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Oktoberfest brings German heritage to Menno

MENNO -- A night of celebrating German heritage brought visitors from far and wide to a small South Dakota town Saturday night. The annual Oktoberfest celebration hosting a traditional german meal, music and dancing at the Menno School Auditorium...

Approximately 500 people attended Oktoberfest Saturday night in Menno. Oktoberfest plays host to a traditional German meal and entertainment, bringing people from across the country to the Hutchinson County town. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)
Approximately 500 people attended Oktoberfest Saturday night in Menno. Oktoberfest plays host to a traditional German meal and entertainment, bringing people from across the country to the Hutchinson County town. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

MENNO - A night of celebrating German heritage brought visitors from far and wide to a small South Dakota town Saturday night.

The annual Oktoberfest celebration hosting a traditional german meal, music and dancing at the Menno School Auditorium Saturday night drew approximately 500 people.

The organization overseeing the event, Sodak Stamm Germans from Russia Heritage Society (GRHS), has been hosting Oktoberfest in Menno for more than 30 years. Oktoberfest started small, Group President Gary Jerke said, but has since ballooned into a day that draws a crowd made up of locals and people from as far away as California.

"It kind of started as an idea for a fundraiser," Jerke said. "We didn't imagine it would turn into something like this."

Food served Saturday included German sausage, German potato salad, liverwurst, sauerkraut, cheeses, crackers, pickled watermelon and more. Desert was kuchen, which is the official dessert of South Dakota.

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Each year, GRHS invites live entertainment, either local, national or directly from Germany. Saturday's entertainment, Link Union, a band based out of Branson, Missouri, brought a "phenomenal" show, Jerke said, showcasing 18 instruments.

From 1991 to 2001, the live entertainment featured groups from Germany, then several years showcased polka bands, which Jerke said GRHS will bring back for next year's event.

Along with raising funds to "preserve German history through museums and university programs," Jerke said, Oktoberfest serves as the GRHS's lone fundraiser to raise money to offset operating costs of its museum in Kaylor, which operates at an annual cost of approximately $3,500.

Oktoberfest is important, Jerke said, because it helps to preserve the history of German people. And, throughout the years, people have generally been respectful of that purpose. People are always "well-behaved" and respectful during Oktoberfest, Jerke said, and there have never been any altercations.

"I always tell people that faith and family are two critical elements of what Germans are about," Jerke said. "So, this is a time when family at large - which, to me, is the community - is able to gather and enjoy one another's company and have a good evening."

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