Budweiser Clydesdales coming to Lawrence to honor pandemic volunteers, first-responders; local Bud distributor ranked tops in the country
photo by: Elvyn Jones
Some of the hundreds of volunteers who staffed the COVID-19 vaccination clinics at the Douglas County fairgrounds will be back there next week, but this time they won’t have to deliver any shots.
Good thing, too, because the line of visitors that will be at the fairgrounds this time would require a pretty big needle.
Lawrence’s Anheuser-Busch distributor is bringing the famed Budweiser Clydesdales to the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds on Thursday, Oct. 14, as part of a celebration to honor volunteers and other first responders who have helped with the community’s COVID-19 response over the last year.
Lawrence-based O’Malley Beverage has won one of the top awards in the entire Anheuser-Busch company, and as a reward, O’Malley gets to use the Clydesdales for a few events. O’Malley President Kevin O’Malley said it was an easy decision to use the horses as a centerpiece for an event to thank first responders and volunteers.
The event is by invitation, but O’Malley said he expects more than 200 volunteers, first responders and their families to be at the fairgrounds on Thursday evening. Invitations were sent via email through the community’s Unified Command, which includes KU, the city, the county, the health department, LMH and other organizations that coordinated the community’s COVID-19 response. If you are a volunteer or first responder who doesn’t receive an invitation in the coming days, check with the organization you worked with during COVID to get an invitation.
The event will be in the open-air pavilion of the fairgrounds to ensure that large groups of people aren’t gathering together inside. O’Malley, as you might expect, will ensure there are plenty of beverages and other favors at the event.
O’Malley is the distributor of Budweiser and Anheuser-Busch products throughout Douglas County and five other surrounding counties. Come to find out, it also is one of the very top distributors in the entire country. O’Malley has been named an Anheuser-Busch Ambassador of Excellence after being rated as one of the top distributors in the country for four straight years.
Out of approximately 425 Anheuser-Busch distributors, there are only 10 ambassadors of excellence in the company.
“To be honest, this really encompasses everything Anheuser-Busch expects their wholesalers to do,” O’Malley said. “It is community involvement, sales, execution of our joint business plan, everything.”
O’Malley credited the company’s approximately 35 employees with upholding the high standards to win the award. The company actually qualified to be an ambassador and have a Clydesdale appearance last year, but Budweiser did not travel with the famed team of horses due to COVID precautions.
In fact, last year, O’Malley won the “national championship” among all wholesalers, receiving the highest score in the quality competition.
O’Malley said he’s looking forward to the celebration as many of his company’s customers were hit extremely hard by the pandemic. As has been well-documented, many bars and restaurants were devastated by shutdowns related to the pandemic. However, O’Malley did have its best year on record in 2020 because of an immense uptick in alcohol sales at liquor stores, grocery stores and other retailers who sold alcohol to take home.
“People were just filling the cupboards,” O’Malley said.
He said there are signs that the bar and restaurant business is bouncing back, although they are reporting major struggles in finding enough workers.
Any bounce-back is in part due to the efforts of first responders and volunteers to get people vaccinated. O’Malley said he reached out to members of the health department about hosting a thank you event, and he said they were excited about the event as long as it could be done in the open-air environment.
O’Malley said he thinks people will find the majestic horses — they all are at least 6 feet tall and weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds — fun to see.
“The real pleasure of the thing is you will be able to get up close to the Clydesdales,” he said.
This isn’t the first time the big horses have been in Lawrence. The team was in town in 2019 as part of a celebration of a change in state law that allowed full-strength beer sales in grocery stores. The horses also were in town in 2006, but this will be the longest that the horses have been in the community.
In addition to the Thursday event, O’Malley also is hosting a private event on Friday, Oct. 15, for restaurants, bars, liquor stores and other customers of the distributor. The company also will have an event on Saturday, Oct. 16, for its employees.