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From Medora to Medicine: Dr. Kimberly Tjaden Share Her Legacy With The Medora Musical

Published in Family Medicine Author: Kimberly Tjaden,MD

You can’t miss the signs when you drive through North Dakota: “Medora Musical: The Greatest Show in the West!” CentraCare Family Medicine Physician Kimberly Tjaden, MD, not only grew up in Medora but her family was instrumental in the restoration and modernization of this old western town, and turning it into a must-see tourist attraction.

Tell us about your family’s role in Medora and the Medora Musical?

My dad, Rod Tjaden, worked for Gold Seal Company, a North Dakota Company that made glass wax, Mr. Bubble and Snowy Bleach. In the 1960s, the owner of that company, Harold Schafer, wanted to rebuild Medora into a tourist attraction, focusing on the values of Theodore Roosevelt, who had traveled there as a young man.

My dad was asked to go out there for three years to learn, run and then find a replacement for him. But he never left. He ended up working there for nearly 30 years as the president of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. He also was the mayor of Medora for 18 years. He passed away in 1997. My mother, Sandy, also worked there running the gift shops and every other odd job you can imagine.

What was your family’s role in the Medora Musical?

The musical is part of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation (TRMF). My dad was instrumental in building the new theater in 1993 with the first outdoor escalator that brings guests into and out of the outdoor theater.

What did you do in Medora?

In my youth, I worked at the ice cream shop, the campground, the hotel dining room and the gift shops. I also ran the spotlights and worked concessions at the musical. I did MOST of the jobs in Medora at one time or another.

How does your experience in Medora relate to your work as a family medicine physician?

Drs. Tjaden and Nguyen
Dr. Kim Tjaden and husband, Dr. Joe Nguyen, at Medora.
When I was little, my family told me I would become a doctor because of my love for math and science. And for people. In Medora and from my parents, I learned the art of hospitality – how to be friendly and generous to guests, visitors and strangers.. They greeted guests on the streets, made sure they were taken care of and were known all over the state. I would say my people skills came directly from them and from working in the tourism industry for many years.

My dad also was very active lobbying for tourism in the state. Once a year, he would take me to the capitol with him to meet our legislators and learn how government works. That may be where my advocacy comes from.

In my life, I also travel to the capital in St. Paul to advocate for health and health care each year with the Minnesota Medical Association and the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians. I work locally to improve the health of all of our citizens, especially those who have difficulty advocating for themselves. I have promoted the Tobacco 21 work in Benton County and been involved in refugee health and health disparities in Stearns County and at CentraCare.

Do you still have connections to Medora?

family at Medora Musical
Dr. Kim Tjaden and family at the 50th anniversary of the Medora Musical.
My dad’s legacy lives on in Medora through the amazing customer service culture that remains today. He raised money for and built the amphitheater where the Medora Musical is performed. He dreamt of a golf course, which was made reality by his chosen successor, Randy Hatzenbuhler.

After he passed away, they built the Tjaden Fondue Terrace at the Medora Musical and dedicated it to him and my mother. There's also an annual golf fundraiser for scholarships for outstanding employees that is named after my father.

We go back every summer as a family. My kids love it as much as I do. We ride horses, go to the musical, walk the streets, greet old friends. Almost every time we go, someone is visiting there that we know. I always say that the Badlands (of North Dakota) restore my soul.