HAYS, KS -- At a joint news conference this morning, Dr. Edward H. Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University, and Gina Riedel, executive director of the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce, announced final plans for this year's edition of Oktoberfest.
The news conference was necessary to clear up confusion about changes in the nearly three-decade-old cultural celebration that is held on Friday during the university's annual Homecoming weekend.
President Hammond announced that the opening ceremony for this year's Oktoberfest would be at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 5, with booth hours from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Also, Oktoberfest will be staged at its original site south of the dike in Frontier Park instead of the proposed new location further north on the site of the city's annual Wild West Festival.
"We're really pleased that a final decision was made to return to the original site, which will be much less intrusive for Washington Elementary School on South Main," he said. "The hours of 11 to 6 will make it possible for participants to enjoy lunch or dinner or both as they celebrate our community's Volga German heritage."
The president also emphasized that those who want to purchase beer at Oktoberfest will be carded, and must wear bracelets that will identify them as legal drinkers. "We believe this will help us prevent underage drinking," he said.
"Oktoberfest will be an especially important event in this time of national crisis," he added, "so that we can recognize our roots and celebrate our shared heritage."
During the 9 a.m. news conference in the Dreiling Lobby of Sheridan Hall on the FHSU campus, President Hammond introduced Riedel and Francis Schippers, who both talked about the long history of Oktoberfest.
The university and the chamber have joined forces to co-sponsor this year's Oktoberfest.
"We are a partner and we'll do what needs to be done to make this work," Riedel said. She pointed out that the first Oktoberfest in Hays was started by chamber President Doug Kingsley and chamber Executive Director Jack Wilhm in 1973 as a companion event with the university's Homecoming. "This has proved to be a hugely successful event that brings the university and the larger community together," she said.
Schippers, who spearheaded Oktoberfest for many years for the Volga German Society, is returning as director to help with the final arrangements this year. He also spoke of the original purpose of the Hays Oktoberfest. "The reason it 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," he said. "It allowed us to provide education about our cultural heritage."
Schippers pointed out that the first 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. He referred to it fondly as "the little city by itself."
Riedel said any non-profit group that wants to operate a booth this year should contact the chamber at 628-8201 to apply for space. She said organizations that have already reserved booth space should double-check with the chamber to be sure their reservations are in place. Hammond said that university groups also must register with the chamber, but they can contact the Office of Student Affairs if they have any other questions.