From vendors selling homemade and homegrown items to the traditional bratwurst and German-style potato salad meal, the Champaign County Historical Society’s annual Oktoberfest hasn’t changed much over the past four-plus decades.
The society’s 45th version of its annual fundraiser, however, will look a bit different from an entertainment standpoint as for the first time in over 30 years, St. Paris resident Mary Pollock won’t be bringing her 1914 Wurlitzer 125 band organ to the fall gathering, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct.1, on the grounds of the CCHS Museum, 809 E. Lawn Ave. in Urbana.
Instead, with the help of Pollock’s son, Robert Pollock, vice president of the CCHS Board of Trustees, this year’s Oktoberfest will feature day two of the Mid-American Chapter of the Musical Box Society International’s (MBSI) annual Street Organ Rally. Day one of the rally will take place from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30, in downtown Urbana.
“This year will be the first time in 35 years the band organ won’t be part of Oktoberfest,” Mr. Pollock said. “Instead, we are bringing 17 little organs.”
Mr. Pollock, vice chairman of the Mid-American Chapter of the MBSI, said 44 chapter members from throughout the Midwest and Canada will be taking part in the rally, which is being co-sponsored by the CCHS and the Monument Square District.
Bringing the rally to Champaign County has been a dream of Mrs. Pollock, one her son was instrumental in helping make a reality thanks to his leadership position with the organization.
“It’s something she has wanted to do for years,” he said. “She has always talked about bringing an organ rally to Urbana and Champaign County, but she never felt she had the ability to organize it and convince everybody to hop on board.”
Mr. Pollack said the 17 street or monkey organs to be featured in the Street Organ Rally will range in size from ones that can be strapped around the neck to ones that are on carts.
“The largest one coming has more than 200 pipes, and the smallest has 20 pipes,” he said.
For those interested in learning more about street organs, there will several display boards set up to show how the organs work, and some owners may remove the front of their organs to show the inner workings, Pollock said.
“They (MBSI members) are very proud of their devices,” he added. “Many are homemade and some are over 100 years old.”
Admission to Oktoberfest is $2 per person (children 10 and under are admitted free with a paying adult) and once on the society’s museum grounds, eventgoers will have access to over 60 vendors.
As per tradition since the first Oktoberfest was held in Urbana in 1972, everything for show or sale will be handmade or homegrown by the exhibitor.
According to Sally Johnson, an Oktoberfest Steering Committee member, vendors will have for sale a wide variety of items, including fall produce (pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn), wedding-themed décor, historic postcard reproductions, books, new furniture recycled from old, holiday and seasonal décor, woodcraft, metal and glass garden art, jewelry, clothing and accessories.
Johnson added several local authors will be on hand to autograph their works. They include Addie King, Linda Locke and Scott Trostel.
Again this year, several exhibitors will provide live demonstrations. One of whom, blacksmith Don Richardson, has brought with him to every Oktoberfest to date his mobile forge, Johnson said.
Others scheduled to demonstrate their crafts include Jane Stimmel (specialist in caning for chairs and other uses), Mike Collier (broom craftsman), and Susan Millice, who will be spinning alpaca yarn.
For eventgoers who work up an appetite while perusing wares of dozens of vendors located throughout the museum grounds, there will be various food options.
Along with the CCHS’s traditional bratwurst and German-style potato salad meal, prepared locally by The Farmer’s Daughter, several food trucks are scheduled to be in attendance.
While street organs are the featured entertainment during this year’s Oktoberfest, several other musical acts are scheduled to perform, including several event staples and two high school bands.
The entertainment schedule is as follows:
•Street Organ Concert (outdoors) – 11 to 11:30 a.m.; 1 to 1:30 p.m.
•Champaign County Dulcimers (inside museum) – 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
•Triad High School Band (outdoors) – noon to 12:30 p.m.
•Musical Box Society International (inside museum) – 2 to 3 p.m.
•Gary Salzgaber’s German-style oompah band (outdoors) – 2 to 3 p.m.
•West Liberty-Salem High School Band (outdoors) – 3 to 3:45 p.m.
In order to keep the museum operating, care for its vast collection of county artifacts and acquire historic pieces, the CCHS relies, almost solely, on the proceeds from Oktoberfest, although it does generate additional funds from membership dues and donations throughout the year.
“Most of our operating funds that we operate off of are generated by this event,” Pollock said.
Last year, the nonprofit, all-volunteer organization made the decision to approach voters in an attempt to bring aboard a paid museum director, increase the hours the museum is open to the public, and to continue preserving the county’s history.
The five-year, 0.3-mill operating levy failed in November 2016. The final tally was 9,471 votes to 7,437 votes.
The CCHS Board elected earlier this year to bring its request for public tax dollars for operating expenses back to the voters on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.
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