JEFFERSON — Jeff and Debbie Hans had to wait longer than any royal couple in Gemuetlichkeit history, but the delayed “50th anniversary” German heritage fest was worth the wait, the couple said.
The Hanses reigned over a “picture perfect” Gemuetlichkeit Days this past Friday through Sunday, with record crowds, great weather and a palpable feeling of celebration.
The 2021 royals were chosen back in January of 2020 but had to keep the secret of their new royal identities for a full 15 months after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled both May Ball and Gemuetlichkeit Days in 2020.
But the fest was back bigger and better than ever this fall, with the Hanses right in the middle of all of the action.
“The crowds were amazing,” Queen Debbie said in an interview Monday as the royals recuperated from their busy weekend. “Everybody was so happy and excited to be out and about again.
Rather than dampening attendance, the pandemic and the extra-long wait for the “50th” celebration might actually have boosted crowds as locals realized how much they had missed getting together in person with friends, family members and the community as a whole.
“Everything was super-sized,” Queen Debbie said. “We couldn’t be prouder to represent Gemuetlichkeit and the Jefferson community this year.”
She said Friday night’s procession of current and past royalty was “magical,” with so many fine representatives of the Gemuetlichkeit organization over the years.
Other highlights for Queen Debbie included the children’s ethnic costume contest Saturday morning, which drew a record 39 competitors.
The queen said that she was really proud to have been chosen to help the community celebrate the 50th anniversary of this fun tradition.
“Fifty years is a great milestone,” she said. “Not many organizations that depend on volunteer help survive that long.”
She said being on the “inside circle” this year as the new royals gave her a real appreciation of all of the work that goes into putting on Gemuetlichkeit Days, from the long-term planning to the set-up, overseeing the contests and events during the festival and the take-down after the whole fest is over.
“It was eye-opening,” Queen Debbie said. “Kudos go out to all of the individuals and groups that help make it happen.”
As to the Gemuetlichkeit organization itself, members could not have been more welcoming and helpful every step of the way, the queen said.
She noted that despite the strangeness of this pandemic year-and-a-half, members of the organization managed to make it special for herself and for king Jeff.
Other highlights of the fest for the king and queen included Sunday’s parade, during which they rode atop the organization’s distinctive castle float, waving to all of the spectators.
Queen Debbie said that the week leading up to the fest also had plenty of special moments, especially the visits to the local elementary schools where they were greeted by all of the children, many in German dress.
“I met a lot of the children again at the fest over the weekend,” she said. “They remember you. I received so many hugs — it was super special.”
The Hanses were overwhelmed with the outpouring of love they received from the community as a whole.
The Daily Union can testify that many people commented that the organization could not have picked a better couple to represent the fest for its 50th year.
“To hear something like that, it’s so meaningful,” Debbie said.
The couple’s only regret was that they could not share these special moments with Jeff’s mother, Lucille Hans, who passed away last year. However, at least they were able to share the happy news that they had been selected as the next king and queen before she passed.
“The whole event was just wonderful,” King Jeff said. “It was nice to meet so many new people and get to know some of the people in our community even better.”
He said he really enjoyed seeing many generations get together — as with the children, parents, grandparents and extended family members who attended the children’s costume contest, many of them in hand-sewn or hand-me-down costumes.
The Hanses had a lot of family members at the fest too, many from the local area and others visiting from as far away as Arizona.
As to attendance as a whole, Hans said he was really touched by how the community rallied around the fest and made it one of the best in living memory.
The success of the 2021 fest bodes well for the future of Gemuetlichkeit Days as the organization heads into its second half-century, the Hanses said.
“I am excited to go into our next meeting in October and to begin planning for next year,” Queen Debbie said. “We’ve already got some great ideas for the future.”
“We feel very blessed,” she said.
“Whoever is selected to be king and queen next year are going to have a wonderful time,” King Jeff said.
“And we will be excited to be part of that process,” the queen said.