Below is a story published in the September 2016 issue of Faith in Caring magazine on the history of Concordia’s Oktoberfest! To be added to the mailing list or e-mail distribution list, message us through the contact form on our website or call the Concordia Public Relations Department at 724-352-1571, ext. 8266. Enjoy, and feel free to leave a comment below!
Did you know that many of Concordia Lutheran Ministries’ early records were written in German? Concordia was first opened as the Evangelical Lutheran Concordia Orphans and Old Peoples Home in the early 1880s by a group of German Lutheran pastors, and the housefathers who ran the Home kept a running journal in German until 1922.
Over the years, there were less and less people who knew enough German to read the housefather journals. In 1968, however, the Rev. H. Earl Miller came to Concordia to serve as a chaplain, having previously worked as a missionary in India and as a pastor at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Millvale, PA. As luck would have it, Rev. Miller knew German, so he translated the journals into English, opening a window into Concordia’s earliest days.
Autumn at the Home was often one of the busiest times of the year, even though the tradition of holding an Oktoberfest was not yet established. The journals from the 1880s to 1910s in particular show that harvesting took up much of the staff members’ and orphans’ time, whether they were threshing wheat, picking apples to later peel and make into gallons and gallons of apple butter, planting fruit trees for future harvests or doing other jobs on the farm. Many of the children also got haircuts and received their warm socks and shoes for the winter.
Amidst all the hard work and preparation, they occasionally hosted a local Kinderfest, or children’s festival, in the orphanage woods that was put on by the “Hannahstown congregation” – also known as St. Luke Lutheran Church in Cabot. Concordia ended farm and orphanage operations in the 1950s to focus solely on caring for seniors, but a celebration of autumn and the organization’s German heritage would later follow.
Ethel Krafzig, a longtime member of Concordia’s Board of Directors, proposed in the 1970s that Concordia hold a fall festival. The administrator at the time, Horst Schwalm, was delighted by the idea. Schwalm, who had been born in Germany, had a fondness for German traditions – and one of his favorites was the fall celebration of Oktoberfest.
On Oct. 15, 1977, Concordia held its first Oktoberfest at the Luther Crest-Thoma Center, an area that used to be located next to the Lund Care Center and included the renovated red barn where CamPraise was held as well as a few smaller cabins, one of which still stands today. The celebration featured an abundance of traditional German food, such as pork and sauerkraut, potatoes and apple strudel. In addition to the delicious food, there was also an auction, flea market and accordionist who played German songs.
One year later, the whole campus was excited for the continuing tradition. The Concordia Home Journal, a Concordia newsletter that was compiled by Eleanor Schwalm (Horst’s wife and current Concordia at Cabot resident), shows in the Oct. 12, 1978 issue just how much anticipation surrounded the event:
Can you visualize yourself wearing a Tyrolean hat, sitting at a table at Thoma Center, a plate of sauerkraut and Kolbassi before you, glass in hand, lustily singing “Ach du lieber Augustine” or “Schnitzelbank”? Or browsing among the Flea Market tables; or participating in the auction upstairs? Wherever you picture yourself, picture yourself SMILING, LAUGHING and having FUN. In Prov. 17:22, we read that “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Being with Christian friends and having a merry time is indeed wonderful therapy for each of us, and God encourages us to do just that.
Five years later, the Concordia Home Journal from Oct. 7, 1983 explained the meaning behind Concordia’s Oktoberfest:
The purpose of the Oktoberfest is very different from that of the Festival, where we praise and thank God for the founding and flourishing of Concordia Home through His mercy and grace. At the Oktoberfest, we rejoice in the love and good fellowship of our friends, who support Concordia and work to help spread the word about the Christian love and care which prevail here among us. Our Oktober-feasting is not a time to overindulge in food and drink, but a time to indulge in serving Concordia and its folks by doing a work of love through Flea Market donations and some good, solid word-of-mouth praise. Sometimes a good case of indigestion goes along with the sauerkraut and Kolbasy, but it’s all part of the joy of the day.
While a few of the activities have changed over the years (the flea market and auction have been swapped for a rummage sale held by Haven activities staff and residents, free activities for kids and a fireworks show), the purpose of Oktoberfest is still the same: celebrate Concordia’s German heritage and all that God has given with good friends, food and fellowship.
As another Concordia Home Journal entry reads, “Have a joyful Oktoberfest with us – and praise the Lord with a merry heart!”
This year’s Oktoberfest will be held on Saturday, Oct. 1 from 4 – 8 p.m. at Haven I (112 Marwood Rd., Cabot). Concordia still provides authentic, homemade German food as well as an authentic German band, tons of free activities for kids (and kids 12 and under also receive vouchers for free food), hayrides, a spectacular Zambelli Fireworks display and much more. For more information about Concordia’s historic Oktoberfest, contact the Public Relations office at 724-352-1571, ext. 8266 or visit the Events & News page on our website.
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