HAYS, Kan. -- When it celebrates its 40th year on Friday,
Oct. 5, the Ellis County Oktoberfest will be bigger and better than ever.
The local Oktoberfest sprang four decades ago from the
combined efforts of Fort Hays State University, the Hays Area Chamber of
Commerce and county residents who shared a German ancestry. The idea was to
create an event to celebrate the essence of the community and complement the
university's Homecoming. It was intended to be the ideal town-gown partnership.
After the Volga German Society was organized a few years later, it took over
management of Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest began in downtown Hays, but large crowds soon
required that it be relocated to the city park on south Main Street. The
combined Oktoberfest-Homecoming festivities have swelled from the original two
days to four -- from Thursday through Sunday -- with many thousands of local
and out-of-town visitors each year.
Now another organization -- the Ellis County Historical
Society -- has joined the team, and the continuing spirit of cooperation will
produce an expanded Oktoberfest in two adjoining venues. The original
Oktoberfest will continue with beer, music, food and booths in Frontier Park,
and the alcohol-free and more family-friendly Honor our Heritage venue, celebrating
the history and traditions of Ellis County, will be added immediately north of
the dike in Municipal Park.
"There was so much potential that was not being
realized," said Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president and one of the
leaders of the expansion. "Oktoberfest is an iconic German tradition, and given
the majority influence of German descendants in all facets of our local
community, it only made sense to emphasize that heritage with special
demonstrations and activities. Fortunately, Don Westfall and the Historical
Society were willing to take on the task of organizing the new venue."
President Hammond also tipped his hat to Eagle Communications
of Hays, which has stepped up to be the one and only corporate sponsor for
Oktoberfest. "With Eagle, we have the resources we needed to expand, and
by having a single generous sponsor, it keeps the process simple," he
Communications is honored to be a part of the 40th Oktoberfest celebration in
Hays," said Gary Shorman, CEO of Eagle Communications. "The event
showcases the traditions of Ellis County, and Eagle has been a local tradition
since KAYS radio came on the air in 1948. We know it is a great partnership
with these organizations to celebrate Ellis County's heritage."
broadcast Oktoberfest coverage live on KAYS and HaysPost.com from the park
beginning at 7 a.m. with the Eagle Morning Show with Boomer and Mike. Other Eagle personalities will broadcast
throughout the afternoon. Festival goers who stop by Eagle’s booths in both
Municipal Park and Frontier Park will have opportunities to register for
prizes, including an iPad, and have their photo taken to be included on Eagle’s
Facebook page. One lucky person will win $50 in cash
Activities and demonstrations at the Honor our Heritage
venue will open at 9 a.m. on Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the Hays
Chamber, featuring a variety of speakers, including clergy, and a patriotic
song by Jackie Maxwell. Morning events, which are aimed at the schoolchildren
who will be attending, include demonstrations of butter churning, corn shelling,
rug braiding, soap making, goat milking, wool spinning, saddle making and wheat
weaving. Westfall said organizers were especially pleased that local schools,
including Hays High, TMP-Marian and FHSU, would participate by providing
The afternoon activities at the Honor our Heritage venue
will include presentations and reenactments on such topics as Boot Hill, the 7th
Cavalry, Elizabeth Custer, Wild Bill Hickok and Abraham Lincoln. The closing
ceremony at 5:30 will include music by Joe Dolezal.
"We are pleased to be a part of this and help represent
the rich history of Ellis County through our historical presenters," said
Donald Westfall, executive director of the Historical Society. "We look
forward to the continuation of the relationship with the other participating
The opening ceremony south of the dike will begin at 11 a.m.
It will include the tapping of the first keg, music by Joe Dolezal and a
"Everyone at the Chamber is honored to be part of this
community tradition," said Tammy Wellbrock, executive director. "We
all miss Francis Schippers, who played such a key role for so many years, and
we are proud to continue our association with his sister Eleanor Schippers and
the Volga German Society. It's more than an event for many people in Ellis
County; it's their passion. The spirit of the German settlers continues to be
seen in many ways, including Oktoberfest, which is such a unifying annual event
for both current and former citizens."
The first major public event to kick off the four days of
Oktoberfest/Homecoming is the bonfire rally at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, on
the east lawn of the Robbins Center on the FHSU campus.
The four days of activities will formally conclude with a
Polka Mass from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday at the Kansas National Guard Armory.
For a full schedule of Homecoming events and ticket
information, visit http://goforthaysstate.com or call 785-628-4430. A complete
schedule of events for the Oktoberfest celebration is available at
"The partnership of Oktoberfest and Homecoming has a
four-decade record of success, and we know this year's expanded version will
build on that proud history," President Hammond said. "In future
years, we plan to expand it further by starting a day earlier and working with
the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau to attract bus tours for new Wednesday
and Thursday activities."