The Veteran behind the Bull Bash

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HURON — For the past 19 years, South Dakota State Fair goers have been able to take in professional bull riding as part of the fair, while also pausing the action to recognize and honor America’s veterans.

It began in 2004 when Red Wilk, a local businessman and owner of Red Wilk Construction, had an inspiration to add an event in which the whole family could enjoy.

Upon speaking with the head of the Championship Bull Riding, an alliance was made for bull riding to make its first appearance as a stand-alone event, at the Red Wilk Construction CBR Bull Bash.

The event grew and in 2015 the Red Wilk Construction/Tuff Hedeman Bull Bash was formed, when Wilk and champion bull rider Tuff Hedeman first began working together. Every year, 80 of the world’s toughest cowboys are enlisted by Tuff Hedeman, a five-time world champion bull rider. Through this endeavor, Wilk and Hedeman have become great friends and look forward to bringing this exciting event to the fair for everyone to enjoy each year.

This year’s Bull Bash is tonight and Thursday night at the grandstand on the S.D. State Fairgrounds. Ticket information can be found on the state fair website, www.sdstatefair.com.

A highlight at both nights of the event is the Red Wilk Construction American Hero Awards, takes place during intermission of the Bull Bash. Wilk enlisted with the United States Marine Corps, and served two tours of duty in Vietnam, from 1970 to 1972.

As a result of his service to the country and the way the veterans were treated upon their return home during that time, Wilk was motivated to honor veterans with the American Hero Award.  

“I want to give my fellow veterans the welcome home they always deserved and what better way to do that than in front of a roaring crowd of more than 5,000 people?”  said Wilk.

In total, throughout the years, more than 400 veterans, from different wars, have received this recognition by Wilk. In addition to other gifts, the award given to the recipients includes a flag which has flown over the U.S. Capitol in their honor.

Also in attendance, to show their respect to the veterans, is the South Dakota National Guard Funeral Honors Team. They perform a flag-folding ceremony and present the veterans with the gifts received from Wilk.
TAPS are played to honor fallen soldiers who didn’t make it home.

“This is a very solemn time as veterans are introduced one by one – my favorite part is after each veteran is introduced the honors team salutes them and the veteran salutes back – it gives me chills every time” says Jenny Wilk, Red’s daughter and the organizer of the event.

In 2019, Red Wilk received the South Dakota Veteran of the Year Award for his service and dedication to recognize veterans.

Red Wilk has always possessed a passion for the fair. In fact, his love for it runs so deep that he has a hand in many different things. Each year, for more than 20 years, he hosts a special meal at his camper, extending an invitation to all of the carnival workers. Furthermore, he provides a meal for the Dept. of Corrections inmates, who work on the fairgrounds, and police officers to extend his sincere gratitude for their contribution in making the fair a success.

The South Dakota State Fair recognized Wilk for his generosity and dedication in 2017, with the Bob Duxbury Award, one of the highest honors award by the fair ,which is voted on by the fair commissioners and the Duxbury family.  

Red and his wife, Cindy, started Red Wilk Construction in 1980. Together, they have built their business into a household name in the construction industry and are still very much involved in the day-to-day operations. Red and Cindy have two children; Josh, a foreman with the company and Vice President of Red Wilk Construction, and Jenny, secretary and office manager of Red Wilk Construction, along with three grandchildren - Rheya, Cora, and Jameson.