THE HISTORY OF SCHMECKFEST
The first Schmeckfest was held in 1959 after the Freeman Junior College Auxiliary determined a traditional ethnic meal would be a fitting way to commemorate its 10th anniversary. The Auxiliary planned a Mennonite smorgas¬bord, featuring European dishes that are part of the heritage of the three Mennonite groups in southeastern South Dakota – Low Germans, Hutters and Schweitzers. Because the meal would give people a chance to sample traditional cooking, the Auxiliary decided to call it “Schmeckfest,” which, translated from German, means “festival of tasting.” In a community where most people ate out only on special occasions, some wondered, “Why would people pay to eat foods they can get at home?” But, the Auxiliary believed the venture was worth pursuing, so it made its plans with 200 people in mind – or maybe a few more.
The response to the first Schmeckfest was overwhelming! Only 49 workers and 15 waitresses served more than 1000 people on a March evening in 1959. For many workers, the event was a nightmare as they attempted to keep up with the demand for food by making fleisch kiiechle (hamburger in dough pockets), the one item that could be made quickly. Many people were turned away from Schmeckfest and resorted to the local cafes that also were running out of food.
The workers sighed with relief at the end of the evening; however, talk of another Schmeckfest soon-began to circulate. “A writer in the Mitchell Daily Republic wrote “… If you have another Schmeckfest, we’d like to know about it.” Given the response of the first Schmeckfest, the following year the Auxiliary planned for two nights. From that surprising beginning, Schmeckfest has grown and flourished. Each year something is added, changed or improved. An advance meal ticket policy began in 1967, along with the tradition of a -musical production. Demonstrations, displays, art exhibits and historical presentations continue to add to the enthusiasm that Schmeckfest generates.
In 1973, the festival expanded to three nights and, starting in 2005, in response to increasing demand for Friday and Saturday tickets, Schmeckfest is now held on two consecutive weekends. The Auxiliary and residents of the greater Freeman community join together as the work force needed to serve 1000 guests on each of the four evenings. The Auxiliary, with the assistance of a multitude of tireless volunteers^ makes necessary food purchases, oversees the many sub-committees that arrange for food donations and organizes workers. The Auxiliary’s Executive Committee selects the demonstrations and demonstra¬tors for Schmeckfest. The musical production, which is coordinated by a Program Committee, also involves the entire community.
Dedication to the mission of Freeman Junior College and Freeman Academy was the driving force behind the inaugural Schmeckfest. Although 1986 was the final year for Freeman Junior College, the same dedication to the cause of Christian education stands behind Schmeckfest today. The proceeds from this annual event continue to provide support for Freeman Academy.
Schmeckfest has become a tradition and an annual highlight that crosses ethnic, religious and philosophic lines and includes people of all ages and occupations. It is a cooperative community event that binds us all together. Through food, fellowship and music, we share our joy in being a community.