Harvesting traditions: Oktoberfest celebrates 45th anniversary

September 2010 Posted in Arts, Culture & History

By Brenna WiegandDon’t be surprised to see people spontaneously dancing to “Do-Re-Mi” during Oktoberfest. The dance is a new tradition at the 45-year-old festival.

In keeping with motherland tradition, the German settlers of Mount Angel have held harvest festivals since the late 1800s.

So when the first official Mount Angel Oktoberfest hit the streets 45 years ago, it had all the necessary components: a biergarten and a dozen food booths. And, as a farmer sharpens his plow, Mount Angel has been honing its Oktoberfest ever since.

The Weingarten opened in the 1980s; in the 90s, the Alpinegarten. The town’s majestic Glockenspiel – with a restaurant of the same name below – was added in time for the 2006 festival.

The all-free kindergarten at St. Mary’s schoolyard continues to grow and includes magic shows, jugglers, a petting zoo, activities and wiener dog races.

It’s the second year for the Do-Re-Mi dance that seemingly springs up without notice among random passersby on the street. When the dance is over, they simply blend back into the crowd.

And that handful of food booths? Well, it has grown to 50, each manned by a non-profit group, most considering it their biggest fund raiser of the year.

Mt. Angel Oktoberfest
Sept. 16, 17, 18 and 19
Thursday – Saturday, 11 a.m. ’til midnight
Sunday, 11 a.m. ‘til 9 p.m.
503-854-6882
oktoberfest.org

Last year $650,000 was earned that way, with another $105,250 in festival proceeds were awarded to 48 area non-profit organizations.

The main thing that has grown and changed during the last 45 years is the amount of community involvement – more community members dancing in the streets; more local nonprofits benefitting and a whole lot more volunteers.

The number of Oktoberfest volunteers has reached a stunning 7,500, said Jerry Lauzon, longtime O’fest board member and former association president. John Gooley took over the helm three years ago as president.

When Lauzon arrived in Mount Angel 20 years ago, he had a lot of experience in the realm of such festivals in Germany. He was given charge of the event.

“I thought Mount Angel’s was absolutely charming, but saw that it needed to be more family and people friendly,” he said.

“We were being overwhelmed with critical masses of people. My goal as president was to spread it out over more of the town.

“We do very careful planning for the elderly; for children and for the handicapped,” Lauzon said, “and spend a significant amount of our budget to provide more care for them.”

They’ve also cracked down on the use of alcohol.

“Out of 350,000 people, we only had one DUI last year,” he said.

To spread the downtown crowds, they started having concerts at St. Mary’s Church; a car show and kids’ play area at the grade school; added more “tentage” to the Weingarten and the third entertainment venue, the Alpinegarten.

A portion of the proceeds goes to improving the festival; they started importing German beer festival tables that make it possible for a venue to accommodate 10 percent more people.

Lauzon is anticipating the arrival of a container load of these European furnishings – enough to outfit the entire festival.

New to this year’s Oktoberfest is a group of young adult dancers tentatively called “The Fleckensteiners.”

“The name means ‘speckled stone’ and it seems to fit because we are kind of a little old, a little new,” said Marilyn Hall, who’s been sewing costumes since July while striving to assemble the group around a troupe of crazy schedules.

Their dances come straight from Germany – via YouTube, a video-sharing Website. They chose traditional German dances with a modern flair, making them refreshing to watch or perform, Hall said.

“There are a lot of extra moves and more athleticism,” she said. The group’s costumes were inspired by some that were donated last year, something Hall says happens often.

Generally known as the Oktoberfest Keeper of the Costumes, Hall is always on the hunt for costume components along with her sister Teresa Bryant, Bev Fleckenstein and Nan Fleck, all longtime dance orchestrators for the festival. Most were part of the addition of dancing schoolchildren from St. Mary School to the festival at least 20 years ago.

While a friend took on the men’s costumes, Hall let her imagination go with the dresses: red tops and black skirts accented with an apron of “shimmery, see-through red organza.”

As has been the case, the idea received a green light and a budget when presented to Jerry and Connie Lauzon and the Oktoberfest board.

“All these years anything I’ve ever asked him in regard to dancing, he’s said ‘sure,’” said Hall.

“We keep pushing to be as authentic as possible half a world away from Germany,” Lauzon said. “But we also belong to Mount Angel; to Oregon, so we have elephant ears, unheard of in German, alongside the sausage. Both are what we’re all about. We remain very traditional in what we need to be.”

The O’fest is also very modern in its methods of promoting the festival.

“We’ve got over 3,400 friends on Facebook and are approaching 3 million hits to our Website,” said Lauzon.

Lauzon’s motive behind all the year-round work that goes into making an Oktoberfest – one named among the top 10 in the country by several travel and tourism organizations – is down to earth.

“I wrote a prayer today that God will keep our many visitors safe and free from harm and that they return home in wonderment and awe of the Creator’s bounty and with love for one another; that they have participated in something really important,” he said.

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