Bonus Issue: Expo longevity
Bell County Expo Center staff members have made long careers of hosting rodeos, fairs, concerts and graduations.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 28, 2021
John Dungan was hired as Bell County Expo Center’s operations director 34 years ago. He’s still there.
Dome is Home for Expo long-timers
By DAVID STONE, Our Town Temple exclusive
John Dungan could see his future shimmering like gold on the horizon.
It was February 1987, and Bell County was taking a bold step toward opening its Expo Center — the premier venue between Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
For months the 100-foot-high shiny gold dome on Belton’s south side had craned the necks of motorists passing by on I-35. Soon, it would be home to Bell County’s biggest celebrations — Belton’s Fourth of July Rodeo, the county youth livestock show, high school graduations, the Central Texas state fair and so much more.
Dungan had served as technical director and operations manager of Temple’s Cultural Activities Center for about five years before accepting a similar position with the county.
That was 34 years ago, and he is still going strong.
“I was hired as the operations manager three months before the Expo Center opened,” Dungan said. “I started in February and it opened in May … there was a lot to do.”
The Expo Center was conceived by Temple architect Charlie Voelter, who sold County Judge John Garth and Bell County commissioners on the unique design.
The complex was built to serve primarily as a new home for the Bell County Youth Fair and Livestock Show, which had outgrown the aging Sheriff’s Posse Arena near Temple High School. Voelter and the county recognized the opportunity to create so much more.
“The main buildings — the Arena (later named Garth Arena), Assembly Hall and the Exposition Building — were there from Day 1,” Dungan said. “We’ve done a lot of improving since then, and the Equestrian Livestock Complex was added in 2018.”
Dungan remembers the first events at the Expo Center.
“We had a huge opening month,” he said. “The first concert was May 21, 1987, and it was Marie Osmond and Osmond Family. Two days later, we had George Strait.”
In the next few months, some of the Expo Center’s biggest relationships began, including the Belton Fourth of July Rodeo, the National Cutting Horse Association and, the next February, the Bell County Youth Fair and Livestock Show.
“The rodeo was a scramble,” Dungan said. “Some of the rodeo equipment was late arriving. We literally took panels and gates off the delivery trucks and assembled them right up to rodeo time.”
“I988 also was the first year we hosted a high school graduation,” he said. “It was Temple High. They had been rained out of Wildcat Stadium and they didn’t want to limit seats to families, so they came here. They still do.”
Not to be outdone by Temple, other schools began holding commencement ceremonies at the new facility.
“The Killeen schools, Belton, Troy, Salado…many more,” he said. “Now we have 12 to 13 high school graduations every year.”
As operations manager, it was Dungan’s duty to supervise getting the Expo Center ready for different events, then taking down sets to get ready for the next show.
“It was a tough job getting things ready,” he said. “But it became much harder in 1996.”
That was the year the Central Texas Stampede and the Western Professional Hockey League came to Belton.
“Set up became different with hockey,” he said. “We had to build a hockey rink with ice, and every time we set it up we had to use ice paint to add the lines and logos. It was a job.”
The Stampede days were huge for the 6,559-seat arena.
“The team was very popular,” Dungan said. “They routinely drew 5,000-plus fans to home games.”
On October 15, 1996, the Stampede defeated the Waco Wizards 5-4 in the first ever WPHL contest in Belton. The team folded in 2001, but the Expo Center’s two Zambonis — ice conditioning machines used before and during hockey games — would soon be back at work.
Two other hockey teams followed the Stampede — first the Central Texas Blackhawks and later the Central Texas Marshals. Neither had staying power.
“We still have those Zambonis,” Dungan said Friday. “They are in a storage building, but they are still good. I think I need to put them up for sale.”
Hockey wasn’t the only sport that called the Expo home — indoor football also made three runs.
The first was the Texas Bullets, followed by the CenTex Barracudas — an odd name for a team 200 miles inland. The last of the Expo Center’s sports teams — the CenTex Cavalry of the Champions Indoor Football League — played at the Expo in 2017.
Dungan is now the assistant director of the Expo Center, and he has held on to his operations manager hat as well. While he has the longest tenure of staff, others are close.
“Our staff has a combined 139 years of working at the Expo Center,” he said. “Obviously it’s a good place to work
Events coordinator Kenny Schob and maintenance director Scott Elmore both have been at the Expo for 29 years, and executive director Tim Stephens has been on the job for 28.
Some of the facility’s top customers over the years have been Sammi Dwyer, promoter of the Sami Shows shopping events, Mother Earth News and more recently, Comic Con.
“These are big multi-day shows that draw from all over the state and beyond,” Dungan said. “Mother Earth News holds a ton of classes and they are very well attended.”
Dungan said he has seen just about every kind of animal imaginable while working at the Expo Center.
“Here’s a few, and I know I’m going to leave a bunch out,” he said. “We’ve had rattlesnakes, pet birds, poultry, horses, dogs, cats, hogs, sheep, donkeys, many breeds of cattle, miniature everything, llamas, and rabbits. Lots of rabbits.”
Dungan said the Expo staff is planning several facility improvements in the not-so-distant future.
“We need to widen and improve the concourse around the Arena,” he said. “And, a warm-up arena is in the works. Also, we need to at least double the number of RV sites around the Expo Center. Folks who come to many of the shows travel in RV’s and they need a place to set them up.”
Like everywhere else across the globe, activities at the Expo Center came to a halt Feb. 22, 2020, because of COVID-19.
“We totally shut down for months, and started having very few limited programs in June of that year,” he said. “Our big shows were cancelled. Some more than once.”
Rock band Foreigner, for instance, cancelled three times. They would reschedule and ended up having to cancel again, Dungan said.
“But we are back to normal, and I anticipate a lot of shows in the next couple years,” he said. “A lot of bands came up with new stuff during the pandemic and they are anxious to get back on the road.”
Foreigner has rescheduled many of its cancelled shows, and will eventually be at the Bell County Expo Center.
“They will be back,” he said. “We just don’t know when yet.”
LFA heavyweight title fight is Friday at Expo Center
Fight night to feature 7-bout card
By DAVID STONE, Our Town Temple exclusive
Professional mixed martial arts will make a big stop at the Bell County Expo Center on Friday with a heavyweight world title on the line.
The card will feature seven fights, including the title fight between Vernon “Big E” Lewis of Waco and Thomas “The Train” Petersen.
“This will be our first fight card before a live audience since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ryan Bevins of the Legacy Fighting Alliance. “We are stoked, and this is a big, big match.”
“These guys are two of the most successful heavyweights in LFA history and both fighters are always looking for a knockout. They say everything is bigger in Texas — this fight certainly proves it.”
Tickets for the fight are available at BellCountyExpo.com.
Lewis, a police officer, brings an 8-4 record into the match and is currently riding a 4-0 winning streak.
Petersen is 4-0 and has a strong wrestling background. The two-time Minnesota state high school champion won 139 matches as an amateur and has been unstoppable as a MMA pro.
LFA is a developmental mixed martial arts promotion that gives rising stars and top contenders the opportunity to prove their talent to fans and leaders in the industry, Soares said.
Several card changes were made Monday, most notably the withdrawal of “All Hail” Hailey Cowan, a MMA star who fights out of Waco.
“I don’t know the specifics,” Bevins said. “But Hailey withdrew from the card Monday morning.”
Tip-a-Cop is Thursday night
The Temple Police Department will participate in this year’s Tip-a-Cop event at Texas Roadhouse from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday.
TPD officers will serve as guest waiters and waitresses to raise money for Special Olympics of Texas.
“Temple police have supported the Special Olympics for several years, and we are grateful for another opportunity to partner with our community,” Chief Shawn Reynolds said.
T-shirts also will be available for purchase. All proceeds will benefit the Special Olympics of Texas.
The last Tip-a-Cop event was held in October 2019, prior to COVID-19 restrictions, and $2,800 was raised.
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What’s Happening, Temple?
July 28, Wednesday - Open Mic Comedy, Corky's, 13 S. 2nd Street, 8 p.m.
July 28, Wednesday - National Junior Brangus Breeders show, Bell County Expo Center.
July 30, Friday - 4-hour Temple Brew Trail, Tour Temple, 13 S. 2nd Street, 8 p.m.
July 30, Friday - Bell County Cutting Horse Show, Bell County Expo Center Equine/Livestock Complex.
July 30, Friday - Justin Hewitt. O’Briens Irish Pub. 9 p.m.
July 30, Friday - Mixed Martial Arts. LFA heavyweight title fight Lewis vs. Petersen, plus the return of All Hail Hailey Cowan. 5:30 p.m.
July 30, Friday - Scooter Dubec and Sterling Country. Bo’s Barn Dance Hall. 8 p.m.
July 31, Saturday - Billy Holt, Bo’s Barn Dance Hall, 9 p.m.
July 31, Saturday - 4-hour Wine Trail Tour, Tour Temple, 13 S. 2nd Street, 3 p.m.
July 31, Saturday - Bell County Cutting Horse Show, Bell County Expo Center Equine/Livestock Complex.
July 31, Saturday - Adult Night at Summer Fun Water Park, Belton, 8 p.m.
July 31, Saturday - Live Comedy Showcase, Corky’s, 8 p.m.
August 1, Sunday - Bell County Cutting Horse Show, Bell County Expo Center Equine/Livestock Complex.
August 6, Friday - Lilly Milford of Lilly & The Implements joins Bryon White of The Damn Quails for a special performance. O’Briens Irish Pub. 9 p.m.
August 6, Friday - Family Night at Summer Fun Water Park, Belton, 7 p.m.
August 6, Friday - Branded Heart, Bo’s Barn Dance Hall, 8 p.m.
August 7, Saturday - Dave Jorgenson, Bo’s Barn Dance Hall, 9 p.m.
August 7, Saturday - Bell County Comic Con is a family friendly event for those interested in comics, pop culture, wrestling, gaming, movies and fantasy. Bell County Expo Center. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
August 7, Saturday - Dig It! Family Day. Will include a sand pit for unearthing treasures. Learn what it’s like to be an archeologist or a paleontologist and the difference between the two fields of science. Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum. 10 a.m.
August 7, Saturday - American Bucking Bull, Bell County Expo Center Equine/Livestock Complex.
August 8, Sunday - Bell County Comic Con is a family friendly event for those interested in comics, pop culture, wrestling, gaming, movies and fantasy. Bell County Expo Center. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
August 13, Friday - Bell County Kennel Club, Bell County Expo Center.
August 13, Friday - Hyway Traveler, Bo’s Barn Dance Hall, 8 p.m.
August 13, Friday - Bell County Cutting Horse Show, Bell County Expo Center Equine/Livestock Complex.
August 14, Saturday - Bell County Kennel Club, Bell County Expo Center.
August 14, Saturday - Texas Senior Pro Rodeo, Bell County Expo Center Equine/Livestock Complex.
August 15, Sunday - Bell County Kennel Club, Bell County Expo Center.
August 15, Sunday - Texas Senior Pro Rodeo, Bell County Expo Center Equine/Livestock Complex.
Have an event you would like to promote? Email info to OurTownTemple@gmail.com with “What’s Happening” in the subject line. Keep it short and sweet — what, when and where. You may include a short description. You must include a phone number for verification purposes. The phone number will not be published unless requested by submitter.