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Lowell preps Octoberfest celebration

Opens Saturday with food, entertainment

Mildred Schwendeman, left, talks to Dorothy Huck as their group of volunteers prepares the sauce for German potato salad to be served at the 44th annual Lowell Octoberfest this weekend. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

LOWELL — Mildred Schwendeman was part of the parade at the first Lowell Octoberfest in 1976.

“I drove a horse-drawn buggy,” she recalled Wednesday, seated in the cookhouse at Buell Island Park while half a dozen volunteers worked over the industrial-sized gas stove.

The Octoberfest is coming up this weekend and requires weeks of preparation. Schwendeman, now 91, sat in the kitchen measuring ingredients for the fest’s famous German potato salad. Wednesday’s work only involved the sauce for the dish, enough to fill a dozen 5-gallon buckets.

Schwendeman had a laminated, hand-written copy of the recipe on the counter next to her as a guide. The recipe isn’t an airtight secret, but she doesn’t hand it out to just anyone.

“A guy last year, I saw him copying the recipe and I asked him who he was. He said he ran a restaurant in Parkersburg, and I told him, ‘Get away from there,'” she laughed. The recipe came from a German cookbook her mother had, she said.

Volunteers work Wednesday morning in the kitchen at Buell Island Park preparing food to be served at the Lowell Octoberfest, which will be held Saturday and Sunday. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

About 10 miles up the road, she said, the ladies of St. Bernard Church in Beverly were boiling and slicing the potatoes – 750 pounds of them.

The Octoberfest is a magnet for fans of German food. A full dinner of half a roast chicken or kielbasa with mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, sauerkraut and a roll with butter is available, and potato salad, sandwiches and drinks can be had a la carte.

Outside the kitchen, a rotisserie rack 12 feet long or more waits for a crew to prepare the Octoberfest’s signature fire-roasted chicken. To one side, slabs of wood in a stack 10 feet high will provide the fuel. The chicken will be cooked by volunteer firefighters.

“They’ve got it down to a science, they tuck the wings in, tie them up with twine, and put them over the fire,” said Terry Schwendeman. One of Mildred’s sons, he’s been helping organize the fest for years.

The food is one draw for the Octoberfest, and live music, green, well-kept and lush surroundings are others, along with a relaxed and congenial atmosphere.

A pile of wood slabs will serve as fuel for roasting hundreds of chickens to be served at the Lowell Octoberfest this weekend. Volunteer firefighters will prepare the birds on long spits over the wood fire. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

The Octoberfest starts at 10 a.m. Saturday with a parade from Lowell to the park. There will be live music from 11 a.m. through 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Buell Island Park, bordered by a paved loop for walking, running and cycling, with a baseball field, picnic shelters, a stage for musicians and other performers, a one-room school house converted into a museum, and the village swimming pool, is a haven for villagers and draws people from surrounding communities.

“Everything from the Octoberfest, it goes into the park,” Terry said. People and businesses from around the area contribute as well. In spring the village put 22 decorative iron lamp posts along the pathway, bought with contributions, and now people can use the path with lighting for several hours after dusk and before sunrise.

“People adopted the lamp posts, we got some from the Marietta Community Foundation, the Peoples Bank Foundation, families, churches. You can see the plaques at the bottom of each one,” said Joe Crone. Crone, the treasurer for the Washington County Career Center, said he’s lived just outside Lowell, on the west side of the Muskingum River, for 32 years.

Terry said it’s difficult to measure attendance.

Buell Island Park at Lowell will be the site of the village’s 44th annual Octoberfest. Proceeds from the event, which attracts thousands of people, are used to support upkeep and improvements for the park. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

“It’s free parking, no admission, people come and go,” he said. “The best way I guess is the number of chicken dinners we sell. It used to be around 1,500, now it’s more like 900.”

He said organizers expect between 60 and 80 vendors for the weekend, including other food sales booths for nonprofits such as the Fort Frye Band Boosters and the Buckeye All-Stars cheer school.

It will be crowded but well-organized.

“We’ve got great committee members, that makes it run smooth,” Terry said

“There’s a lot to it, but I enjoy it,” Mildred said. “We have a lot of good helpers. These ladies have done it for years.”

Michael Kelly can be reached at mkelly@mariettatimes.com.

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