On the plains of South Dakota, Bob and Nancy Montross make a powerful grassroots beef-promotion team.
Bob and Nancy Montross's handiwork is all over the state of South Dakota, and beyond. You see it on highway billboards across the state, like the one on the Highway 14 curve just east of De Smet, SD — a thick juicy T-bone with a fork stabbed into its center and a cowboy hat perched on the handle. “Our steak in the future,” the billboards say.
You see their involvement in the first-of-its-kind, South Dakota Beef Bucks VISA® cards being swiped — and Beef Bucks certificates being redeemed — for steak purchases in restaurants and grocery stores across the region, nationally and even the world. About $750,000 worth of beef has been moved through the program.
You see it in cookbooks bursting with a compilation of the favorite beef recipes submitted by such South Dakota celebrity natives as World War II fighter ace and former South Dakota governor, the late Joe Foss; actress Cheryl Ladd of “Charlie's Angels” television fame; and USA Today founder Al Neuharth. Proceeds from the sale of cookbooks are used to fund scholarships for students.
In fact, the promotional footprint of this ranching couple is as ubiquitous in these parts as the aroma of the sizzling beef they work tirelessly to promote.
“I don't care what pew you sit in or how you vote as long as you eat beef,” Bob says. And when it comes to spreading the word, these evangelists for beef are always ready to testify. Even Bob's business card carries the tag: “If you don't eat beef, we need to talk.”
The Montrosses are lifelong residents of De Smet, a farm-ranch community in east central South Dakota. They met in high school and raised three children on a commercial cow-calf and farming operation. Their three grown children, and three grandchildren, have migrated from home but as Bob says: “When Nancy and I get to the county line, we start getting homesick.”
The Montrosses traverse that county line plenty, however. In mid August, the couple and other members of the South Dakota Beef Bucks board were in Dell Rapids for their annual fundraiser — the Beef Bucks Golf Challenge. This year's tournament — the fourth — featured 160 players vying and bidding for prized keepsakes donated by such home-state professional sports heroes as Adam Vinatieri of the New England Patriots and Chad Greenway of the Minnesota Vikings. The event raised $10,000 in scholarship money.
Just two weeks later, the crew was on the road again, this time in Minneapolis, MN, where they served up beef to Minnesota Vikings players, personnel and their families at a pre-season picnic.
It was the culmination of groundwork laid several years ago when Bob first contacted the Vikings' front office.
“I guess they just finally gave in to me,” Bob says. “I told them we were a good fit — the beef industry is a great industry, South Dakota Beef Bucks is a tremendous organization, and the Vikings are a great team.”
While in Minnesota, the Beef Bucks team served all-beef brats and hot dogs provided by funding from South Dakota order buyer Randy Fenske of Woonsocket. Bob convinced Elanco Animal Health to provide a children's promo book on beef production as a giveaway. And John Deere chipped in caps — John Deere on the front and South Dakota Beef Bucks on the back.
“The caps were a big hit and the first thing some of the players did was turn the caps around on their head — so South Dakota Beef Bucks ended up on the front,” he chuckles.
Bob says he and Nancy make a great team — he's the extroverted hawker, she's the detail person.
“I'm not afraid to talk to anyone. I'd call the White House if I thought I could get George Bush to put a beef sticker on Air Force One,” Bob says.
Where Air Force One is concerned, don't count him out. Based on his past record, nothing seems to be off the table. Over the past few years, he's:
Enlisted the help of South Dakota's congressional delegation in trying to convince the U.S. Postal Service to publish a beef stamp. “If they can put Elvis on a stamp, why not beef?” he reasons.
Contacted producers of the “Wheel of Fortune” game show to showcase South Dakota Beef Bucks as a prize.
Continued to scheme a way to get a beef message on the Goodyear Blimp at some big sporting event.
State Senator Gene Abdallah of Sioux Falls can attest to the persuasive power of the De Smet couple.
“Ever since I've know them, all they've talked about is beef and Beef Bucks, and promoting beef,” Abdallah. “They're a very impressive couple and I don't know of anyone who does more for beef than they do.”
Abdallah says he first met Bob 11 years ago as superintendent of the South Dakota Highway Patrol. Always on the job of promoting beef and ranching, he says Bob first approached him about modifying the state trooper's official uniform to include a western hat.
“I couldn't go for that,” Abdallah says. “Later, he came to me wanting to put beef-promotion stickers on the bumpers of all our patrol cars. I told him I couldn't do that, either. He finally got me to write a recipe for their beef cookbook.”
As South Dakota's top state trooper, Abdallah 25 years ago founded the South Dakota Law Enforcement Dinner and Children's Charity, a fundraiser that's raised more than $1 million for children's causes. Still the event's general chairman, Abdallah says pork has been the fundraiser's featured fare for the past 16 years. This year, thanks to Bob, the 1,500 diners at the 25th anniversary dinner on Nov. 15 get prime rib.
“I told Bob we wanted to promote beef and serve prime rib,” Abdallah says. Montross came through with 750 lbs. of prime rib donated by BPI Technologies of Dakota Dunes, SD.
“The first word that comes to mind when I think of Bob and Nancy is ‘optimistic,’ says South Dakota Ag Secretary and rancher Larry Gabriel. “They're hard workers and always display an optimism that's contagious,” he says.
JoAnne Hillman of Sioux Falls, a founding member and current chairman of the South Dakota Beef Bucks program, says: “I doubt there's anyone in the U.S. who does more to promote beef than Bob and Nancy Montross.
“Nancy does all the bookwork for the Beef Bucks program, and it's gotten to be a huge time commitment. We had no idea when we started this program 10 years ago that it would get as big as it's gotten,” Hillman says.
“Bob, on the other hand, is always coming up with new ideas. He dreams up the ideas and the rest of us try to help get them realized. Everyone on the board volunteers, but Bob and Nancy put in more time than the rest of us put together.”
South Dakota Beef Bucks
South Dakota Beef Bucks is a non-profit organization run by a volunteer board. Funds raised via an annual golf tournament and sales of Beef Bucks are used for scholarships, such educational projects as Ag in the Classroom, and beef industry events.
The board includes chairman JoAnne Hillman and Jim Woster, Sioux Falls; Ray Kontz, Colman; Bob and Nancy Montross, De Smet; John Steifvater, Salem; Eileen Moller, Mt. Vernon; and Delina Nagel, Avon. To order Beef Bucks, the Beef Bucks VISA card, or for more info on the program, call 1-888-640-MEAT.