Hospitality: Mount Angel reflects on the continuing spirit of Oktoberfest

September 2015 Posted in Community
Philis Schmidt designing the 2015 Harvest Monument.

Philis Schmidt designing the 2015 Harvest Monument.

By Kristine Thomas

Gemutlichkeit.

It’s a German word that is a little challenging to pronounce, yet it precisely describes Mount Angel’s Oktoberfest.

Gemutlichkeit is about people laughing as they perform the “Chicken Dance,” or greeting friends working at one of the more than 50 Alpine Chalet food booths.

It describes the joy of the dancers performing the Maypole, the excitement to hear music in one of the “gartens,” and the cheers at any of the sporting events or the Kindergarten.

Gemutlichkeit describes the happiness of gathering together to celebrate once again another Oktoberfest, a festival some locals describe just like Christmas but in September.

Mount Angel Oktoberfest President Chris Bischoff is thankful to community members for welcoming “so many friends and strangers in the tradition of Gemutlichkeit.”

“Gemutlichkeit is the warm comfortable feeling of being all together,” Oktoberfest Public Relations Director Monica Bochsler said. “Mount Angel’s Oktoberfest is about young and old, families and strangers, all being together to celebrate.”

What amazes many people is how Mount Angel’s Oktoberfest has survived for 50 celebrations, despite rainy weekends, downturns in the economy, changes and 911.

Whatever may be happening in the rest of the world, in Mount Angel the tradition of hospitality continues.

Motivation

It was Pete Wall’s first stint as city administrator when he learned how Mount Angel’s Oktoberfest functioned with precision.

“It was my first week on the job when all these people descended on Mount Angel,” he said, “and I saw how everything was organized and fell together.”

He credits the success of Oktoberfest to its board of directors.

50th Mount Angel Oktoberfest
Throughout downtown Mount Angel Sept. 17-20
11 a.m. – Midnight Thursday, Friday, Saturday
Closes at 9 p.m. Sunday

“Although the members may change, the motivation to host a successful festival stays the same,” Wall said. “There is a tradition of dedication by the board members to continually improve the festival year-after-year.”

Wall said he thinks board members and volunteers are motivated by the rewards of their work. Each year, the festival gives back to local communities as well as provides a venue for nonprofits to host a food booth.

“There is a sense of obligation to the festival,” he said, “and what it provides to Mt. Angel and local communities.”

Working Together

Mary Grant said Mount Angel’s Oktoberfest is truly a goodwill festival with everyone working together.

“There is the right amount of magic that makes it successful every year,” Grant said.

Like Wall, Grant attributes the festival’s longevity to its board of directors which works countless hours throughout the year and during the festival.

“None are paid. It’s an all-volunteer organization,” said Grant, who was the festival’s only woman president.

Realizing the festival was becoming too rowdy, Grant helped start the Weingarten as board president.

“I wanted a place where families could go. Wine was also becoming a bigger industry in the state of Oregon,” Grant said.

To make it an instant success, Grant invited Mount Angel’s Z Musikmakers to play at the first Weingarten, something the Zollner family has continued for more than two decades.

Grant is proud of how each board president has added something to enhance the festival and adhere to its high standards.

Dave Kohler has been a board member for 32 years. He attended his first Oktoberfest in 1969 when he was a student at the University of Portland. In 1971, he moved to Mount Angel.

“Volunteers are what make the festival happen,” Kohler said. “Mount Angel’s Oktoberfest is a good way to give back to community. I enjoy working with all the volunteers and the money we raise makes a difference not only in Mount Angel but also other communities.”

Kohler is proud the festival adheres to Bavarian traditions with its music, dance and food.

“You don’t have to go to Germany to feel like you are there,” Kohler said.

For Kohler, the word Gemutlichkeit describes what he sees as he walks downtown or visits one of the venues.

“What I really like is seeing so many people have a great time,” Kohler said. “If I go to any of the venues, people are smiling and enjoying themselves.”

One Goal

Willie Verboort has never missed an Oktoberfest since he attended his first when in 1966 when he was 21 years old. He served 14 years on the board, including as president.

Over the years, he has seen the board members make “tough decisions.”

“One thing I give all the board members credit for is when we made a decision, even if someone didn’t agree with it, they supported the decision and they left the table as friends,” Verboort said. “Everyone worked together as a team and there was no crying if you didn’t get your way.”

Verboort believes that’s why Oktoberfest has continue for 50 years.

“Everyone is pulling together as a team,” he said.

Current board president Chris Bischoff believes what makes Mount Angel’s Oktoberfest unique is it is the largest all-volunteer festival on the West Coast.

“And probably the galaxy,” he said.

Considering other festivals take place in large cities with built in attendees, it amazes Bischoff to see how in Mount Angel grass fields become parking structures and hotels. Tractors become mass transit. And the population of the town adds two zeros to the end.

As a child, Bischoff recalls the apple butter cake made by the Butte Creek School volunteers.

“It was even before I went to a festival,” he said. “We would always get leftover cake for lunch after Oktoberfest was over. I remember always thinking I can’t wait another year for another piece.”

Looking back at the first festival, Monica Bochsler is amazed the volunteers decided to try again.

“The first year, the food booths ran out of food because they had no idea how many people would come. They didn’t have outhouses or cash boxes.

“Their success the first year almost did them in,” she said. “The group devoted itself to better planning for the next year.”

Laughing, Bochsler said some people still remember the “sticker era.”

“Because of the hard work of many people, the festival has gone from a rambunctious party to a family festival with great food, music, entertainment and drink,” she said.

What has made the festival successful for 50 celebrations is it has been true to what it is.

“We have never stopped being a Bavarian festival. When people visit the Mount Angel Oktoberfest, they will hear German music, see German dancing and experience what it would like to be in a German village,” Bochsler said. “Mount Angel’s Oktoberfest is about tradition.”

Nann Fleck will take a new role at this year’s Oktoberfest. Instead of coordinating dancers, she will be working with the Mount Angel Police Department.

It was at the 25th celebration of Oktoberfest that Mary Grant asked Fleck to teach the local children the Maypole dance.

“Once we started with one dance, we kept building the tradition of dancing from there,” she said.

The dancing was one way to change the image of Mt. Angel’s festival from being a rowdy party with beer and meat stickers to a family friendly event with children and adults dressed in German attire.

“I remember when there were meat stickers reading “fresh choice, prime cut or Blitz me,” Fleck said. “The stickers were everywhere from street signs to sidewalks.”

She’s proud of how hard many people have worked to make the festival what it is today.

“There is happy music, great dancing, good food and beautiful weather,” Fleck said. “It’s a place to bring your family.”

What many people don’t know is once one Oktoberfest is over, plans begin for the next year.

“There are a lot of incredible people who make this event happen,” she said. “It takes a lot of dedication and hard work. It’s incredible to see the town transform on Wednesday night when the nonprofits bring in the food booths and everything gets set-up.”

One of Fleck’s favorite memories of Oktoberfest is when she had a first date with this guy and they were walking in the pouring down rain when he guided her to a store awning to escape the rain.

“That guy was Don Fleck,” she said, laughing.

She likes that Oktoberfest is a time to show off Mt. Angel and how it gives nonprofit agencies the opportunity to make some money.

“I am amazed each year how we are able to set up and then fold away the festival, until the next year when we do it again.”

Philis Schmidt has made the Harvest Monument for 14 years. As she carefully placed an assortment of flower and vegetable seeds, beans and other items on a board to create this year’s monument, she reflected to a time when she thought Mt. Angel’s Oktoberfest was “not her kind of festival.”

“I had little kids and I wasn’t sure about taking them there because it was too rowdy,” she said, adding she’s proud of all the work the board members have done to create a family festival.

“Now, the festival is welcoming,” Schmidt said. “It’s a warm hospitality and it’s comfortable. It’s a place you can take your grandchildren.”

Just as she considers each detail of the eight panels for the Harvest Monument, Schmidt said the board of directors consider each and every detail of the festival, down to minute items the public would never notice.

She praises the board members for the work.

“The board members are incredibly generous,” Schmidt said. “They are involved in their church and other civic activities and still make time for Ofest. They are really community spirited people.”

Gemutlichkeit is how the festival ends and begins each year.

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