By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

She has heard a lot about Oktoberfest and homecoming festivities in Hays.

Mirta Martin will get the chance to experience it all firsthand this week.

As president of Fort Hays State University, Martin will participate in her first Hays Oktoberfest by tapping the keg Friday morning in Frontier Park.

The kickoff of 2014 homecoming weekend -- whose theme this year is "Once Upon A Time in Tigerland" -- officially will begin at 11 a.m. with the opening ceremony of Oktoberfest, a longtime event that began more than 40 years ago as a way of celebrating the Volga-German heritage. A complete schedule of homecoming events can be found online at goforthaysstate.com.

Celebrations will continue throughout the weekend. On Friday, visitors to Frontier Park will get the chance to partake in German food and drinks while listening to polka music and browsing craft booths.

"I understand it's a great big event for community and alumni," said Martin, who was named the ninth president of FHSU in May. " ... a great way to celebrate the (Volga-German) heritage."

Embracing one's heritage is on the priority list of Martin, who took over in July for Edward Hammond, who retired from the presidency after 27 years. An immigrant from Cuba, she escaped the Communist regime with her grandmother and younger sister at age 5 and went to high school and college in America.

"For me, pride in heritage is everything," she said. "Your heritage is part of what your community is about."

Martin returned Sunday from a trip to her former home in Richmond, Va., where last week she served as a keynote speaker at a higher-education national conference.

She is on the road the first three days of this week before returning to Hays for a jam-packed weekend.

The bonfire and pep rally will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday near the Robbins Center, which will be preceded by a 5:30 p.m. social for alumni and friends at the Robbins Center.

Oktoberfest evening will feature the alumni and awards and recognition banquet at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Union. Winners of those awards are listed below.

Saturday will be filled with reunions and get-togethers leading up to that evening's homecoming football game at 7 p.m. against Missouri Western State University.

Highlighting Saturday's events will be the dedication of FHSU's newest academic building and the 1 p.m. parade in downtown Hays.

The dedication at the Center for Networked Learning is set for 10:30 a.m., when the building officially will be named Hammond Hall in honor of Hammond's service to the university. Hammond, who came to FHSU in 1987, was the longest-serving president in FHSU's 112-year history.

The lobby will be named the Dole Sisters Lobby in honor of former U.S. Sen. and U.S. Rep. Bob Dole, a native of Russell. Dole donated $100,000 to the building and asked the lobby be named after his sisters, Norma Jean Steele and Gloria Nelson, who both died in 2012.

The 91-year-old Dole plans to be in attendance, and Martin hopes the public partakes in the historical event as well.

"The entire community of Hays and western Kansas is part of the Fort Hays State family," she said. "Everyone is welcome to attend the dedications to show their respect and affection for Ed Hammond and Bob Dole."

* Alumni achievement award winners this year and their year of graduation are: Susan (Trout) Armstrong, '71; Dorothy (Gross) Knoll, '68, '76; Jeffrey Peier, '80; and Gene Schmidt, '61, '62. The young alumni award recipient will be Justin McClure, '00. The distinguished service award will go to Mike Karl, '72, '74. And the Nita M. Landrum Award winner is Patricia (Rhoades) Baconrind, '93.