The Ottumwa Courier

October 5, 2013

Oktoberfest's 40th goes smoothly

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — The 40th Oktoberfest parade had cooperation from the crowd, from the floats and from the weather.

“I think everything went pretty well,” said Oktoberfest chair Jack Guiter. “It looked to me like the sidewalks were lined [with spectators] as much as in previous years.”

Of the parade itself, he said, there were a lot of “interesting” entries.

“I screamed when I saw a zombie!” said Kyran Spees, 6 of Ottumwa.

“I liked the skeletons and their black eyes,” added Joplyn Knott, 5.

Joplyn and her buddy Kyran were just two of the little ones who got to march in the parade. In this case, they were behind the float with zombies and skeletons. One of them, at least: This year, the horror theme seemed more prevalent. Plenty of businesses had their own floats, as well as candidates for office and non-profit organizations. In fact, Kyran and Joplyn were riding in support of the “Race for the Cure” float.

Organizers decided a pink ribbon wasn’t going to get their cause enough public attention. Joplyn explained how she and the other children helped.

“Riding three little pink tractors,” she said.

And what was in those tractors?

“Um, a steering wheel, and a seat ... and pedals …”

“And us!” called out Kyran.

The float judges take several factors into account as they decide who will get the trophy for top float. It’s tradition that the

Ottumwa Area Chamber of Commerce decides the winners.

“We have volunteers do the judging,” said executive director Tim Kurtz. “They’ll tally up the votes.”

They break the floats into categories, like commercial and non-commercial, and look for characteristics like overall creativity.

“We encourage these types of events,” Kurtz said, adding that Oktoberfest brings in a large number of visitors. “I saw a lot of different license plates. Plus we’re all about bringing communities together. “

Kurtz didn’t do any judging since he was actually in the parade.

“I was promoting Holiday Nights n’ Lights, which is coming up [next] month.”

As nervous float builders checked weather predictions late Friday into early Saturday, there were questions about what they would do. They needn’t have worried.

“I think the whole week, compared to what the forecast said, we lucked out,” said Guiter.

That was especially apparent Saturday, the day which draws the most people to the streets of Ottumwa. Meteorologists had warned of possible severe thunderstorms Friday afternoon into parts of Saturday, including dangerous winds and large hail.

There was also an isolated chance for a tornado in southeast Iowa, the National Weather Service reported.

“They were talking about heavy rains early,” Guiter said. “We did get some rain, but by 9 a.m. you saw the sun peeking out. By 9:30, it was really nice out.”

The parade started at 10 a.m.

“We were very fortunate,” he said.

They weren’t quite as lucky when it came to interruptions to the march through downtown. Last year, trains at Market Street caused the whole parade to stop twice. This year, there were five trains the parade had to stop for; bands would just march in place. That may have accounted for nearly 30 minutes of the 2.5 hour parade.

By 1 p.m. Saturday, all the floats had moved on, city crews were out with street sweepers and leaf blowers and activities at the Oktoberfest Tent in the Hydro Parking Lot were under way.

“The drum line [competition] was very upbeat, very energetic,” Guiter said.

So after 40 years of Oktoberfests, is there anything these folks don’t like about the week-long event?

“After you work so long and make everything happen, the hardest part is getting up Sunday morning and tearing it all down,” Guiter said.

To see staff writer Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark