By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Some years the weather at Oktoberfest, the annual open-air festival held on the Friday of Fort Hays State University homecoming, calls for flip flops, shorts and sunglasses.

Other years, such as this one, galoshes, raincoats and umbrellas are needed.

The rain started Thursday afternoon and continued intermittently through Friday leaving the Oktoberfest grounds at Frontier Park an obstacle course of mud puddles.

City crews tried to improve conditions by spreading mulch over some of the soggiest areas "trying to make a trail for them," said Mark Augustine, Hays Parks Department employee.

FHSU alumni Alyson Taylor-Smith, Rose Hill and Heather Oestmann, Denver, were undaunted by the weather.

"Every year we come, it seems to be a little wet, so we always pack shower caps," Smith said as she and Oestmann sported pink shower caps and clear raincoats.

The rain didn't hamper the traditional opening ceremony.

"Everybody always asks me to pray for rain," Father Joshua Werth said before giving the invocation. "You're welcome."

Tom Haas gave the Volga-German Society welcome in German and English, greeting area communities.

"A good rain is better than dirt blowing," he told the crowd, huddled under umbrellas.

Former Fort Hays State University President Edward Hammond, who represented FHSU for 27 years, took it all in stride.

"This isn't the worst weather we've ever had," Hammond said, reminding the crowd of the year it snowed.

Hammond was recognized for his work with the Volga-German Society.

FHSU President Mirta Martin tapped the ceremonial keg and glasses were raised. Then came a new tradition, the ringing of a brass bell and the event was underway. Each booth also had a bell to ring at the opening.

Martin received a souvenir bell commemorating the event.

Oktoberfest emphasizes the area's Volga-German history, heritage and food, which meant bierocks, green bean dumpling soup and kuchen.

The event is a fundraising opportunity for student and civic organizations.

Some sold t-shirts, Oktoberfest mugs and bells, and others North Central Kansas Technical College students sold traditional food items.

The NCK Tech students also sold pretzel necklaces, an idea they found on the internet, John Zimmer said.

The damp weather wasn't a bother for Brent Roy, who was helping in the NCK-Tech booth and attending his first Oktoberfest.

"It could be colder," he said.

The rain and mud hurt business for some organizations, so tables were set up on the northwest side of Lewis Field Stadium. Approved organizations could sell merchandise before Saturday's football game.