‘WE’RE PLANNING AS IF EVERYTHING IS NORMAL’
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
Organizers charged with Schmeckfest never once thought that COVID-19 would be the end of the festival that, since 1959, has celebrated the Germans-from-Russia heritage on which this community was founded.
But the pandemic has certainly had an impact.
Schmeckfest as it has been known since it debuted in 1959 was canceled in both 2020 and 2021, and even as those associated with the Freeman Academy Auxiliary plan for the festival’s return in the spring of 2022, they can’t be 100% certain about how exactly it will look.
“Our concern has been, ‘Can we go ahead like normal or is Covid still going to be an issue?’” says Kathy Kleinsasser, president of the auxiliary. “Do we have to have a special seating arrangement? Do we have to limit show ticket sales or spread people out? Right now we’re not planning on it; we’re planning as if everything is normal, but who knows what could happen?
“We will change it if we feel we need to at the time.”
The 62nd “tasting festival” is scheduled for the third and fourth weekends of March — Friday and Saturday, March 18-19 and 25-26 — and will include the traditional meal served buffet style as well as the presentation of “Matilda the Musical.” Tickets are on sale for both starting this week.
“Matilda the Musical” was supposed to be staged in 2020 and was just 10 days from opening night when COVID-19 shut everything down that second week of March. Schmeckfest and Freeman Academy officials announced Friday, March 13, 2020 that the festival was postponed indefinitely before officially canceling it the following month.
Schmeckfest was canceled again in 2021
“When did we last have this event? It seems like it was years and years ago,” says Kleinsasser, who worked with others on the auxiliary to organize and host a Schmeckfest drive-thru in place of the traditional festival in both 2020 and 2021. “The years kind of jumble all together, so we’re kind of at a loss. Thank goodness we have notes.”
Kleinsasser says organizers would like to use the same format that had been in place for the 2020 festival, “but in three years’ time, some people are not going to be on board. People have aged or are not going to feel comfortable.”
She says local historian Norman Hofer, who has been a regular storyteller at Schmeckfest, will not take part in this year’s festival, and organizers worry about volunteer power — something that was a challenge even before the pandemic.
“That is a concern,” Kleinsasser says. “Do we have to eliminate some things?”
While there are still questions about some of the specifics surrounding Schmeckfest 2022, Kleinsasser says organizers feel confident that returning to the full-scale festival is the right move.
“Hopefully there won’t be a modified format,” she said, “but if need be, we will follow protocol — whatever that is.”
She’s just glad the Auxiliary is moving in this direction and affirms the school’s commitment to Freeman’s longest-standing best-known festival.
“There was never a question that we wouldn’t have it again,” Kleinsasser said. “We of course will see what happens, but we are planning like it’s a normal year, maybe with a few minor changes.”