I arrived at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in August of 2011, eager but looking forward to one day transferring to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I had always wanted to be a Wisconsin Badger, but due to curriculum availability, professor relations, and the price of tuition I stayed at La Crosse, nonetheless questioning my purpose in the city.
That question was answered on Saturday, September, 22 2012 when I was blessed with the chance to represent the city and Oktoberfest U.S.A. as Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2012. Fest was the following weekend and I was quickly thrown into a crazy, fast paced schedule-meeting tons of new people (thank goodness for name buttons) and being escorted from event to event all while balancing my studies as a college sophomore. Fast forward to now, working in my professional career as a news reporter for News 19 in La Crosse, I’ve encountered a number of people who’ve expressed a dislike for Oktoberfest every year (usually with them not knowing I’m a former Miss). Of course, I love to question them and figure out why they’re displeased with the event. People have told me they avoid the grounds, don’t like their children to be around the “party” scene, and hate the “chaotic” traffic it draws to the area. From an insider’s perspective I can tell you that while this perception holds some (very little) truth, there are many other positive aspects of Oktoberfest in La Crosse and quite frankly long-lasting benefits to the community that reach much further than a three day festival. Don’t believe me? Let me enlighten you…
- Family and Friends: All of the workers both paid and unpaid, royal family members (Did you know there’s a royal family? Because some people don’t. I’ll get to that shortly.), and Grenadier Corps are believe it or not, normal people who live, work, and play in La Crosse. Many of them have families of their own and children that they choose to surround by the gemütlichkeit of fest. Why? Because they know the long lasting, positive impact that the festival and organization as a whole create.
- Embracing Our Roots: Oktoberfest in La Crosse officially began in 1961, but the ideas and planning commenced much sooner. In 1960 civic leaders from the area agreed that a community wide event was needed since they had been without one since 1921. Deciding ultimately on the fall because it’s the time when the leaves change and it marks the end of harvest, an ideal time for a little relief and community fun. Oktoberfest U.S.A. got it’s start on 6th and State Streets where the First Federal Bank once stood, it was the site of the carnival games and rides. The very first Maple Leaf got it’s start going down Main Street, before it began growing and was moved to the Northside. Now it makes its way down Copeland Avenue to Downtown La Crosse.
- Tourism Revenue: In 2014 Oktoberfest was part of three studies that analyzed the economic impact of the festival for the area. The studies were conducted by the Economics Department at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and West Salem High School’s DECA. In sum, they discovered that the celebration generates roughly $15 million and creates 200 jobs. High school students found that out of 413 random individuals interviewed along the two parade routes, residents from 70 different zip codes were identified spanning communities in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and of course, Wisconsin! READ MORE HERE: Oktoberfest Impact Study
- A Year of Service: To those directly involved with the festival, it’s a 365 days a year job. Family members, the Grenadier Corps, and volunteers travel to countless parades during the spring, summer, and into the fall showing their support for other communities, showcasing Wisconsin’s rich German heritage, and of course increasing excitement for fest. They also have a rigorous volunteer schedule. Whether it’s large community events, visiting a local nursing home, taking part in a school function, cleaning up a local highway, or assisting in a fundraising effort of some sort they are some of the most compassionate people you will ever meet.
- Royal Family, Ambassadors: The royal family consists of a Festmaster (equatable to a king) and his Frau, a Mrs. Oktoberfest, Torchlight Parade Marshal, Maple Leaf Parade Marshal, Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest, and Special Fester. The Festmaster, Mrs. O and parade marshals are all chosen based on a community nomination process and are candidates who lead with a servant’s heart on a daily basis, giving back to the community in various facets. The Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest title is part of the Miss Wisconsin and Miss America Organizations and although it’s a scholarship program which entails a pageant, the titleholder spends her year volunteering her time with a mission to make a positive impact. Finally, the Special Fester is a young student in the area who has a disability. This position is also chosen on a nomination basis and many of the past representatives and their families credit the organization with helping them come out of their shell and open up as a person.
Five and half years have passed since I served as an ambassador for La Crosse and Oktoberfest and I would not change my decision to stay in this beautiful city for anything. It was the selfless volunteers with the Grenadier Corps, my personal Oktoberfest Royal Family, past family members, and my volunteerism in the community that without me even realizing it, helped influence me to change my career path from one I was forcing myself down, to one that I love. It was my involvement with the program that led me to an internship due to mutual connections. That internship position in turn led me to meeting one of my very best friends that God so graciously allowed my heart to open up to. Not to mention, countless relationships and opportunies I would have never had the chance to experience had it not been for Oktoberfest.
Prost to the Mississippi River’s incredible West Coast! If you didn’t know a lot about the heart and sweat behind the festival itself, I hope this message changed your viewpoint. The next time you’re contemplating saying something negative about one minuscule part the atmosphere Fest creates I hope you remember just how positive the celebration is economically speaking for the City of La Crosse. And I truly hope you make plans to come out and enjoy Oktoberfest, September 28 through October first.
MORE INFORMATION: Oktoberfest U.S.A.