Oktoberfest to bring taste of Germany to Alton

(Originally published in the Telegraph on 8/24/08)

ALTON - Thanks to a Catholic church's sesquicentennial, Oktoberfest enthusiasts need not shell out thousands of dollars for the airfare to Bavaria this fall.

St. Mary's Catholic Church, founded 150 years ago by German families who settled in Alton, will honor its long tradition of worship and fellowship the weekend of Oct. 18 and 19 with an Oktoberfest celebration.

Along with displaying the St. Mary's Archive - a wall of photographs contributed by the church and its members and sorted by decade - the festival will feature German cuisine, four live bands, a silent auction, a children's area, a wine tasting and a selection of beers on tap.

"There's going to be a lot of great entertainment," St. Mary's Oktoberfest Committee member Erin Ventimiglia said. "It's a big deal, in my opinion, for any parish to survive 150 years. There's going to be a lot of food and entertainment, and it will be family-friendly."

Bratwurst, sauerkraut, pretzels, hot dogs and a signature German dish will be available for purchase, and the beer and wine garden will serve refreshments from distributor Robert "Chick" Fritz Inc. Southern Wine and Spirits will hold a wine tasting Sunday afternoon.

Plain Label Band, a classic rock group, will perform on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. The Phins will play Jimmy Buffet-style trop rock on Saturday from 7 to 11 p.m. The Waterloo German Band will play traditional German tunes on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. Back in the Saddle is slated to close out the festival, kicking out country jams, Southern rock and bluegrass from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday.

St. Mary's will hold silent auctions for church pews, hot air balloon rides, dinners at local restaurants, children's birthday parties, golf outings, vacation packages, front-row seating to holiday Masses and a party for 20 people at the church rectory, overlooking the Alton fireworks.

A designated children's area will entertain the festival's youngest attendees with activities such as pumpkin painting, face painting and a cakewalk.

"(The 150th anniversary celebration) is a great opportunity for anybody who has been gone from St. Mary's to come back and get back to their roots," Ventimiglia said. "We also want to emphasize that this is for the whole community and not just a parish event."

The Bach Society of St. Louis also will hold a concert in the church on Oct. 17. The 7:30 p.m. show will be preceded by a 6 p.m. wine-and-cheese reception.

The church has scheduled two special anniversary Masses. The first begins at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 18, with Bishop George Lucas as guest. The second starts at noon on Oct. 19 at the new riverfront amphitheater in Alton.

Those interested in volunteering, becoming a sponsor or donating items to the memorabilia archive can call the parish office at (618) 465-4284 or visit the event Web site at www.stmarysalton.com/150/oktoberfestival.htm.