its Golden Anniversary
Dockendorf, Randy. "'Schmeckfest' Strikes its Golden Anniversary." Press & Dakotan, 28 March 2008.
FREEMAN, SD - For being a half-century old, one of
Freeman's annual visitors has probably never looked
The 50th annual "Schmeckfest," or tasting
festival, runs today (Friday) and Saturday, then returns
April 4-5, on the Freeman Academy campus. The Schmeckfest
raises funds for Freeman Academy, a Mennonite-affiliated
middle and high school for grades 5-12.
Schmeckfest features a family-style meal of traditional
foods as well as historical presentations and demonstrations
of traditional crafts. Another highlight is the musical
performed in the Pioneer Hall auditorium.
This year, "The Sound Of Music" will be
performed at 8 p.m. nightly. Because of the huge demand
for tickets, a command performance has been added
for April 3. Only the musical will be held that evening,
with no other Schmeckfest activities.
Schmeckfest draws national attention, said Vernetta
Waltner, president of the Freeman Academy Auxiliary,
which sponsors the ethnic festival. Coincidentally,
Waltner is the granddaughter of Celia Flyginger, who
headed the Freeman Junior College Auxiliary when the
first Schmeckfest was held.
"We have 5,000 to 6,000 people who come for
the four nights of meals. We have about 250 volunteers
a night (working the meal)," she said. "And
that number (of visitors) doesn't count all the people
who come for the other activities."
The influx of so many visitors has required the helping
hands of the entire community and region, Waltner
said. In turn, the festival has built community bonds,
Schmeckfest has come a long way since that first
one-evening event in 1959, she said.
"I was 5 years old at the time, and I only remember
standing in line," she said. "I don't even
remember the eating, just all the people."
The Auxiliary members realized they had started a
new tradition, Waltner said. "It grew immediately,"
Now, Schmeckfest draws national attention and thousands
of visitors, Waltner said. "We have busloads
of people coming from Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas.
We have (alumni) classes at the academy that treat
it like a reunion," she said.
Schmeckfest expanded from the original one-day event
to a three-day weekend. In response to the demand
for more Friday and Saturday tickets, the festival
has expanded again in recent years to two consecutive
The switch to two weekends has changed the character
of Schmeckfest, said Tim Waltner, the Freeman Courier
publisher who also directs this year's musical.
"(The change) has made the festival more accessible
to most people and has given them options," he
There's a drawback for people who treat Schmeckfest
like a homecoming, Tim Waltner said.
"The down side is for people like my daughter,
who is coming home for Schmeckfest," he said.
"Now, she runs a 50-50 chance of missing people
who are coming for the other weekend."
This year will feature another change - the recent
opening of the $2.4 million Sterling Hall. The new
facility will take on some of the demonstrations that
were in the Industrial Arts and the Administration
Tim Waltner predicted Sterling Hall will change Schmeckfest
"significantly" in ways yet unknown.
"Nobody knows for sure how it will turn out,"
he said. "I think it will take a couple of years
to make the best use of the facility."
But Schmeckfest has shown its ability to innovate
over the years, Vernetta Waltner said. She pointed
to the introduction of the musical after years of
holding a variety program and even a basketball game
as part of Schmeckfest.
Freeman Junior College staged Gilbert and Sullivan
operettas in the late 1940s and early 1950s with the
support of the community, Tim Waltner said. The first
full-stage Schmeckfest musical was performed in 1967,
and the tradition began for good in the 1970s, he
Freeman Academy junior Abi Epp has joined the Schmeckfest
musical tradition, holding two roles in "The
Sound of Music."
While area residents are familiar with the festival,
Schmeckfest remains a relatively new experience for
Epp. The Newton, Kan., native is completing her second
year at the academy.
Epp joined other Freeman Academy students in making
traditional foods for sale at Schmeckfest. They made
treats like fruit pockets and poppyseed rolls. She
will sell the traditional food when she works at the
"I had never heard of kuchen," she said
with a laugh, referring to the custard-filled pastry.
Epp's participation in the musical has strengthened
her local bonds even more by bringing her in contact
with people she might otherwise not meet. "It's
fun and a sense of community," she said.
Tim Waltner said he has likewise developed lifelong
relationships through the Schmeckfest musical. He
predicted Epp will find the same experience in coming
"I was just a kid when I was starting out (with
Schmeckfest)," he said. "I developed strong
relationships with people considerably older than
me. I now consider them some of my best friends.