GERMAN PRIDE 92nd Sauerkraut Day meal brings people to Wishek
The line for lunch stretched around Wishek Civic Center Wednesday for a free meal of sauerkraut, wieners, potatoes, cheese, speck and buns.
The 92nd annual Wishek Sauerkraut Day drew more than 1,500 people to the town of around 1,000 people. Many came from surrounding communities but the event also attracts people from around the region and out of state.
“To me it’s amazing that they prepare this and feed all these people for nothing,” said Donna Miller of Bismarck. “Where else in the world are you going to get a meal like this for free?”
Immigrant Germans from Russia in the community started Sauerkraut Day. There are not many people still speaking German in their homes as with previous generations, but the event is important to help preserve that heritage, said McIntosh County Sheriff Laurie Spitzer. Born and raised in Wishek, she now invites area law enforcement to attend.
“It’s a good socializing event for everybody including law enforcement,” Spitzer said. “I have kids too and will eventually be bringing them here for Sauerkraut Day.”
Stephanie Larson Grain, vice president of the Wishek Association of Commerce, said that as someone who has lived in Wishek for just six years, she has come to appreciate how the town mobilizes with months of planning and three days of preparation before the actual event.
“I enjoy hearing the stories from people who remember their first festival,” Larson Grain said.
Ronald Kramlich of Wahpeton said he comes back to his hometown of Wishek each year to attend the event with his mother and sister. It means a lot to come back and visit, he said.
“It’s kind of like a reunion,” Kramlich said.
Norman Rost of Kulm said he and his wife attend Sauerkraut Day most years. They come with friends for the food, entertainment and visiting, he said.
“We enjoy this,” Rost said. “It’s good to get out.”
Four volunteer cooks blend 110 gallons of sauerkraut, 500 pounds of hot dogs and 200 pounds of bacon in large cast-iron kettles in the Wishek Police Department garage. The 72-year-old kettles were once wood burning but have been converted to propane, said Pat Wanner, volunteer.
“It means quite a bit to help,” Wanner said. “In high school it meant getting out of school for a day but now it’s about a three-day reunion of families and it is what Wishek does.”
Wanner took over from his father, Leroy Wanner, who still helps out unpacking the hot dogs.
“The nice thing about not being the boss anymore is that I can come and go when I want to,” Leroy Wanner said.
Tom Welder, a volunteer for 45 years, said they are cooking by 6 a.m. It goes smoothly with a very experienced group, he said.
“We’re also the cleanup crew,” Welder said. “But, it’s all right; it’s all for a good cause.”
The Wishek Public School band, choir and accordion groups study German folk music in part for the annual festival performance, said Janet Wolff, instructor.
“John Gross, from Napoleon, helped me pick up on the old folk songs that are written out by his hand,” Wolff said. “The melodies are just sung until you memorize how they go – the very definition of folk music or music of the people.”
Now in its sixth year of performing at Sauerkraut Day, the Dakota Keys accordion group might not be together in 2018, said Harvey Schilling, member. Founded over 20 years ago, two of the nine members have passed on and the remaining members are in their 70s and 80s, he said.
“Our group is getting older,” Schilling said.
Following the meal many guests stay in town for a pie social and bake sale at First Baptist Church, a $900 bingo tournament and a vendor show in the National Guard Armory.
Also a popular stop for visitors on Sauerkraut Day is Stan’s SuperValu for its original homemade sausage, said Willis Caldwell, meat department manager. The store doubles meat product sales to around 3,800 pounds with counter sales and another 4,000 pounds of pre-ordered products of 30 pounds or more, he said.