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Germanfest helps build community

Betty and Duane Olberding, Germanfest coordinators, stand by the sign advertising the event on May 12 at St. Joseph Church, 306 N. Broadway, in Leavenworth. The 16th annual St. Joseph Germanfest starts with Mass at 4:30 p.m. on June 3 at St. Joseph Parish, followed by dinner and music. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATIE PETERSON

by Moira Cullings

LEAVENWORTH — St. Joseph Church here combines its vibrant parish community with the German culture many of its members share into one unique celebration every summer.

The annual event known as Germanfest is not just another parish party.

“It’s first of all about community,” said Duane Olberding. “People can come in and celebrate their German heritage and have some fun.”

It’s a day, he continued, to forget the pressure of everyday life and get to know fellow parishioners while enjoying the German culture.

This year’s event will take place at the church June 3, starting with Mass at 4:30 p.m. and followed by a traditional German dinner with music, a raffle and a silent auction.

Germanfest started 16 years ago under the leadership of Sharon Kirby.

“It wasn’t necessarily to raise money,” said Betty Olberding. “It was just for fellowship.”

When Kirby got busy with the restaurant she owns, she asked the Olberdings to take over as chairpersons, and they happily agreed.

For the past six years, the couple has given as much of their time and energy as it takes to make Germanfest a resounding success.

How much work does the couple put into preparing for the big day?

“We don’t track,” said Betty.

Because both Betty and Duane are retired and their children are grown, it’s much easier to dedicate the time and resources necessary to make Germanfest a thriving event.

Some of their responsibilities include preparing food, setting up for the event and making sure everything runs smoothly — all alongside hundreds of volunteers the couple oversees.

The large and small actions of volunteers are what makes the day flow.

“People just doing one thing is a huge help,” said Betty.

And the couple makes sure to involve parishioners of all ages.

Children volunteer to carry around drinks to attendees, and some even dress up in traditional German clothing.

“That’s what we need — to keep them enthusiastic about their parish,” said Betty.

Because all funds go back to the parish, everyone involved plays an important role in the life of their church community.

For the Olberdings, honoring their German heritage in this way is a joy.

“Not everyone knows that much about their family history,” said Betty.

“It’s nice to keep your heritage alive,” said Duane.

“Those things I think are important to remind us of what we are and where we came from,” he added.

Everything from the Mass to the music is inspired by the German culture.

“We always have a couple of German hymns,” said Duane.

“We decorate the church on the inside and outside a little bit with German colors and flowers and things like that,” he continued.

The rest of the celebration includes enjoying German food and music by Festhaus Musikanten.

Duane’s favorite part of the day is at the end.

“When everybody has eaten and are sitting under the tent, drinking a beer and listening to polka music and you can tell they’re having a good time — to me, that’s the best time,” said Duane.

For Betty, it’s seeing the effort of volunteers so willing to give up their time for the parish.

“I just love seeing the people come,” she said. “We do want to make everyone feel welcome and thank them for coming.”

Although countless hours are dedicated to Germanfest, the couple believes it’s all worth it.

“It helps you become part of the community more closely than just coming on a Sunday, attending Mass and then turning around and going home,” said Duane. “Church community means more than that.”

About the author

Moira Cullings

Moira attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park and Benedictine College in Atchison. She majored in marketing, minored in psychology and played center midfield for the women’s soccer team. Moira joined The Leaven staff as a feature writer and social media editor in 2015. After a move to Denver, Moira resumed her full-time position at The Leaven and continues to write and manage the website, social media channels and Archbishop Naumann's Facebook page. Her favorite assignment was traveling to the Holy Land to take photos for a group pilgrimage in 2019.

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