Jim Wychor remembered for Great Gobbler Gallop, a life in radio and his abiding love of Worthington

Jul. 18—WORTHINGTON — Jim Wychor, who died Friday, July 14, left an indelible mark on the city of Worthington, and while that mark may bear the unlikely shape of a racing turkey, there is much more to the radio legend's legacy.

"Out of all the places that mom and dad lived, Worthington was the one that held a special place in their heart, and especially dad's heart," said Matt Wychor, Jim's son. "The community as a whole, as much as the radio stations. He was forever driving and selling Worthington."

The Great Gobbler Gallop was part of that. As unlikely as it now seems given the popularity of the event,

King Turkey Day

was seeing a decline in the 1960s, and according to Jim, it needed an infusion of something new to get it going again.

After he and Lew Hudson heard about a Texas town laying claim to the title of "Turkey Capital of the World" — also claimed by Worthington — the two hatched a plan, connecting with counterparts in Cuero, Texas, and laying the groundwork for a

truly memorable event

.

The first Great Gobbler Gallop came in 1973, and since then the race between two turkeys has united the two towns, forged friendships and drawn people to Worthington to watch the spectacle of a small city's movers and shakers attempting to get a bird with a brain the size of a walnut to run in a straight line.

But Jim Wychor was more than King Turkey Day.

He was also a radio man through and through, serving as KWOA AM/FM's co-owner, vice president and general manager for 26 years, according to his biography in the Minnesota Broadcasters Hall of Fame. He served as president and CEO of the Minnesota Broadcasters Association from 1989 to 1997 and served in leadership roles in many other industry groups.

"He did radio locally," said Chad Cummings, co-owner and general manager of RadioWorks, whose stations include KWOA. "And I think that's a big thing that we've modeled after for years, and looked to keep doing — radio here, as opposed to major market stuff, corporate stuff."

Independently-owned radio stations rely on relationships, getting to know the community and business owners and building relationships with them, Cummings said.

"In radio here, if you can just talk and tell a story like you're talking to one person, everyone will listen," he added, noting that Jim jumped on the air to do just that throughout his years in radio.

He had a personality that was larger than life, too, and it shone through in everything he did. Cummings described him as a boisterous bear of a person whose presence in a room was always obvious.

"There was no mincing of words ... You're never left uncertain as to where things stand," Cummings said of Jim, noting Jim was also never insulting, just straightforward and honest.

And he loved Worthington.

Larry Rogers, who worked for Jim for about 16 years, agreed.

"Jim was one of the most hard-charging, dedicated and, at times, flat-out stubborn people when it came to promoting anything he believed in," Rogers said. "If you had a project or a proposal or a goal that you were working on — and it didn't matter what it was — if you had Wychor's backing, you had him at the front of the pack leading the charge. If he believed in something, you could not steer him away from his conviction."

He demanded excellence from his employees all of the time, not just most of the time, and in return he went out of his way to support them when they went through difficult times, Rogers said.

"If it involved your kids and you were in a predicament or situation, you couldn't have any more accommodating person to work for in the world," he added.

And he knew people from one end of the radio station's territory to the other.

"In the radio business he was ahead of the game," Rogers said. "The stations that he managed... were rated, ranked and talked about with great respect throughout the industry in this region. And not just a little bit of that was due to Wychor's drive and demand that we produce a product of excellence. And I think over the years we certainly did that."

Jim was also a veritable hurricane of ideas, complete with the ability to sweep others up and carry them along with him in his enthusiasm and determination.

"He was a wonderful man. He was a great promoter of our community, and he was very involved in the (Worthington Area) Chamber of Commerce when I worked there," said Darlene Macklin, executive director of the Chamber from 1987 to 2020.

Sometimes those ideas seemed unlikely, impossible or ridiculous, but Jim made them real.

"I think he was an easy man to work with," Macklin said. "He had some very good ideas, promotional ideas, that he would want us to be involved in and would follow through. We worked with him on many different projects, and if he said he was going to do something, he always did it."

For example, Jim got involved with the Chamber's Governmental Affairs Committee, and promoted visits from elected officials on the radio so that everyone would know about them.

"And then I'll never forget, my very first year here — but it was the radio station's idea — dropping ping-pong balls along 10th Street as a promotion," Macklin said. "I can't quite remember how it all got started. I do remember it being Jim's idea."

That was just one of Jim's ideas, and while they only did the ping-pong ball drop once, the

Great Gobbler Gallop

has lasted much longer.

"That's a good legacy," Macklin said, noting that Worthington's relationship with Cuero continues to this day.

"I think Jim was just a great human being, and when he left Worthington, a part of Worthington went with him," she added.

Jim's son, Jim Wychor, Jr., agreed.

"He loved that town. He worked so hard... he would leave the house at 5:30 in the morning and maybe get home at 5:30 p.m.," he recalled of his father. "And he really enjoyed Worthington."

The Wychor family moved to Worthington in August 1963, and Jim stayed there longer than anywhere else he'd lived, according to his son.

He recalled his father's answer when someone asked him about retiring.

"'I enjoy doing (radio). When the time comes and I just don't like going to work anymore, then I'll quit,'" the elder Jim Wychor responded.

"And that's what happened," his son added, noting that he's seen social media posts about his father since his passing.

"Everybody says that he's an icon, a promoter and an icon. I think it's a wonderful legacy," he added.

Matt agreed, citing their father's involvement with numerous community organizations in Worthington, from the Chamber to Kiwanis and St. Matthew's Lutheran Church.

That involvement didn't just involve raising funds or making announcements, either. Sometimes it took the form of canoe-jousting at Centennial Park, riding donkeys in the Worthington High School gym or riding in a Model A in a parade, Matt recalled.

Jim was also heavily involved in the local wrestling scene, directing a national wrestling tournament and hosting teams at his home.

His legacy will continue in Worthington and beyond, matching what it says on the Wychor gravestone Jim shares with his wife: "They made a difference."

"That's what I think is his legacy, what he'd want it to be," Matt said. "He went quietly and peacefully, and it was time — but it's going to leave a big empty spot in all of our lives."

Visitation will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday, July 21, with the funeral at 3 p.m., at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Circle Pines.