WAUPUN — The traditions and tastes of Germany will continue in Waupun, thanks to an agreement by the Waupun Area Chamber of Commerce to take over Volksfest in 2020.
Last weekend’s 26th annual event was a swan song for longtime volunteers, but a call to action for the chamber and its younger volunteers.
“We’re getting older and we’re tired,” said 18-year volunteer Nancy Joas. “We’re running out of steam and can’t do the physical part any more. It’s time for some new blood to take over.”
The fall festival started in the alley behind Sigrid’s Bavarian Trail on Main Street. The retail store and restaurant was a fixture in downtown Waupun and owner Sigrid Bronkhorst was the force behind getting Volksfest started. She moved to Shawano many years ago, but returned to Waupun to celebrate the 20th festival in 2013.
The event changed locations as it grew. This year, it took place inside Waupun Community Center at 510 E. Spring St. An enormous tent housed the event in previous years.
Polka fans have proven to be made of sturdy stuff during some weather challenges over the years.
“One year, we had a tornado warning and we sent everyone home,” Joas said. “After the all-clear was sounded, they all came back.”
The event is free and self-supporting.
“We’ve got a lot of wonderful sponsors from both Waupun and throughout the area,” Joas said. “They’ve always made it possible for us to keep it a free event, and we’ve always had enough money to keep it going from one year to the next.”
A portion of revenue is also donated to local organizations that help run the event, as well as for civic causes such as the Waupun Police Department’s K-9 purchase fundraisers.
“The committee never takes any money for itself,” Joas said. “It all goes back to the community.”
Polka bands are the main attraction, although German beer, German food and German gemutlichkeit (good feelings) are abundant as well.
Volksfest loosely translates as a “festival for all people.”
Some of Wisconsin’s best polka bands are always featured, according to Joas.
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Food has included German favorites such as sauerbraten, schnitzel, fried fish and a host of traditional German side dishes. This year, the event featured a pig roast (spanferkel), another German specialty. Also new this year were wines from Vines & Rushes Winery in Ripon. The American Legion ran a beer stand.
Returning favorites include a pancake breakfast served by the Waupun Kiwanis and a performance by the Waupun’s high school polka band (the Warrior Blaskapelle) and a stumpf fiddle contest.
Joas estimates 3,000-4,000 guests have enjoyed the festival in its most successful years.
“We’ve had guests from across the USA and even from Canada,” she said. “A lot of people plan their vacations so they can join us. Polka fans are a dedicated group and they’re willing to travel to enjoy their favorite bands.”
Waupun Mayor Julie Nickel is happy that the festival will continue, and is grateful to the volunteers who have made a highlight of Waupun’s summer event calendar.
“I would like to thank Don Kehrmeyer, Steve and Nancy Joas, Derek Indermuehle, Eileen Westhuis and Karen Brown for all of their hard work putting this together,” Nickel said. “They have done a wonderful job of organizing this festival for many years.”
City Administrator Kathy Schlieve is also a fan.
“It’s one of the big three of Waupun festivals — Celebrate Waupun, Truck-N-Show and Volksfest,” she said. “I’m excited that there’s a group that wants to take it on and preserve some of the history that’s so important for Waupun. I think it’s great that there’s a volunteer pool that is ready to step up to keep it going, and I’m excited to work with them in the future.”
For a time, Volksfest was a three-day event, later reduced to two days and soon to be restarted as a one-day affair. The chamber has indicated the scaling back will occur in part so they can learn the complexities of organizing such a large event.
“The committee has been gracious to donate everything that goes with it — the tables, the dance floor, etc. — which will be a big asset for that event and for others as well,” said Chamber Executive Director Casey Despres. “We hope to provide a new perspective on it, and to build on what they’ve been doing successfully for so long.”
Longtime volunteers will continue as advisers during the transition, but don’t plan to do more than that.
“It’s time for us to sit back and enjoy it all,” Joas said. “We hope that the chamber will keep some of the German traditions, but it will ultimately be up to them to decide how they want to do. One thing for sure is that we wish them the very best.”
Next year’s event is planned for Saturday, Sept. 12.
“We’ve got a lot of wonderful sponsors from both Waupun and throughout the area. They’ve always made it possible for us to keep it a free event, and we’ve always had enough money to keep it going from one year to the next.” <&textAlign: right>Nancy Joas, Volksfest volunteer