CUYAHOGA FALLS — The Cuyahoga Falls Oktoberfest began 40 years ago with a lot of eating — German cake, bratwurst, sauerkraut balls — and beer chugging, and although some things have changed, the food, the beer, the music and the celebration of German heritage continues at the annual festival Sept. 20 through 22 on Front Street.
The volunteers for the non-profit organization and committee say they love giving back to charities and organizations in need within Cuyahoga Falls. Over the last four decades, more than $1 million has been donated back to the community in various ways, according to Jessica Brandy of the Cuyahoga Falls Oktoberfest Committee.
"It's been a long time tradition of the Oktoberfest Committee to award scholarships to graduating high school seniors in the Cuyahoga Falls community to help them with their college education," Brandy said. "For the past seven years we have been hosting a reverse raffle to be able to raise even more money for our Bob Cochran Memorial Oktoberfest Scholarship Fund, which has allowed us to increase the number of students selected to receive the scholarships each year as well as increase the dollar amount of each scholarship awarded.
"Our committee also takes great pride in supporting the fight against cancer by actively supporting and donating to the Cuyahoga Falls Cancer Club," she added, referring to the group that helps cancer patients who may otherwise not have the financial support to keep up their battle with illness.
The first Oktoberfest began as an idea in 1979. City Council passed a resolution for one Sunday in October for the event, then added Saturday to make Oct. 4 and 5 of that year the first celebration, according to the organization’s history compiled by Robert "Bob" Cochran, who died in 2018.
Cochran was a long-time member and past chairman of the Cuyahoga Falls Oktoberfest Committee and served as its historian. The student scholarships for Cuyahoga Falls and Woodridge high school seniors was renamed after him. His daughters, Dani McIntyre and Maggie Cochran, are now co-vice chairmen on the committee.
Funds for the first Oktoberfest were raised through entrance fees for a 4-mile race, t-shirt sales, vendor exhibit fees, loans and donations. Money also came from soft drink sales, a Moon Walk, cake contest, t-shirt sales, beer mugs and bucket sales and beer sales.
Contests included a German Chocolate cake bake-off, bratwurst eating, beer chugging, sauerkraut ball eating and German cake eating contests. Entertainment included German dance groups and two bands, the Bob Schneider's German Band and the Frank Bohnert's German Band.
The first Octoberfest had income of $17,172, expenses of $11,758, and ended with a balance of $5,414. Most of the money went to support the event but $500 was donated to the Fraternal Order of Police and $200 to the Police Reserves. It became an annual tradition.
The members of the first Oktoberfest committee included Honorary Chairman William Lowe, Chairman John Appeldorn, Vice-Chairmen Jerry Adaska, Treasurer Tony Mastadonna, Secretary Jim Gregory and committee members Jack Richards, Mary Lou Gault, Bob Weinhart, Gary Rouse, Mike Hostler, Ron Simon, Francis Bennekamper.
Although the original Oktoberfest in Germany began in 1810 to celebrate a royal wedding, the tradition of a beer festival and folk festival beginning in late September and ending in early October continued and is copied by other communities, whether they are German or not.
The theme for Cuyahoga Falls was "Gemutlickkeit" which loosely translated meant "Let's all get together and have fun."
Harry Heath, who died in 2017, served as president of the Oktoberfest Committee for many years and was recognized for his volunteer service to the community in 2000 as Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year.
This year, six local craft breweries will be on tap at four beer tents throughout the festival area. HiHo Brewing Co. and MadCap Brew Co. will be on tap together at one tent. Missing Mountain Brewing Co. and Hop Tree Brewing will be on tap together at the second tent. Ohio Brewing Company and McArthur's Brew House will be on tap together at the third tent. All six breweries will be on tap together in the fourth tent with various specialty beer styles on tap that will change throughout the weekend as they will only be available in limited quantities.
Entertainment will be proved on two stages, one near Portage Trail (the German Central stage) and the other being the Amphitheatre (the Biergarten Stage).
Friday bands/entertainment include Doppel Adler, German Family Society Youth Group Dancers, The Music Box, The Band Allegiance and Buck Naked.
Saturday Bands/entertainment include Gottscheer Blaskapelle, Reaper Drums Inc., Karl Lukitsch and AUTOBAHN, Al Zimmerman Accordion Combo, The Rage, The Polka Pirates and Disco Inferno.
Sunday Bands/entertainment include Woodridge High School Marching Band, Cleveland Donauschwabische Blaskapelle, Instant Replay, German Family Society Junior Youth Group Dancers, David Waller and Freddy DeMarco, and Bad Juju.
Mike Wojitila is the strolling accordion player all three days. Tony the Clown and Face Painting by Claire will be at the festival Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Children can also enjoy toys and games provided by the Cuyahoga Falls Park and Recreation Department.
Other free and fun activities include beer stein races and keg rolling races all weekend. All ages are able to participate in both activities with beer steins filled with water for those under 21.
To celebrate the festival's 40th anniversary, fireworks will go off Saturday night when Disco Inferno takes their break in their show.
Craft and artist vendors will be at the festival including local crafter Angela Young with her t-shirts, bags, pot holders and other items printed with German sayings. Perris Mackey from Mentor will have his unique collage art of comic book characters, celebrities and Cleveland sports teams. He will also create a custom collage of a Cuyahoga Falls scene live, onsite during the festival that he is kindly donating to the committee to raffle off to a winner.
Raffle tickets to win the collage will be sold all weekend at the Oktoberfest Headquarters tent near the front of the Pavilion. The 40th Anniversary Oktoberfest collector's mug will be sold at the Headquarters tent and at all of the beer tents.
Food vendors include Fresche Catering and Kirbie's Meats & Catering with German menu items of schnitzel, sausages, german potato salad and more. The Pierogi Lady will serve pierogis and Frank's Bratwurst, Grosenbaugh Sweet Corn, the Candy Apple Co. of Medina, Rimedio's Bakery, and other local favorites will be available for purchase.
"We want to thank Portage Community Bank, Don Sitts Auto, all six of the breweries and all of our many other sponsors for all of their support this year and in past years," Brandy said. "We also want to thank all of the volunteers on our committee and the volunteers that help out at the festival and our other events through the year. Last, but certainly not least, thank you to all of the citizens from Cuyahoga Falls and other local areas that come out to the festival and have supported us throughout the years."
For more information, go to www.oktoberfestcfo.com.
Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or firstname.lastname@example.org.