Frankfort Chamber of Commerce has first Oktoberfest
South of the Frankfort village limits, near the geographic center of Green Garden Township, sits an unassuming building that – if not for the relatively large sign and the German and American flags on the east side of Center Road – many motorists cruising between Frankfort and Monee might pass without even noticing.
The structure, built in 2001, is home to the German-American Heritage Center of Frankfort, the South Chicago Chapter of the German American National Congress. The parent organization was founded in 1959 to preserve German culture in the United States.
The German-American Heritage Center provides some 350 members of the club a place to mingle, holds Social Sundays the third Sunday of every month, and presents about six annual events that celebrate German culture. Last month was the annual Oktoberfest, which was attended by about 200 people, said Center Treasurer Christine Walthier.
“This place was built to keep the German culture alive and so the members could come enjoy themselves,” Walthier said. “We came to Frankfort in 2001 because it's a great area.”
Two weeks after that the Center hosted another Oktoberfest, but this one was organized by the Frankfort Chamber of Commerce. Held on Thursday, Oct. 26, the Chamber's first ever Oktoberfest featured authentic German food prepared in the Center's kitchen and music by Ed Wagner's Lustige Blaskapelle. The event also provided Chamber members the chance to enjoy one another's company, a couple of beverages and lively conversation.
The idea of the Chamber holding an Oktoberfest was inspired by the popularity of the organization's annual Pub! Grub! & Network!, a pub crawl held in April and the group's largest social gathering. Organizers also thought an Oktoberfest would provide an opportunity to showcase the German-American Heritage Center.
“We wanted to offer an event in the fall, and when our Events Committee got together to talk ... they said not a lot of people know about the German-American Heritage Center, so let's do something out there,” said Chamber Executive Director Alicia Joebgen. “We'll have fun, it'll get people out there, so Oktoberfest seemed like a natural thing to do.
“Plus it's a chance for networking– it's people talking about their businesses in a social environment, which is kind of fun.”
Stefanie Campbell, a Chamber member who sits on the organization's events committee, said appetizers, cocktails and a chance for Chamber members to hang out for an evening is always a good thing. “We love to do fun things and get the whole group involved,” Campbell said. “I think it's a really tight-knit group, I think everybody's really friends with each other, and so we like to hang out and do different things.”
The cultural aspect of an Oktoberfest and holding it at the German-American Heritage Center provided attendees the opportunity to take part in something they might not otherwise do, she added. “I think it's a reason for people to come back,” she said. “Wouldn't it be great to do something like this every October? But maybe a little earlier, when the weather's warmer at the beginning of the month.”
Chamber Director Maria Hohman said the German-American Heritage Center was the perfect setting for the inaugural Oktoberfest. Hohman, an American Family Insurance agent who opened her own office 20 years ago, noted the benefits of the Chamber's social after hours events.
“The relationships I've built through the Frankfort Chamber have been life changing,” she said. “Some of my best friends I've met through my Chamber networking.”
Hohman and her friend Jamie Lemmons were enjoying a cream-filled sponge cake with a coconut and toasted almond topping that Lemmons described as “probably the best, most amazing dessert I've ever had.” Lemmons said it was good to see upwards of 50 people, not all of them Chamber members, come out for the evening.
“I'm excited for the Chamber, and I'm excited for the exposure of the Center as well,” said Lemmons, who lives just a short drive north from the Center and knows of it, but had never been there. “It's nice to bring exposure to something that maybe most of us haven't been exposed to.”