THE HISTORY OF THE SEYMOUR OKTOBERFEST
Welcome to Seymour, Indiana, the home of the annual Seymour Oktoberfest! Seymour is located in beautiful southern Indiana, an hour south of Indianapolis and an hour north of Louisville, on Interstate 65, where it crosses U.S. 50. Seymour is a small city, with a population of around 20,000 people, and many of the people who live there have been there all their lives, with many relatives scattered throughout Jackson County. However, during the past 30 years, the city has grown, both in population and opportunities, and the many new industries that are now located here have brought many people into the area from all over the country, and, indeed, all over the world. We now have people of many different ethnic groups, and even different nationalities, who now make Seymour their home. They agree with the locals that Seymour is a nice place to live, with progressive city government, an up-to-date library, a modern hospital, beautiful parks, and a wonderful school system. All the advantages of small town living, while being able to access larger cities within an hour’s drive, make Seymour a great place to raise a family.
Seymour is also the hometown of rock star John Mellencamp. Although he has not attended the Oktoberfest for the past few years, he was the Grand Marshall in one of the early parades, and members of his world-wide fan club, the Mellenheads, have held conventions in Seymour during the Oktoberfest.
In 1972, members of the Seymour Jaycees, an active civic group made up of young men who were very interested in community service, made a visit to Tell City, Indiana, where a street festival was held by the residents. Those representatives returned with the idea that Seymour could have a street festival of its own, reminiscent of the street fairs of long ago. In looking through the history of Seymour, it was found that a street fair was held in downtown Seymour on September 27-October 2, 1897, with exhibits by farmers, stages having continuous shows, and booths with food for sale, and vaudeville entertainment. This street fair is described in the First Documented History of Jackson County, Indiana 1816-1976 (Volume I) by Edwin J. Boley.
These three men, Bob Zickler, Roger Sutton, and Steven Kiel, brought their recommendation to the Mayor, Chris Moritz, who agreed with them that this would be a great idea for Seymour. He also felt strongly that the city of Seymour needed a festive occasion to bring about community understanding and cooperation, while promoting a healthy attitude of pride for the city. He gave his full blessing, and promised to work with other city officials in planning a festival. With that much decided, Mayor Moritz held more meetings concerning the policies and planning of this festival to be. It was decided that the sponsoring group of the festival should not be a profit-making one. For this reason, the Seymour Chamber of Commerce was asked to sponsor the festival, because they were a promotional organization. Larry Krukewitt, then in his first year as Executive Director of the Chamber, became the official leader of the festival plan.
With the help of the Jaycees and other city and civic leaders, Krukewitt, Moritz, and others set up guidelines for the first Seymour festival, to be held in the fall of 1973. Steve Kiel had suggested a German festival, as many families in Jackson County were descended from a German heritage, and the name “Oktoberfest” patterned after the Oktoberfests held annually in Germany. Two people were asked to chair the original committee: Tom Fettig and Opal Fosbrink. , Larry Krukewitt, and Chamber secretary Janet Garrison worked closely with them. It was decided that the first full weekend in October would be an ideal time for the festival. The site was to be the downtown streets of Seymour, and local clubs, sororities and service organizations were to be encouraged to have booths to promote and to raise funds for their particular charities. It was planned that the Elks Club would have a biergarten in its parking lot, because of its proximity to the festival area.
Each booth was to carry out the Bavarian theme, with decorations and costumed workers. Mayor Moritz suggested that a fund be set aside to install electric lines to power the booths. The Indiana-American Water Company donated the water needed for booth operations for many years.
Other activities were added: a Mayor’s reception, a parade on Saturday, entertainment, carnival rides, a flea market, an antique show, and a Prince and Princess contest for children. The first one - the 1973 Seymour Oktoberfest, was a great success. Booths were borrowed from the local Boy Scouts organization, in return for a donation. After the booths were set up the Wednesday before opening day, a furious rainstorm hit the city, and by Thursday morning, many of the booths and their contents were washed away. With the help of all available city employees, the booths were reconstructed that afternoon and at 6:00 p.m., the first Oktoberfest officially began.
A great time was had by all participants. More people flocked downtown than people anticipated, and citizens of the area were excited to have an event that the whole family could enjoy. There was a nation-wide gas shortage that summer, so many families had been unable to enjoy their usual vacations away from home. The Oktoberfest provided them with a fun time, right in their own backyard. A car was procured by a local merchant, and raffled off to make money to help pay for some of the expenses of the festival. From this small beginning, the Oktoberfest has flourished throughout the years. It is always held the first weekend of October, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. each day. Many city employees were called upon to help with the event. Mayor Moritz was a great supporter of the Oktoberfest, and one of the most memorable city workers to assist that year and for many years thereafter was a city employee named Dick Lauf. Dick was always there, in his Bavarian costume, cheering on the efforts of all the vendors and adding a spirit of fun to the festival. It was decided to appoint a volunteer board and have an Oktoberfest every year. and the original chairmen, as well as Mayor Moritz and Dick Lauf, and other volunteers who were enthused about the downtown event, worked with organizing and making the festival bigger and better. Every year since, , the volunteer board has worked to make the event one of the most outstanding festivals in Indiana. Tom Fettig, one of the original board members, remained on the board for 38 years, until his death in 2010.
As the event became bigger and better each year, with thousands coming from all over the country, many began coming back to Seymour to enjoy seeing old friends, and have family reunions at this last outdoor event before the winter began. A Board of Directors was named, and Seymour Oktoberfest, Inc., was founded. After achieving their non-profit status, establishing by-laws and Articles of Incorporation, the board was able to take what profits they made to pay for electricity, advertising, insurance, and other costs of the event to make sure they would have enough to begin the next year's festival. Any extra proceeds, after expenses, was given back to the community in the form of donations for various needs, including band uniforms, Boys and Girls Club Projects, help with scholarships, and contributions to many different causes. This policy has continued throughout the years, with enough money saved each year to make sure the next year’s festival will happen, and any extra profit donated back to the community.
Each year since its inception, each Mayor, and the city council members, have strongly supported the Oktoberfest. Indeed, without the help of the city, it would be impossible to have such an event. It is a vital part of the festival to have city crews help with the many details of setup, cleanup, security, etc. Some donations are made back to the city to reimburse them for their work, but without the many workers made available throughout the three-day event by the city, the Oktoberfest would not be the great event that it is today.
Now, many years later, the Oktoberfest has become a vital part of our community’s lives. Civic And service organizations plan early to enter their booths, many of them constructed with great care and detail, and get volunteers from their organization to man them. Much of the money
that they need to support their projects is raised at the festival each year. Each year's festival includes over 130 booths selling food of all descriptions, arts and crafts items, and activities such as basketball shoots, grab bags, football throws, and sand art. Free entertainment on three stages provides a variety of acts performing continuously each evening and all day on Saturday. A biergarten is located on Second Street, and is sponsored by a local civic organization each year. . A carnival is set up in one parking lot, a giant parade is held on Saturday, a prince & princess contest, a hot-air balloon race, a flea market, a biergarten, a horseshoe tourney, 5K run and walk, a baking contest, baby contest, talent contest, Polka and Chicken dance contest, brat eating contest, and hot air balloon glow and race are all a part of the events planned. A special area is set aside for children 10 and under, with inexpensive craft projects, story telling, and visits from storybook characters.
The Oktoberfest purchases several thousand dollars in in radio, tv, and newspaper advertising to let people know about the festival. The event requires electric and water supplies, bathroom facilities, first aid and baby changing areas, safety preparations, and coordination of all the activities. The Oktoberfest employs members of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department to drive the shuttle from the high school parking lot to help with crowded parking conditions, and pays the Rockford Methodist Church members to clean tables and empty trash. The ABATE Club is hired to provide security each night for the booths and their contents after the festival closes at eleven p.m. and until re-opening in the morning. The Jackson County Health Department is a vital part of the festival, as they check to insure that all health regulations are observed at the food booths. The Fire Department and the Building Commissioner’s office checks each booth to make sure they have fire extinguishers and are observing proper safety precautions. A fire-retardant chemical is purchased by the Oktoberfest each year, and the firemen spray all the decorations used by the booths to make sure there will not be a problem with a fire. Jackson County Ambulance provides a first-aid tent and immediate service for any health needs that may occur during the festival. An information booth in the center of the festival provides information, lost and found, and help to the festival goers who have lost parents or need to know where something is located. Oktoberfest board members are also on hand to give any help needed.
A twenty-member volunteer board now organizes the festival, and members work year round to set up the annual activity. The current Oktoberfest Board Members are as follows: Martha McIntire, Chairman of the Board; Kathy Mead, President; Kay Schwade, Vice-President; Jana Plump, Secretary, and Bob Doriot, Treasurer. Other members are Brad Lucas, David McIntire, Bill Abbott, Cindy Ruddick, Randy Schafer, Robert Becker, Richard Schwade, Dick Wilde, Ben Stahl, Jim Fouts, Marla McNabb, Jeff Vance, and Jeremy Gray. . Mayor Craig Luedeman is an ex-officio member of the board. Board members are all volunteers, and receive no pay for their services.
The Oktoberfest has become an important facet of our community. College students plan their first weekend home to allow them to attend Oktoberfest. Relatives from out of state plan their vacations around the Oktoberfest. Some reunions of school classes are held over the weekend, since everyone will be in town, anyway. New residents are amazed at the congeniality, the crowds of people, and the fun that may be enjoyed by all during the three-day festival. Nursing homes bring van loads of people, some in wheelchairs, to enjoy the fun. Daycare facilities bring their children for a walk through the festival, to enjoy the music and activity. Brady's carnival is set up in the city parking lot with rides for all ages. German music prevails throughout the day, and a German Band (the Schulhaus 4+3) plays each evening and all day on Saturday, providing an area to polka, bunny-hop, or just watch and listen. The ZweiteB Strasse (Second Street) Dancers are there on Friday and Saturday evening to provide help in learning the polka. A Polka and a Chicken Dance contest is also held on Saturday night of the Oktoberfest. A Bluegrass festival is held nightly on the south stage of the festival. Bluegrass fans bring their lawnchairs or sit on the bleachers to enjoy a whole evening of bluegrass provided by various bands that are well-known throughout Indiana and surrounding states. A variety of other entertainment, including bands, singers, cloggers, and dancers of all varieties perform for the enjoyment of their audience. All entertainment is free of charge. In recent years, an Alphorn group has come to entertain, as well as an accordian duo, Les and Mary, from Ohio, who walk through the streets entertaining the people. Lester Tracy, a local music collector, also walks through the festival with his hand grinder organ, to the delight of those festival goers.
The parade is one of the biggest in southern Indiana, and the streets are lined on Saturday afternoon with excited watchers to enjoy the many bands, floats, clowns, fire trucks, scout units, dance teams, color guards, and many other entries. Many local companies and organizations help sponsor special activities at the Oktoberfest. Larry E. Nunn and Associates sponsors a baking contest each year, with prizes awarded to the best pies and cakes made by local bakers. The Jackson County Community Theater works with the Oktoberfest to sponsor a talent show on Saturday, with trophies and ribbons awarded to the winners in four age groups. The Relay for Life team sponsors a baby contest on Saturday morning. The Oktoberfest Committee, with the sponsorship of Circle K and Pepsi Cola Bottlers of Seymour, holds a brat-eating contest on Saturday evening. The Noon Lions Club has an official Oktoberfest sweatshirt designed and printed for festival goers who desire a useful souvenir of the event. The Sertoma Club sells an official Oktoberfest Beer stein, as well as other memorabilia of the festivals through the years. The First Methodist Church sponsors a flea market in their parking lot. The Tribune, Seymour’s local daily newspaper, sponsors the parade each year, donating trophies, participant ribbons, and publicity. Local merchants downtown cooperate with the need to shut down streets during the festival, decorate their windows, and hold special Oktoberfest sales during the three-day festival. PNC Bank allows their parking lot to be used for the biergarten, which is run each year by local civic organizations. The Seymour Community School system allows the free use of their parking lot for extra cars, so the shuttle can take them to the downtown area, and allows the use of their softball practice field for the hot air balloon race, sponsored by the Oktoberfest and RE/MAX Professionals. Both children and adults enjoy the colorful spectacle as they walk among the balloons while they are inflated and rise into the air, in a breathtaking display that creates many picture taking opportunities.
Aisin, USA, Inc., sponsors “One Kids Square”, an activity where entertainment and activities are available for the 10 and under set. Crafts are available for coloring or creating, and storybook characters come to life in costume to visit with the children who stop by during the festival. Mom and Dad get a few moments to rest their feet while the young ones enjoy a special Oktoberfest spot just designed for them and their interests.
Through the years, donations from the profits received have been given to various good causes in the community. After expenses are paid, the profits are distributed to other causes. In 2007, commemorating the 35th year of the festival, the Seymour Oktoberfest donated $35,000 to various not-for-profit organizations in Seymour and surrounding Jackson County. In 2009, $20,000 was distributed to 30 different not-for profit agencies in Jackson County that are working to assist our people and to make others lives more meaningful. During the years 2010 and 2011, the board has paid to remodel the three stages, adding all new awnings, and rebuild all the electric boxes used to provide power to the booths downtown, and has purchased portable bleachers for the city to use both at the Oktoberfest and at other city and school functions.
The Seymour Oktoberfest has been good for the city of Seymour. The traditions set many years ago are still in place, and the festival has become a vital part of our community. Oktoberfest draws the community together, and gives them something to be proud of. In the year 2000, our local Seymour Oktoberfest was nominated by State Representative Baron Hill to become a part of the nation’s Local Legacies. Pictures and records of the festival have been placed in the Library of Congress. In Washington, D.C., joining many other prominent activities that take place all over the United States in many other communities. We feel it is an honor for our Oktoberfest to be incorporated in these permanent records of events that impact their communities.
As a result of the contributions that have been made by the Oktoberfest throughout the years, the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce announced that the Seymour Oktoberfest was named as the Corporate Citizen of the year for 2002 in the city of Seymour. The Seymour Oktoberfest continues to be a vital part of the activities in Seymour, Indiana, and has impacted the lives of many who live in and around our community.