughter very clearly when I’m on track and when I’m off track. I.B.: What is your upcoming show going to be about? Y.S.: My campaign for this year is “Make America Laugh Again.” I am very focused on helping people bring happiness back in their lives. I know that when there’s laughter, there’s love and happiness. I.B.: What about Branson did you miss the most? Y.S.: I’ll be honest, Branson is home. People are friendly, and people are happy. When I get to Branson, I am recognized, and I feel liked and loved. Emotionally, Branson is a lot more close to me than LA, and my best friends are here. It’s a great life. I.B.: How did your time in Branson prepare you for your endeavors in LA? Y.S.: Being in Branson made me a businessperson. Prior to that I was just a comedian traveling with my

suitcase. When I am in full operation in Branson, I have 60 people working for me. I never had that experience before. Being an owner and president of a legitimate business helps me tremendously in my studies for my doctorate degree in global studies. It gives me a perspective on life different than what I had when I was traveling all by myself.

GO SEE HIM Want to see his show? Visit Yakov’s Theatre (470 MO-248, Branson; 417336-3838; to see Yakov live once more. Ticket information is posted online, but reserve them quickly because he is only planning shows across a span of two months.

Photo courtesy Yakov Smirnoff

Imagine Branson: Tell us about the last couple of years. What have you been doing since you left? YAKOV SMIRNOFF: I did a special for PBS, and that was a year-long project. Now the past few years I have been getting my doctorate at Pepperdine University in Malibu, and the degree is in psychology and global leadership. So that is kind of where I’m interested. I decided I needed to do more research, so I decided to get my doctorate. So that’s where I am now. I have one more year to go. I will be Dr. Smirnoff in May 2019.

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