Volunteers make Freeman's Schmeckfest happenNearly 300 people help make German festival popular each year.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
FREEMAN — In Freeman, it seems all it takes is sausage and potatoes to bring people together.
On Saturday, Freeman’s Schmeckfest was once again in full swing, as droves of people gathered on the Freeman Academy campus for the distinctly German festival, now in its 55th year.
“It has become a huge community undertaking,” said Nathan Epp, vice president of Freeman Academy. “It takes a lot of time, manpower and a lot of people involved to make it all happen.”
The festival, which began Friday, is meant to celebrate the heritage of Germans who emigrated to Russia, then to the U.S., many of whom eventually settled in the Freeman area.
The festival is also an important fundraiser for Freeman Academy, the town’s private Christian school. Schmeckfest raises a “significant portion” of the school’s budget each year, Epp said.
“Without it,” he said, “it would be pretty tough.”
All of the money raised from Schmeckfest goes directly into the school’s operational budget, Epp said.
Behind the scenes, between 250 and 300 volunteers — many from right in Freeman — work together to make Schmeckfest happen.
In a kitchen adjacent to an enormous dining hall — where about 1,000 people are served each night of the festival — Kyle Waltner and Steve Graber, both of Freeman, stood over steaming griddles as they both fried a seemingly endless amount of sliced potatoes to be served for dinner.
“I think it’s good for the community,” Graber said of the event. “It just brings the community together.”
Waltner, who has a son attending Freeman Academy, echoed Graber’s sentiment.
“It’s good support for the school,” Waltner said. “And, it’s really good food.”
Elsewhere, Les Resnik, another Freeman resident, led numerous other volunteers working to produce Schmeckfest’s handmade pork sausage.
The volunteers will produce about 11,000 pounds of sausage during the four-day festival, 1,100 pounds of which will be served in the nearby dining room. The rest is sold directly to attendees. On Saturday afternoon, the line for sausage stretched nearly out the door.
“I’m a pork producer myself,” Resnik said, “but I usually never get to meet customers.”
The volunteers making sausage are a mix of veterans and newcomers, Resnik said, all of whom are “just tremendous.”
Schmeckfest itself, Resnik said, “is just a nice time of year.”
“It’s also a homecoming for a lot of people,” he said.
Back in the dining hall, Greg Andersen and Jessica Huber, both of Freeman, worked together to serve diners.
“It’s amazing the amount of people that come here,” Andersen said, as the dining hall continued to fill.
The pair were two of many servers, all dressed in red-checkered aprons, bringing dish after dish of German cuisine to diners.
Two of those diners, Ron and Londa Schwanebeck, came from Nebraska to attend Schmeckfest.
It’s the fourth time the couple has come to the festival after friends in Yankton recommended they try it, Ron Schwanebeck said.
“It’s just fantastic,” he said.
The festival also includes a theatrical production, which this year is the renowned musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” Schmeckfest also features demonstrations on German handicrafts and a museum with exhibits documenting the area’s German-Russian heritage.
No Schmeckfest activities will be held on March 21, but there will be an additional showing of the musical that day.
Tickets for the meal and the musical are available at www.schmeckfest.com, though limited seating remains for most days.