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Homecoming, Oktoberfest bigger and better than ever

10/2/2012

Forty years ago, folks at Fort Hays State University and the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce saw a need. And they acted.

The university's Homecoming was a long-established tradition at the time, but something was lacking. What could be done to draw the local community more fully into the annual FHSU event and, as a result, draw more out-of-town visitors and help local businesses? Oktoberfest, a perfect fit for Ellis County, was born.

Forty years later, we saw an opportunity. And we acted.

As a result, the 40th edition of Oktoberfest on Friday will be bigger and better than ever. The celebration of our community's Volga-German heritage will be expanded to include two venues.

The original Oktoberfest venue will continue south of the dike in Frontier Park with beer, music, food and an assortment of booths. A new venue, immediately north of the dike in Municipal Park, will be called "Honor our Heritage Day." It will be alcohol-free and more family-friendly, featuring a wide variety of demonstrations and activities celebrating the history and traditions of Ellis County.

This expansion of Oktoberfest has been a big undertaking. The university and the chamber have participated, along with our longtime partner, the Volga German Society. And we have added a fourth partner, the Ellis County Historical Society.

The Volga German Society will continue to manage the original Oktoberfest venue, as it has done for many years. The historical society, seeing this as a perfect fit for its mission, agreed to manage the Heritage Day activities. It's a big job, and we appreciate their help.

So much potential was not being realized. Oktoberfest is an iconic German tradition, and given the majority influence of Volga-Germans in all facets of our local community, it only made sense to emphasize that heritage with the special demonstrations and activities in the new venue.

Fortunately, director Don Westfall and the historical society were willing to take on the task of organizing the new venue.

We also have a corporate sponsor, Eagle Communications of Hays. Eagle has been an indispensable part of this expansion process. By stepping up as the sole corporate sponsor, Eagle has provided much-needed resources and, with so much to be done, has made the process much simpler than it would have been if we had needed to seek out multiple sponsors.

And we're not done yet.

In future years, we plan to expand the annual Oktoberfest/Homecoming festivities even further by starting Wednesday and working with the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau to attract bus tours for new Wednesday and Thursday activities.

The first big public event to kick off this year's Oktoberfest/Homecoming is the bonfire rally at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on the east lawn of the Robbins Center on the FHSU campus.

For a full schedule of Homecoming events and ticket information, visit goforthaysstate.com or call (785) 628-4430.

It's going to be a great four days. I hope to see you there.

Edward H. Hammond is president of Fort Hays State University.