Living in Mount Angel made it impossible for a retired U.S. Army colonel to ignore Oktoberfest.
“I was impressed, and I wanted to be a part of it,” says Jerry Lauzon, who began his military service in 1955 and retired in December 1990. “When we moved to Mount Angel in 1989, I got actively involved as a festival volunteer and stayed involved for the next 25 years. As a retired board member and citizen of Mount Angel, I am still involved.”
In fact, Lauzon is so involved that he has earned the moniker, Mr. Oktoberfest.
During his 35-year Army tenure, Lauzon was stationed in Germany where he and his family got to know and appreciate the German people and their culture.
“I truly loved the folk festivals that abounded in communities large and small,” he says. “These events ranged from the mega Oktoberfest in Munich down to the very small village festivals celebrating everything from harvest, to colorful historic events, music, and even the centuries-old dedication of a village church. All of these events had a number of things in common — lots of great music, dancing, wonderful foods and libations, appreciation of local culture, and the total involvement of the community in producing an event that supported the common goodness of the people.”
Lauzon visited Oktoberfest in Munich once, but says, “It was so large and hectic that I could not really enjoy it. I much prefer the smaller community folk festivals, like Mount Angel Oktoberfest.”
Lauzon’s first big volunteer job in 1990 and ‘91 was organizing and running St. Mary Parish’s food booth in the Weingarten.
“We had a couple of exceedingly great years,” says Lauzon, who then was elected to the Oktoberfest board of directors, serving as a member of the directorate from 1992 to 2012. “Through all 20 of those years, I was the director of publicity and publications. For eight years, 1993-2001, I was the entertainment director, and for eight wonderful years, 1998-2006, served as Oktoberfest’s longest serving president.”
Additionally, Lauzon served on the Mount Angel City Council for eight years and continues to this day as a sacristan of St. Mary Parish Church. He is Germany’s un-official Ambassador of Good Will, and in 2008, was honored with the Federal Republic of Germany’s Friendship Award.
“With the energetic and hard-working support of the directors and many other volunteers, our most important and lasting accomplishment is that we continue to grow as the best-loved festival in all of Oregon, a festival where everyone feels welcomed and safe,” says Lauzon, who also served as president of the Oregon Festival and Events Association as well as the Wm. Annen Family Foundation.
Lauzon helped bring world-renowned musicians and folk artists to provide guests with “lots of great music and dancing.”
Their volunteer nonprofit food booths expanded menus and made available a wide array of German and other festive food, he says. “We expanded our offering of great German beers and superbly crafted micro-brews and a wide selection of German, Oregon and Northwest wines. We increased cultural offerings such as free concerts at St. Mary Church, an all-free kindergarten, beautifully costumed folk dancing groups, and our greatest joy, the nearly 100 school children and young adults in our various dance programs.
“All of this, along with the total community support worked together to make Mount Angel Oktoberfest a ‘world-class’ folk festival recognized as such throughout the Northwest and around the world,” Lauzon adds. “What community would not be exceedingly proud of such a great accomplishment?”
He likes to paraphrase Shakespeare, who said the world is a stage, and we are called to act upon it.
“In our village, that means large numbers of our people dress in Bavarian garb to put on a great show that is just about as German as it gets this side of Munich,” he says. “During the four days of Oktoberfest in Mount Angel, everyone is German.”
Oktoberfest provided Lauzon with interesting and challenging opportunities that served him well after his retirement at a relatively young age, he says.
“Since retiring, I have been very satisfied and fulfilled in my involvement with Oktoberfest and my beloved community,” he says. “My wife came from this part of Oregon and found me in Germany. We lived in many places around the world. I am so glad she dragged me here to Oregon for our senior years. I can think of no place that I would rather live than where I am now.”
Lauzon married the former Connie Beard of Aurora, in the Keilligkreűtzmunster in Schwäbisch Gműnd, Germany, in 1966. They still reside in Mount Angel where both are active in church, civic, veteran and youth organizations. They have two grown children, son Mark and daughter Julie, and four grandchildren.
“We plan on living out our remaining time here in this wonderful village staying useful and involved every passing day,” he says. “Mount Angel promotes its heritage year-round, and enjoys sharing with visitors. St. Mary Parish Church, Mount Angel Abbey, the Glockenspiel Clock Tower with its historical figures and music, the Oktoberfest Joy Fountain, the Doll Museum, our flower baskets and window boxes add a Bavarian charm to the year-round.”
This year’s 51st annual Oktoberfest runs Sept. 15-18 and features a kick-off party, military vehicle display, weiner dog races, the Oktoberfest race, traditional dancers and dancing in the venues, live music in five locations beginning at noon each day, a golf tournament, and the Cruz’n Car Show Saturday and Sunday.
Venues at the festival include a Biergarten, Weingarten, Alpinegarten, Prost-garden and Kindergarten as well as a bandstand and local attractions.
Thursday is Senior Day at Oktoberfest. Entry to the entertainment venues is only $5 for the whole day if purchased before 5 p.m. All venues are handicap-accessible, including many toilet facilities. Across from the bandstand is the Elder Care Facility operated by the Providence Benedictine Nursing Center, which has wheelchairs and facilities available to help seniors in need.
Tickets cost $30 for all-festival; $8 for Thursday night; $7 for Friday early-bird; $12 for Friday night; $10 for Saturday early bird; $15 for Saturday night; and $10 for Sunday. Visit oktoberfest.com for a link to purchase tickets. A full schedule of events and more information is also onsite.
“If the four days of Oktoberfest seems a little short for you, you can celebrate that Bavarian feeling by visiting our restaurants and pubs, our stores and our shops,” Lauzon says.
Mount Angel celebrates its German/Bavarian heritage year-round, and welcomes visitors between Oktoberfests. Check out the “attractions” button on the Oktoberfest website for ways to explore the town’s offerings. Upcoming Dec. 3-4 is the Hazelnut Fest and German Holiday Market, featuring regional arts and crafts with visits from Sankt Nikolaus. For more information, visit hazelnutfest.com.