Feature image from 2018 Oktoberfest
BY CORIE LYNN
Oktoberfest is a 49-year-old tradition that is returning to Hays alongside Fort Hays State University alumni.
“Everything is a big go,” said Tom Bird, a board member of the Hays Volga-German Society.
The Volga-German Society began the Hays Oktoberfest in the 1970s as a celebration of the area’s Volga-German heritage.
Today, the event coincides with FHSU’s homecoming and is filled with vendors from the university and the Hays area.
The event’s planners host Oktoberfest over two days, the second day being focused on family-friendly activities and food.
Last year, though, COVID-19 forced the cancelation of Oktoberfest.
However, the Volga-German Society hosted what Bird described as a mini Oktoberfest, where local restaurants were promoted. That included Defiance Brewery’s release of the Hayzenbrau beer at four restaurants.
“We had to keep the Oktoberfest tradition alive a little bit,” Bird said.
This year, there will be no modifications for COVID-19, though Bird said guests are welcome to socially distance themselves and mask at their own discretion.
As with previous years, the 2021 Oktoberfest will see heavy involvement from the FHSU community.
“We have 16 student groups fundraising during Oktoberfest,” Bird said.
One such group is the Criminal Justice Club, which hosts a booth at the event each year.
Abby Hayes, treasurer and secretary of the Criminal Justice Club, said the group plans to sell soda and water to fundraise for speakers, conferences, trips and educational opportunities.
“Oktoberfest is a great opportunity for clubs at Fort Hays to interact with the Hays community,” Hayes said. “It helps the clubs not only be recognized by other clubs on campus but also community members that care about the club’s cause.”
According to Bird, Oktoberfest has long been tied to FHSU through the university’s homecoming weekend. Its parade even ends at the event’s grounds.
Though it remains a significant part of FHSU’s own traditions, the real importance of the event lies instead in the roots of the area’s settlers.
“A lot of the small towns around (Hays) have Volga-German heritage,” Bird said.
The combined celebration of heritage and homecoming fills the weekend with energy, organizers said. It is that energy that Bird is most excited to see returning to the Hays community.
It is also that energy that the Volga-German Society is hoping will spur the event’s growth as it did when Oktoberfest was expanded to two days in 2019.
“We want to grow Oktoberfest into an even larger event,” Bird said.
This year, Hays locals, FHSU students and visitors can visit the Oktoberfest grounds from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
A full schedule of events is available on the Oktoberfest website.