JEFFERSON — Last weekend marked the first time Steve Strohbusch had returned to his hometown of Jefferson in 40 years, but immediately it felt just like old times.

“The ‘Gemuetlich’ is still there,” he said, defining the German term as “a really good feel.”

Strohbusch and several-thousand other celebrants could be found at the Gemuetlichkeit Days German-heritage festival Friday through Sunday at Jefferson County Fair Park.

On Saturday night, Strohbusch took part in the Nagelspielen contest and danced to the music of polka king Steve Meisner, whom he remembered from his childhood and young adulthood. Strohbusch said he actually had strong ties with Meisner, as Strohbusch’s father had played drums in Verne Meisner’s — Steve’s father’s — celebrated polka band.

In the interim, Strohbusch actually lived in Freiburg, Germany, for a time through his job at General Electric. He since has settled in Brookfield.

He came back to the United States some years ago after being diagnosed with terminal lymphoma. But he recovered and built a new life.

Coming back to Gemuetlichkeit Days brought things full circle for Strohbusch, who with his sister, Linda Teed, had won the kids’ polka fest when the festival was young.

Now in its 49th year, Gemuetlichkeit Days still is going strong. The three-day fest features live music on two stages and a variety of themed contests, along with German-style dance, food, costume and games.

Most of the event takes place at Jefferson County Fair Park, except for the Giant Gemuetlichkeit Days Parade, which rolls through downtown Jefferson on the final day of the fest.

The festival takes its name from a German concept that has no direct translation in English. Various people, like Strohbusch, have stated it in different ways over the years, but it basically comes down to good friends, good times and good cheer.

All of these were in evidence over the weekend, with crowds all three days of the festival, said Tony Haffelder, who took over as Gemuetlichkeit president just two weeks before the fest.

“It was great to have Alte Kameraden (Die Friestadt Alte Kameraden traditional German band) back on Friday night,” Haffelder said. “They brought in a great crowd.

“Saturday, we had a great crowd throughout the day,” the president said. “The card tournament stayed steady; we had pretty good turnout for the car show and excellent participation in the children’s costume contest.

“Saturday night, we had a really great turnout again, with Steve Meisner playing in the Black Forest Garten and Madison County packing the Linden Garten,” Haffelder added. “They brought in a lot of people, and it was really successful.”

Cool and sunny weather proved perfect for Sunday’s parade, Haffelder said, and spectators turned out in force, lining the streets to watch the floats, bands, and other parade attractions pass.

Even on Sunday afternoon, when the crowd usually dies down as people begin to wrap up their weekends, the Black Forest Garten was full for the final performance by the popular Jimmy Hartwig Band.

Attendees seemed happy with the food offerings, the pretzel vendor doing great business on the west side of the Activity Center, the Bon Ton Bakery offering an entire menu of German-style treats from its Hoopensacher Haus, and the regular Fair Park kitchen offering traditional fair food in the southeast corner of the Black Forest Garten.

Meanwhile, Haffelder said, the family of Stehrling Tabor offered a really “beautiful” array of home-baked treats in the lobby to benefit 2 1/2-year-old Sterling, who was diagnosed with leukemia in mid-July and has been at the hospital essentially ever since.

Haffelder said attendees were more than willing to help out the cause, walking away with trays of cookies and bars, along with kabobs of candy, homemade cake pops, and sausage and cheese-on-a-stick.

The Gemuetlichkeit Days souvenir booth did good business too, said volunteer Sara Babcock.

Among the new offerings were a variety of German-style hats that proved quite popular, and new signature beer mugs.

Meanwhile, Haffelder said the 2019 Gemuetlichkeit king and queen, Jeff and Tiffany Schmidt, did a wonderful job representing the organization.

“I love them and I love their family,” Haffelder said. “They’ve really put themselves out there on behalf of Gemuetlichkeit Days.”

At the close of the fest Sunday night, the Schmidts said they were so honored to have been chosen as the 2019 royals, saying that their whole weekend was a whirlwind of fun and festivities.

“What an incredible weekend it was,” Queen Tiffany said.

“Friday night was so special with our introduction to the crowd and the proclamation from (state Sen.) Steve Nass. But I think the highlight from that night was presentation of the kings and queens and our dance to ‘Edelweiss.’

“We had fun on Saturday with all the fun activities going on throughout the day,” she said.

“One of my favorites was the costume contest with the little ones and Michael Wilson singing ‘Edelweiss,’ which gave me goosebumps,” the queen said.

“The night concluded with two great bands, the Steve Meisner Band and Madison County. Fun was had by all!” she said.

The queen continued: “The whole weekend made us feel so special and loved — with the night concluding with (Princess) Payton singing ‘Edelweiss’ with the Jimmy Hartwig Band. The whole Gemuetlichkeit group circled around us and we danced our final dance together. Needless to say, I had tears in my eyes. This will be a weekend we will never forget.”

“Wow, what a great a weekend,” King Jeff echoed. “The crowds were great and the weather was outstanding.

{div}{div dir=”auto”}”Friday night, seeing so many of the past kings and queens and meeting them all was such an honor,” he said. “Everyone with G-Days has been so good to us and made my wife and our kids and all of our family feel like part of one big family ever since May Ball.”{/div}{div dir=”auto”}The king said a personal highlight for him was visiting all of the elementary schools in the district and meeting everyone from 4-year-old kindergartners on up through the grades.{/div}{div dir=”auto”}”My wife, Tiffany, and I brought a speaker and played the ‘Alphabet Polka’ song with each class and taught them the basic 1-2-3 of polka dancing,” the king said.{/div}{div dir=”auto”}This does come naturally to him, since King Jeff’s “day job” is as a gym teacher at West Elementary School in Jefferson.{/div}{div dir=”auto”}”I even grabbed a few teachers and taught them how to polka in front of their students, which the kids loved,” Schmidt said with humor. {/div}{/div}

Good spirits abounded throughout the fest, which brought together the generations in a spirit of community and celebration.

In the children’s ethnic costume contest, little Colden Rueth paid tribute to his German heritage — and generations of beloved ancestors — through his vintage costume. The scarflike necktie had been passed down from his great-grandfather and grandfather in turn, while his own father had once worn the little red lederhosen he sported.

Out in the audience where the card tournaments take place, Darlyn Oschmann, Jefferson, wore a classic German blouse she had bought in that country more than 30 years ago, when she traveled with her husband to his home country.

“It was a wonderful visit,” she said. “We got to see a lot of places no one ever sees.”

She has kept the blouse and her German jewelry in mint condition through the years, and enjoys dressing up in her German finery for Gemuetlichkeit Days in memory of that trip and her family’s German heritage.

Near the Mecki Haus at the entrance to the Activity Center, Lucy Hans, 95, and 30 or so members of her family gathered around for a photo.

“Every time we gather, it’s a celebration,” said Dave Haffelder, Hans’ son-in-law. “We cherish those memories.”

He noted that Lucy has been attending Gemuetlichkeit Days for decades and really enjoys the costumes, music and dancing. Generations of their family have grown up with Gemuetlichkeit Days as a highlight of their calendar each autumn.

Out to see the Saturday evening bands was Oregon state resident and Jefferson native Brandi (Beahlen) Libby.

After running the Pretzel Polka 5k early Saturday morning, Libby stopped by the bar to claim the prize she had won, and the G-Days volunteer manning the station, Ken Brumm, recognized her at once.

“Oh, yes, I know who you are,” she related him saying. “I can point out the house where you grew up.”

“Having been away for a while, it’s amazing how genuine and welcoming everyone is here,” Libby said. “It really fits the ‘Gemuetlich’ ideal.”

Among all of the women in Dirndls and men in Lederhosen (or German-themed T-shirts and German hats), newlywed Lisa Wilcox stood out in her white wedding dress and bouquet.

She and her new husband, Jay, finished up their wedding day at Gemuetlichkeit Days Saturday because “all of our friends are here.”

She’s originally from Jefferson and he’s from Seattle, but they were reconnecting with her hometown before relocating to New Mexico next week.

All in all, the festival was a great success, Haffelder said. Once volunteers finish cleaning up from this weekend’s event, it will be time to move on to the Gemuetlichkeit organization’s next challenge — planning the festival’s 50th anniversary celebration.

The date for the 2020 fest already has been set for Sept. 18-20.

(A related story announcing winners in the various Gemuetlichkeit contests and the parade appears on page B8.)

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