Volga German celebration on eve of FHSU Homecoming
has become a popular tradition for Hays and Ellis County
HAYS, KS -- Of the many factors that contribute to the exceptional quality of life in Ellis County, none contribute more to the unique personality of the community than Fort Hays State University and the county's Volga German heritage.
The most popular weekend in the county occurs each year in late September or early October with the joint festivities of Oktoberfest and Homecoming, which celebrate the contributions of the Volga Germans and the university. This year, Oktoberfest will be celebrated in Ellis County on Friday, Oct. 11, followed by the Fort Hays State University Homecoming parade and football game on Saturday, Oct. 12.
This 30th edition of the Ellis County Oktoberfest on Oct. 11 should not be confused with a private spin-off celebration that is planned for the Ellis County Fairgrounds on Sept. 21 and 22.
The Oktoberfest/Homecoming weekend will have special significance this year because Fort Hays State University is celebrating its Centennial throughout 2002. Homecoming activities actually will run from Thursday through Sunday, with a golf tournament, an alumni award banquet, theatrical productions, Centennial ceremonies and many other activities available. The weekend draws thousands of visitors to the community, especially former residents and FHSU alumni.
FHSU organizations that wish to participate by sponsoring a booth at Oktoberfest must complete a Student Organization Space Request and an Application for Fund-Raising Project and return both forms to the Student Affairs Office in Room 208 of Sheridan Hall by Thursday, Sept. 26.
Organizations that sell products at their booths must pay 7 percent of gross sales to the Volga German Society. The proceeds are used to help defray expenses and to fund scholarships and other projects at FHSU.
All food items must be homemade. In addition, the Oktoberfest Committee must approve all booths and T-shirt logos. Each organization will be responsible for building its own booth, and a Bavarian theme is strongly recommended. Organizations also must furnish their own tables and chairs.
Organizations that are not affiliated with the university must submit applications describing the booth they would like to sponsor. The applications must be mailed by Saturday, Sept. 28, to: Oktoberfest, P.O. Box 1314, Hays, KS 67601.
The first Oktoberfest in Hays was started by Hays Area Chamber of Commerce President Doug Kingsley and Executive Director Jack Wilhm in 1973 as a companion event with the university's Homecoming, and the Volga German Society took over sponsorship a short while later. Although the original German Oktoberfest does not trace its origins specifically to the Volga Germans, its connection with German culture made it a perfect vehicle for sharing and preserving the local contributions of the Volga German settlers and their descendants.
The Volga German Society is the official sponsoring agency for Oktoberfest, with the support and cooperation of the university and the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce. Francis Schippers, who has spearheaded the event for many years, is again serving as chair of Oktoberfest.
"The reason Oktoberfest started was that the Volga Germans were the strongest ethnic group in the area and they helped bring the community together with the students, faculty, staff and alumni of the university," Schippers said. "It allowed us to provide education about our cultural heritage."
The 2002 Oktoberfest will begin at 10 a.m. with the ceremonial tapping of the keg by Hays Mayor Henry Schwaller IV. The location -- the Oktoberfest Platz -- will again be the area south of the dike in Frontier Park on the east side of Main Street. Shuttle service for people with disabilities will be available from a special parking area on the west side of Main Street. Booths will open immediately after the ceremony and stay open until 6 p.m.
Beer booths will follow a tighter schedule, opening at 11 a.m. and closing at 5 p.m. Beer sales will be closely monitored. People who wish to consume beer must show two forms of identification to receive a bracelet that allows them to purchase and drink beer on the grounds.
This year's Oktoberfest will feature even more family-oriented activities than usual. In addition to food booths, games and carnival booths, there will be lots of music on stage throughout the day and a polka contest. Some of the booths will feature demonstrations of crafts, such as how to make limestone name posts. The stage shows also will include Renaissance entertainment, such as juggling. Wolf's Educational Barnyard Animals from Russell will offer pony rides, goat milking and other animal activities for children.
"It's a good time, with food, drink and camaraderie," Schippers said.
The first Ellis County Oktoberfest was celebrated in downtown Hays, and then the event was moved to the present site of the Wild West Festival for two years. That location caused problems for Washington School, so it was moved to a site between Larks Park and the old swimming pool for two years. Finally it was moved to the location south of the dike because that was farther from the school, it provided shelter from the wind, there were better sound barriers and there was an abundance of shade.
"In effect," Schippers said, "Oktoberfest takes on the atmosphere of its own little city at this location."
Dr. Larry Gould, FHSU provost, announced recently that in accord with previous decisions of the Faculty Senate and President's Cabinet, classes will not be held on Friday, Oct. 11, so that students can participate in the various activities. It is a regular workday for university staff, however.