January 2022 Newsletter

The People of the Park…

“Strait” From Branson: The Wensels


Dale Dauten

It isn’t hard to meet someone who has been to Branson, Missouri; after all, 60 Minutes called it the “live music capital of the entire universe.” But how often do you meet someone from Branson? (The latest Census estimate has at about 12,000 residents.) Even so, among The Resort’s new residents this season is a couple who lived and performed there for many years: Gordy and Debbie Wensel.

We got to sit down with the Wensels just before the holidays and they each told the story of how they came to be in Branson, how they found each other there, and how they became a couple and performing team.

DEBBIE grew up in Sioux Falls, at least until the sixth grade; that’s when her parents bought a truck stop called Chef Rudy’s in the little town of Kimball, South Dakota. And the restaurant at that truck stop was where Debbie had her first public singing performance. After that start, she was off to sing at nearby VFW halls and any place else she could show off her talent.

So it wasn’t surprising that once she finished her time at Kimball High, she’d head for the big city… or, in this case, to Clear Lake, Iowa. She had relatives there but, also, Clear Lake is a Midwestern music hot spot. It was there, at the Surf Ballroom, that Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and “J.P. The Big Bopper” Richardson gave their last performances before that doomed plane ride. But, before and since, it was a popular venue for rock groups. And Debbie got to sing on its legendary stage several times.

While in Clear Lake, she visited Branson and found herself thinking, “I need to move here.” And, she recalled concluding, “All my heroes are here. Andy Williams and the Osmonds were in Branson — that clinched it.” (Quick question for trivia lovers: How many Osmonds are there? Answer at end.)

So Debbie moved to Branson and found a job waiting tables at the Showboat Branson Belle, a place where Kenny Rogers often performed, but also a place where the restaurant’s servers are part of the show and where Debbie earned a solo on stage. Later, she landed a role in the musical “Pump Boys & Dinettes,” which meant, as she put it with a laugh, “I was still a waitress.”

From there it was on to be a singing server at the Hard Luck Diner. Her time there was memorable for many reasons, including falling in love.

And with that, let’s back up and bring in GORDY…

Gordon “Gordy” Wensel, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was his mom who had the love of music and she, as Gordy recalled, “was the one who pushed me to get up and sing and to get up and sing at church.” But while he may have daydreamed of singing professionally, it remained a hobby as he went into the Army National Guard and into construction, building houses and becoming a general contractor.

Even so, his love of music kept calling to him and he wound up in a job as a radio disc jockey and he kept up his singing. He found success with a group called Third Generation, whose “Singing With the Saints” made it onto the gospel bestseller charts.

Then Branson came calling. It called to him in the form of a show called “Branson Idol,” where a Branson regular, Doug Gabriel, would go to other towns and put on competitions. Gordy remembers that, “You paid $50 and you sang two songs and that was your audition for the show. There were 560-some contestants and I took second place. First place got five grand and a recording contract. Second place got a fruit basket.” But it meant a lot more to Gordy than a fruit basket. He remembers the show’s founder, Gabriel, telling him, “Out of all the contestants, you are my biggest success story.”

And a big part of that success was Debbie having heard Gordy perform and urging him to move to Branson and come to work at the Hard Luck Diner, where, you’ll remember, she was a singing server. Gordy says of meeting Debbie, “The minute I saw her I was struck by her beauty. I fell madly in love with her. I always wanted a singing partner and I found my partner.” At age 41 he moved to Branson and started a new career: “My whole life I’d suppressed my music. At one point I weighed 270 pounds and had two back surgeries and I couldn’t do construction anymore.” But there in Branson he found what he was meant to do.

The singing duet of Gordy and Debbie became regulars around town and eventually they both gave up the Hard Luck Diner to be on stage at the Branson Mall and at the Uptown Café. It was during their time in Branson that Gordy also developed his popular George Strait tribute show.

(More at georgestraittributeshow.com)

Along the way, a man who was President of an association of Activities Directors convinced the couple to come to South Texas for a “showcase,” a chance to be seen by people who hire entertainers for clubs and other venues, including, yes, RV parks. Gordy recalled, “They told us that we would do good to come away with 10 or 15 gigs. We got 32.” Winter was the off-season in Branson, so Gordy and Debbie would head south and keep busy in the Rio Grande Valley, winning a string of awards. That eventually turned into work in Florida and Arizona. (Speaking of awards, Debbie has since been inducted into the Legends of Dakota Country Music Hall of Fame.)

So Gordy and Debbie were busy and thriving and then came 2020 and the pandemic. Gordy says, “All our gigs got cancelled and that was one of the best things to happen to us. It was eye-opening.” Debbie added, “I had family who were living in Gilbert and we were spending time in Arizona and I remember thinking that when it came time to go back to Branson, ‘I don’t want to leave.’”

Among the place they’d performed along the way was The Resort. “ Our first time was about eight years ago,” Gordy told us, “a St. Patrick’s dance. How little did we know that it would become home.” Now the plan is live fulltime at The Resort but the couple is anything but retired. Their website, gordyanddebbie.com, lists 25 dates this month (January) alone. In the summer, they’ll visit Sturgis and to do some road shows. But meanwhile, they will be performing at The Resort on January 14th and 24th.

* Trivia answer: There are nine Osmonds – Marie and her eight brothers.

Photos from gordyanddebbie.com


Golf Cart Parade

We had a great turn out for our Christmas Golf Cart Parade, and chili dinner. There were over 50 decorated carts, bikes, and side by sides. Thanks to everyone for the great turnout.

Hope you enjoy the pictures.

La Mesita Benefit

The La Mesita benefit was a success. Please click on the link below for photos and a copy of the thank you message to The Crafty Ladies of The Resort.



If you know someone in the park you’d like to learn more about for one of our People of the Park profiles, please let us know.

Or, if you have photos you’ll like to share in upcoming newsletters, please send them.

Dale Dauten
Text: 480-297-6244