Bryan Vogt here. The Oktoberfest just celebrated its 40th anniversary with great food, great music, and an amazing atmosphere that only this festival has. Not to mention all the activities and rides is has for the young and old. At the risk of dating myself, I was involved in the first-ever Oktoberfest, so I have some insights that most people don’t know about the event! With that. Here are the answers to 5 questions that I’ll bet you don’t know about the Oktoberfest!
Question 1: Where did the idea come from to start an Oktoberfest? The Belleville Jaycees were the ones that spearheaded the first Oktoberfest. For the first 8 or 9 years, the Jaycees ran everything. The food stands, Beer stands, soda stands, and whatever was needed to put on the event. However, the idea and driving force behind it came from Tom Schrag. At the time Tom was a Past President of the Jaycees and on a visit to Lacrosse Wisconsin, the headquarters of Stag beer at the time. He saw his first Oktoberfest and thought this kind of event would be great for Belleville!
Question 2: What was the name of the first Oktoberfest? It was called the Belleville Stag Oktoberfest. Since Stag brewery was still operating at the time it was decided, with some fierce debate at first to only have Stag beer for the event. And even though it meant with some resistance. In the end, it was the right call! And not until 1989 when the city of Belleville approached the Jaycees to combine the cities 175th birthday celebration with the Oktoberfest were other beers sold at the event and the name changed to the Belleville Oktoberfest
Question 3 What month was the first Oktoberfest held! Why October of course! Why would you hold an event called the Oktoberfest in any other month?
But maybe a better question is question number 4. Why did the event move to September? The event was held on the first weekend of October for the first 3 years, but mother nature wasn’t cooperating. So much so that on the 3rd year the event was virtually rained out for the entire weekend. So, it was decided to move it to the third weekend in September. But this caused another problem. How can you run an Oktoberfest in September? And that is exactly what Tom Schrag was asked by a reporter. And off the top of his head that he just made up, he said our harvest comes in earlier than other parts of the country. The reporter printed and the rest is history. But now you know the real reason it’s in September!
And finally question number 5. What was the real purpose behind starting the Oktoberfest? It was so the Jaycees could build a park in Belleville for the entire community. And that my friend was Tom Schrag’s idea There many other Jaycees along the way that helped. But Tom was the driving force for not only the Oktoberfest. That is the go-to event of the year. Where other civics groups raise 10’s thousands of dollars that they put back right into the community. But also,
after decades of twists and turns. Tom’s vision of having a Belleville Jaycee Park finally came to be. Where countless kids and grownups for generations to come will be able to enjoy!
So maybe if you know Tom. Or maybe if you don’t. The next time you see him you might want to give him a handshake and a big thank you for making the Oktoberfest and the park a reality. Or maybe just buy him a Stag beer!
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Until the next episode. Make it a great day!