BILLINGS — After 40 years, several different titles and thousands of events at MetraPark in Billings, the facility's general manager, Bill Dutcher, will retire at the end of the year.
“It’s fun to find something that became such a fun job, an enjoyable job to do for the citizens of this region. To be able to just keep learning and having fun over the years and enjoying being around people," Dutcher said during MontanaFair on Wednesday last week.
Dutcher started doing part time work at the fair in the summer of 1980.
“I found out that I was never bored and I loved all night shifts and everything. I remember working Eric Clapton, Marshall Tucker (Band), hockey season, Volcanoes basketball and NILE," Dutcher said.
After fair season, he took a break to finish his degree at Rocky Mountain College and then went full-time on the maintenance crew in 1981. After that in 1994, Dutcher became MetraPark's first-ever events coordinator.
In the job, Dutcher helped wrangle all the staff it took to put on events in the arena, Montana Pavilion and Expo Center. Then Dutcher moved to another position as operations director in 1999.
"Then in 2008 at 4:20 in the afternoon, they said, ‘We need a general manager.’ I didn’t really want the job but I said, ‘Oh, okay.’ So I was interim for four months and now it’s been 16 years. So just a lot of experiences and a lot of fun and people-related days. That’s what makes it fun. The people make it fun," Dutcher said with a laugh.
Jeff Seward started working full-time for MetraPark in 1999 and worked part-time at the events space for seven years previous. He now serves at operations director. Seward said Dutcher has been his boss for all but four years.
Seward said he learned about customer service and the importance of relationships from the best boss he’s ever had.
“Bill’s got the best people skills there are. He’s friendly to everybody. He can’t walk by somebody. He has to stop and say hi and talk to them. There’s no, ‘Hey, I’ll get back to you.’ He goes over and talks to them. He visits every show. He’s taught the passion that it takes to stick around and do it and the love of taking care of your customer," Seward said.
As operations director, Seward is responsible for taking care of an event from set up to tear down and clean up afterwards. He said the events and entertainment business is often fast-paced, with long hours and quick turnarounds.
The crew might have fifteen times a year where they have to switch the arena from a basketball court on Saturday to a stage for a concert on Sunday, Seward said.
“Our days off are when you get one or take one, you know. Fair week, I work 17-hour days, usually more. Bill is here with me almost every hour of it," Seward said. “I’ve cleaned bathrooms with Bill and I’ve cleaned horse stalls with Bill."
Seward said Dutcher has established a legacy at MetraPark. At yearly events and fair conferences with venues across the United States and Canada, if you brought up MetraPark, the first question was always about how Dutcher was doing, Seward said.
According to MetraPark Labor Foreman, Randy Pardis, Dutcher's rapport with others in the entertainment business kept repeat acts coming to Billings, when other entertainers may pass by the relatively small community
"A lot of the ones that we have here yearly have just kept coming back and a big part of that is the way that Bill treats them," Pardis said.
Pardis started with the Metrapark maintenance crew one year after the arena doors opened in 1976. Pardis first met Dutcher when the Midland Empire Fairgrounds and METRA Arena were two separate entities.
“Bill was just a really nice guy. He would come up and take breaks with us and stuff. Basically, that’s how I met him. And we both had an interest in running. Bill was a heck of a lot better than me. He would win the races. I would finish the races. He did several marathons," Pardis said.
If the role of labor foreman, Pardis not only helps bring equipment in and out of spaces for events, but also helps take care of the grounds and other repairs. When working alongside Dutcher, Pardis said he always knew how to make the job fun.
“We always had fun. Never being grumpy, even though we were working 20-plus hours and you’re super tired, but you would always find a way to make something fun. That was Bill. Even what he does now with people, he just tries to make it fun. And I think that’s a big part of what MetraPark is, it’s, ‘Hey, come to MetraPark and have fun,'" Pardis said.
Pardis said Dutcher will have a lasting legacy at MetraPark no matter what happens with construction in the future.
"They’ve got some really big ideas on how to expand the facility and get a lot more stuff going on here and be a busier place. But I think a lot of that, even though Bill won’t be here, a lot of that’s going to have his footprint in it because he’s the one that set the tone for how things are done down here and how we treat people," Pardis said.
Dutcher said he's jealous of the things to come at MetraPark and noted there's some events he's excited about in the cards for next year.
“I’m very envious. I’ll sit with my binoculars from the Rims in the distance while I’m walking my dogs and watch what’s going on just knowing how hard they’re working to make it all continue on," Dutcher said.
But he won't have to watch from the Rimrocks, because during MontanaFair, the Yellowstone County Commissioners presented Dutcher with a lifetime pass to every future event at MetraPark.
From rock stars and presidents, to graduations, voting booths and too many other gatherings to name, Dutcher has had a hand in thousands of events at MetraPark over the years.
“I could go on and on and on. The 4H, the fun and the kids. Just how can you call that a job when you can do stuff like that. It’s just been fantastic. Everybody’s just been so nice and it’s amazing every day the things that I appreciate that I’ve been able to see and be a part of," Dutcher said.
After retirement, Dutcher said he plans to stick around in Billings. You might catch him out and about at the grocery store or grabbing his daily coffee.