Splash: Half-stepping and twirling, Volksfest polkas into town

Jeanna Powell, left, and Steve Joas show off their traditional German clothing while polka dancing at last year’s Volksfest. submitted photo

by Hannah Tetzlaff

When Jeanna Powell attended Waupun’s Volksfest — a German festival ­— more than four years ago, she witnessed a scene that inspired her.

A woman and her mother were dancing the polka and losing themselves in the music.

Though the mother was in a wheelchair and couldn’t quite do the half-steps, it didn’t deter her from grinning and dancing with her daughter out on the floor.

“Just seeing her face and how she was in her chair, just shaking her arms,” Powell said. “She had the biggest smile. She was just having the best time of her life … And that meant a lot to me to see that … It just made me feel so good inside to see her having such a wonderful time, I wanted to bring that here [to Montello}.”

With the help of Steve and Nancy Joas, Powell introduced Volksfest to Montello in 2014 “so that people that are handicapped, the elderly, anybody could come here and have such a wonderful time.”

Ever since its conception four years ago, visitors have put on their dancing shoes and lederhosen for a day of whirling across the floor to live polka music.

In anticipation for this year’s Volksfest — scheduled for Saturday, from noon to 9 p.m. at Jeanna’s American Legion Bar, W3008 Highway 23, Montello — attendees have shopped for their lederhosen and other clothing just for this event.

There are a lot of people who like to come up here with their older German ethnic clothes,” Powell said. “We actually have people that are going out purposely looking to buy some [traditional German garments] so that they can wear it for this [festival].”

She noted while people are bedecked head-to-toe in German apparel, they may enjoy listening to live music by bands such as the Goodtime Dutchmen Trio and the Tom Schneider’s 2/5 party band, along with a stumpf fiddle contest.

Powell explained a stumpf fiddle is a home-made instrument that may be comprised of a wooden staff with a horn, a washboard, strings and any other sort of musical attachment that you can think of, resulting in different sounds for each person’s fiddle.

The purpose of the contest is to see which contest has the most entertaining performance.

“One woman last year knocked her knees together for a horn. She would dance around with this thing. She was fun [to watch],” Powell said.

Other than German music and clothing, guests may sample German food such as mettwurst, knackwurst, bratwurst, spaetzel, red cabbage, sauerkraut and German chocolate cake, along with German beer.

Since its inception, the festival has grown in size from 200 visitors the first year to 500 attendees last year.

Though an increase in Volksfest participants may mean setting aside more space for parking, Powell said she is more than willing to “spoil” the guests by picking them up at their cars in a golf cart and driving them to the event tent.

Powell hopes the festival will continue to grow and offer people a chance to make “it a great day to get away from the house, come out and dance, eat and have a good time,” she said.

She noted the original Volksfest in Waupun also began as a small gathering that soon grew to huge proportions.

“Volksfest started years ago with a German woman named Sigrid [Bronkhorst],” Powell said. “Sigrid had a little German store and a little German restaurant, and she started this in her backyard of that restaurant … It got to be so big that it spilled out into the alley … Now, it’s so big that it’s out by the community center in Waupun.”

Twenty-five years later, the small backyard gathering expanded and branched off into the two festivals area residents are familiar with today.

Powell noted people have called her from as far away as Minnesota to gush about Volksfest and the fun they had.

“They were driving through town and they saw something was going on, so they pulled over and came back,” she said. “They said they had such a good time that they wanted to plan their vacation around coming back.”

She added she’s had other individuals return time-and-again, specifically two elderly sisters who loved to polka.

“They danced every dance from noon until 5, so they danced for five hours and then they went home,” Powell said. “Everyone here was like, ‘Did you see those two sisters? They didn’t miss one!’ And they came here every year.”

Powell hopes this year will be the first time it doesn’t rain during the festivities, but even if it does rain, she noted, it won’t deter any attendees since all events are housed under a tent.

“They still dance [because] we have a dry floor, so we stay nice and dry under the big tent,” Powell said.

Those who are unable to attend the event may listen to a live broadcast of the festival and music on Waupun radio shows 1170 AM and 103.3 FM.