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A cooking competition, personality contest? Picking Mrs. Oktoberfest in La Crosse in the 60s-70s, a “little” different than today

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FILE - Pictured above is Mrs. Oktoberfest 1971 riding with other nominees of the competition. (PHOTO: Oktoberfestusa.com)

The origins of the Festmaster for La Crosse’s Oktoberfest is a pretty simple story.

The inception and evolution of Mrs. Oktoberfest in the city is a much more interesting one.

Brad Quarberg is a bit of an Oktoberfest – La Crosse historian. He was chief editor and an author of the book “The Fest of Times,” looking at the first 50 years of Oktoberfest – La Crosse.

The 2001 Oktoberfest Board President and 2016 Parade Marshall, Quarberg was on La Crosse Talk PM this week to talk about some of the peculiar aspects of fest, including how we got a Mrs. O.


La Crosse Talk PM airs weekdays at 5:07 p.m. Listen on the WIZM app, online here, or on 92.3 FM / 1410 AM / 106.7 FM (north of Onalaska)


Oktoberfest in La Crosse was devised by four golfing buddies and business owners, who cherry picked all the best things from surrounding festivals.

Those four men — Northside Exchange State Bank president Don Rice; Erickson Bakeries and Hillview Par 3 developer Ray Ping; G. Heileman Brewing Co. CEO Roy Kumm; Technical Training – La Crosse founder John Coleman — were then the first four festmasters.

It wasn’t, however, until 1968 that we had a female lead in royalty to offset the Festmaster.

“They’ve done that by introducing the Mrs. Oktoberfest and that was done in 1968, although it was a little bit different back then,” Quarberg said.

And, by different, Quarberg means, if we selected Mrs. Oktoberfest like we did with a contest beginning in 1968, we might have a little different kind of parade running through town.

“Well, back in ’68, it was based on homemaking skills, participation in church, school and civic activities, poise and personality, cooking, special talents and hobbies,” Quarberg said. “Those were the criteria for Mrs. Oktoberfest.”

That criteria changed six years later in 1974, when Mrs. O. was nominated by area residents and picked by a selection committee, as it still is today.

Talking with more recent Mrs. Oktoberfest winners, Quarberg said the old way wouldn’t be put up with.

“I know a number of Mrs. Oktoberfests who said, ‘If they had those rules, I wouldn’t be in it,'” Quarberg said.

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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