We hope you enjoy this abbreviated version of the
Serving Frankenmuth Since 1906
Vol. 117 No. 48 - In our 117th year!
Wednesday, June 07, 2023
READY FOR A BUSY WEEKEND! Olivia Howard, the 2023 Frankenmuth Civic Events Council (CEC) president, is looking forward to spending the 64th annual Frankenmuth Bavarian Festival with her husband, Evan, and children, Calvin, 4 and Lorelei, 1.
CEC, the people behind the Bavarian Festival
By Mary Anne Ackerman,
Mayor of Frankenmuth
This weekend, we kick off the summer in Frankenmuth with our granddaddy of them all - the Bavarian Festival. For 64 years, the Bavarian Festival has survived the test of time - a long time for an event organized and operated by volunteers. I had the opportunity to meet with some people who have made it happen over the years and those responsible today. When I asked the question, "Why?" I heard these words over and over. Friends. Camaraderie. Accomplishment. Community. Stories. And lots of fun!
The Bavarian Festival began in 1959 when the Zehnder family expanded their original restaurant known as the Fischer Hotel. They held a grand opening week-long festival to celebrate their new Bavarian look with German cuisine and Bavarian-costumed servers. They continued this for two more years and then turned it over to the brand-new Frankenmuth Civic Events Council in 1962.
The early structure of the CEC included a representative from each Frankenmuth civic organization. Every group provided volunteers to run the event, and after the Festival each organization could count on receiving a portion of the proceeds. Over the years, Bavarian Festival attendance and profits began to decline. The civic organizations found other ways to raise funds. However, the CEC found ways to change, tweak and adapt the Festival many times over the years, and the Festival continued. I visited with several CEC past presidents to learn about the "secret sauce" of one of Frankenmuth's oldest volunteer organizations.
CEC past president Ron Hildner led the Festival in 1978. The drinking law age had been lowered to 18, which presented a new set of problems for the organization. But he laughed as he talked about the other "perceived problem." "There were large groups of motorcycle riders coming to the Festival. One group was led by a huge man named Tiny. He promised me he would make sure his people behaved! At night's end, they created a ramp and launched an old motorcycle into the Cass River!"
Charlie Nickless has been an active volunteer with the CEC for 60 years, serving as president in 1981. He commented, "The best part was getting to know many community members and working together.” For the last 20 years, Charlie has helped organize the parade. With a list of the parade entrees in hand, Charlie paces off how much space each entree will require and then marks their "space" with a wooden stake along Churchgrove, where they line up.
Making new friends was a common theme among everyone, especially those new to the community. Joe Cramer served as president of the CEC in 1995. "My time with the CEC made me who I am today. I was new to the community and didn't know many people. Everybody took responsibility for their area of the Festival and did it well. And when we forgot something, we still got it done." He recalled, "At about 10pm - hours before the Festival was to open - we realized we still needed to get a tree for the Maypole. So, we walked to the farthest corner of Heritage Park, cut down a tall, scrawny tree with just a bit of green at the top, and dragged it back to the festival grounds. Unfortunately, we got in a bit of trouble with the City when they noticed the sawdust trail!"
Jerry Thompson moved to Frankenmuth in 1989 to take a job with New Century Bank. He served as president of the CEC in 1998. He shared, "The CEC is how I connected with the community. I knew no one. I signed up to help as a festival volunteer. We had hundreds of volunteers - sometimes too many volunteers!" He laughed as he continued, "Sometimes, we would have volunteers paint the blue barrels in the parking lot. If we didn't have anything for the next shift of volunteers, we would ask them to repaint the barrels! Through the CEC, I met many people from different walks of life." He continued, "When I first volunteered, I heard someone call a person 'Doc.' I asked how he got the nickname and learned he was a physician! I couldn't believe a doctor was volunteering at the Festival!"
John Compton concurred. He explained, "In the early '80s, we lived on Rathbun Road, and I didn't know anyone. My neighbor Tom Zuellig pulled up and told me to jump in the car because we were going to set up for the Festival. At that time, setting up meant no forklifts. We carried everything, including the heavy stages and tables and chairs. It was hard work. I kept noticing people and asking Tom, 'Who's that guy?' I learned that the guy trimming the shrubs was Dick Krafft, who ran Star of the West, and the other guy was Tony D'Anna, who had just opened McDonald's! I loved it and decided if those guys could volunteer, so could I." John continued, "I never imagined I could be president of the CEC in 1996 - I was just a truck driver! But I watched and learned. It was the best experience that led to many more volunteer opportunities."
This year's CEC is under the direction of Olivia Howard. The fellowship of past and present CEC members came together on June 3 for an event they sponsor - the Bavarian Festival Princess Ball. The "tradition" was evident. So many former members of the Princess Court, dating back to 1963, attended to welcome the new princess and her court. They will continue the tradition of representing Frankenmuth at events across the State of Michigan. The ball was held at the Bavarian Inn - the origin of the first Festival. And the stories continued.
Past president Willy Rummel shared, "We got a lot done, and there was always such a sense of accomplishment following each Festival. I met a lot of friends I would have never known."
Dennis Krafft served as CEC President in 1992. He recollected, "There was so much camaraderie. People with volunteer hearts for the benefit of the community." And he emphasized, "We have a Blast!"
Tradition and family play an important role within the CEC. During his term, Joe Cramer recalled assigning the Princess Ball responsibilities to his wife, Kathy. The Brown Vests that are presented to outgoing CEC presidents are made by family members of former CEC president Wayne Cormier. And – Charlie Nickless's daughter Darcy Nickless-Berry is now the secretary of the CEC.
Today the 15-member CEC includes hardworking volunteers from Frankenmuth and beyond! Tom and Tanya Quackenbush, who live in Saginaw Township, made friends in Frankenmuth when they joined the Frankenmuth Dart League and then the Frankenmuth Jaycees. They found themselves volunteering with the CEC for the Bavarian Festival, becoming members of the CEC and each serving a term as president of the organization. They commented, "We have developed relationships with many people in Frankenmuth and have many memories. We work, play and do good for the community - even our family is now involved."
Following the Festival's conclusion, the CEC will distribute proceeds to various community causes. They will meet to discuss what went well and what needs to look different next year. And then, already in July, they will begin to plan for the 65th Bavarian Festival. They meet monthly during the year and ramp up as it gets closer to the Festival.
So, if you'd like to get involved in a great organization with deep Frankenmuth roots or want to learn more about this year's events, please visit bavarianfestival.org. When you're at the Festival, please notice the individuals wearing the CEC vests and say, "Thank You!" Because of their work, the tradition of the Bavarian Festival continues. I'll see you downtown from June 8 – 11.
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