Donna Madison, Nancy Teachout and Milissa Wuebben

When the Yankton Riverboat Days and Summer Arts Festival began approximately 32 years ago, I’ll bet nobody at that time believed that it would become the event that it is today, drawing over 100,000 people to the Yankton area annually. I sat down with three women that serve on the Yankton Riverboat Days board to find out about the history of and their experience with Yankton’s biggest annual event.

Most of the Riverboat Days (RBD) board members have a main job but assist with other duties as needed. Milissa Wuebben is in her fi rst year serving as Treasurer and is one of the newest board members. Wuebben was recruited to fill the position when the preceding Treasurer retired.

Donna Madson has been involved with RBD for over 27 years with more than 18 of them on the board, becoming involved because her husband was involved. She currently heads up the committee involved with the beer garden: taking beverage tokens, checking ID’s, selling wristbands and lining up workers. Madson also assists with other RBD volunteers, making lunch arrangements for helpers and coordinating the volunteers from the Yankton Minimum Unit.

Nancy Teachout had a hand in RBD since its origination.

Teachout’s husband, Bruce has been involved since it began and Teachout became involved a few years later. She has served as a chairman, board member and she and Bruce were Captain and Belle in 1990. She assists with the children’s activities, volunteers, amphitheater events and helps her husband sell beverages during the band/dance. Because of her degree in recreation, she felt like RBD would be an event she would be interested in and she was sure right. In the event’s early days, Teachout assisted with the dog show.

The committee, Teachout explained, “Wanted something positive, that families could afford to go to. We have been really strong in encouraging that. We always have free children’s activities, all of our entertainment is free of charge, the bands, the amphitheater, and that’s something that we’re very proud of.” Thirty-two years later with a majority of the events family-oriented and free is definitely something the RBD committ ee should be proud of.

What began as Yankton RBD was scheduled for the third full weekend in August. Needing to pick a weekend for the event to get it on the state calendar, the committ ee opted for this weekend because historically, it was one of the driest weekends with the best chance of generally non-threatening weather. Within a few years, RBD partnered up with the Yankton Area Arts (YAA). The two are separate entities but they work together to put on the successful event.

“Volunteers are a big part of it,” said Wuebben. Teachout added, “We couldn’t do this without the volunteers. It wouldn’t be possible without the wonderful help of the community and the volunteers.” The RBD and YAA committees help recruit volunteers, and many past RBD board members and past volunteers come back to help. Anyone can help volunteer by contacting any of the board members, the RBD office at (605) 665-1657 or on their website at

Though the event is held on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the set-up begins on Monday for the committee members. Board members start pulling the items needed out of storage on Monday, with most manpower needed for set-up from Wednesday morning to Friday night. The committee members have a great system in the organization and layout of getting the tents set up each year. I was amazed to hear the complexity in scheduling the vendors coming in and out of the park during set-up and take-down. Everyone follows a designated time to help things go more smoothly. They are often in need of extra volunteers, though, on Sunday night and Monday to help take down the tents.

Because it takes a lot of work to put this event on, from volunteers to the costs of insurance, entertainment, equipment and amenities, many people play a role in helping to make it happen.

Teamwork comes from the RBD and YAA members, generous business and personal donations, assistance from the National Guard, the Yankton Police Department, the City of Yankton, business donation of equipment use, hotel and restaurant accommodations, advertising assistance, the Yankton Photography Club, beer and pop distributors and help from non-profit groups, just to touch on a few involved. Teachout said, “We want to give our sincere appreciation because it takes an entire community, public and private individuals, to make it the success it is.” The RBD committee, in return, contributes back to the park. The large shelter was donated by the RBD committee, along with Wi-Fi connection. “We appreciate what is given to us to use for the weekend so we try to give back,” she stated.

The events held during Yankton Riverboat Days and Summer Arts Festival have changed over its time, though some events have reappeared like a former fashion trend. Originally, the events had a dog show and a historical play, both of which are no longer observed. The Captain & Belle, free family activities, live band, dance performances, water and air shows, kiddie parade and large parade, though larger now than in the past, have always been a part of the weekend events. Various events came later, some staying longer than others, including (but not all-inclusive): mud volleyball, arm wrestling, tug-of-war, tractor pulls, kiddie tractor pull, square-dancing tractors, lawn mower and snowmobile races, rodeo, pinewood derby races, fireworks show, “senior” baseball games, chainsaw artists, tractor show and car show. The board strives to have a variety of free family entertainment every year.

Wuebben and her family have always enjoyed the parade, while Teachout has always loved the dance performances. Teachout explains, “I think now my favorite thing is the reunion atmosphere. Getting to see the people, the kids coming back to town. We’ve hosted a number of class reunions.” What does Madson enjoy most? She states, “The whole thing. I love to see the smile on children’s faces, they’re having such a good time. We have so many of the same ones coming back year to year.”

“Riverboat days is a part of our family, and what we enjoy. My son has been helping with it since he was two, helping to put up posters,” said Teachout. Madson agreed, “I have kids and grandkids that are helping down there now too.” Teachout enjoys the enthusiasm that it brings to the community, while Wuebben added, “I think it says a lot in that this has been going for 32 years. I commend the committee that started this, with the idea and the drive to grow this, and to continue it.” Teachout gave credit to the many people who have stepped up to help carry it on over the years.

The RBD board is always open for suggestions for a new activity or theme, or nominations for Captain & Belle. If interested in volunteering, please contact the board at (605) 665-1657 or on their website at This year’s events will be held on August 21, 22 and 23 with the theme “We Salute You.” “We want to invite everyone to come down and have a good time,” stated Madson. I’m sure I speak for many when I say we’re looking forward to another fun-filled event and we’ll see you at the park!