HAYS — This past weekend’s 47th annual Volga German Oktoberfest was the first-ever as a 21-year-old for Isaiah Blackmon, Hays. Stopping at the Ellis County Historical Society’s booth on Friday morning, Blackmon paid $5 and bought one of the commemorative 2019 glass beer mugs.
“I just want a bit of memorabilia,” said Blackmon, who was at the festival with his friend Brendon Brenner, Ellis. “I’m from Hays and I’ve been here my whole life,” Blackmon said, “but this is my first year as a legal adult, so I can participate now.”
Brenner, also 21, was there for the bierocks and brats, he said, a tight end, No. 29, for the Fort Hays State University Tigers.
“It’s my first time as 21, too, but I’m on the football team, so I can’t drink, to keep us out of trouble,” Brenner said. “I came down here to eat.”
And that’s what it’s all about, said Nick Werth, vice president of the Volga-German Society, which puts on the cultural event each year.
“Eat, drink, sing, dance and have a lot of fun,” said Werth, talking over polka music played by the Joe Dolezal band on the stage in Municipal Park. “Oktoberfest goes on every year, rain or shine.”
The 2019 festival started Friday, as it has in the past, but this year for the first time, the organizers extended it to Saturday also.
Gates on Saturday opened following the FHSU Homecoming parade, which started at 11 a.m. Crowds lined both sides of the parade route along Main Street, watching the marching bands and other entries make their way from the north end of Main to the south, ending up in front of Oktoberfest.
“Today is crazy busy, the lines are 20 deep at each of the food vendors,” said Philip Kuhn, vice president of the Volga German Society. “The turnout is amazing for the second day. It was great having the parade lead everybody down here into the second day. Now people can stay and enjoy themselves and then go right into another FHSU activity, the tailgating and the game.”
Each year, at festival’s end, the organizers always take off a bit, then start their planning again for the next year, said Kuhn. With the success of the second day this year and the addition of heated tents, Kuhn said both of those will be back next year.
“The people involved in planning this put thousands of hours into this to get it going,” he said. “We’ll take three weeks off and then restart our meetings, and talk about what worked and didn’t work. We’ve already seen that we want more nonprofits and commercial vendors on the second day. We anticipated so many more people this year, and we hit that mark, and we anticipate there will be more next year.”
Society member Janel Werth Moore, also an organizer, was wearing a traditional German dirndl on Saturday.
Looking around at all the people strolling and eating and visiting, she said, “We’re pleasantly surprised to see this big crowd.”