History: Berges Fest


We here at EXPLORE are none too impressed that Berges Fest is not happening at its rightful location this year: Town Square.

In fact, it’s not really happening at all. Yes, there’s a one day “MusikFest” thing happening and we absolutely wish them the best. However, it made us really reminisce about the ‘good ol’ days’ of Berges Fest. With that in mind, we dug up this old article by longtime writer Marjorie Hagy, a legend in writing for EXPLORE. We hope you enjoy a chuckle and look forward to next year, which BETTER be back at Town Square!

by Marjorie Hagy
In fact, I’m so concerned for you guys to behave in a way that reflects well on all I’ve taught you that I’ve thoughtfully put together this last-minute guide to help you navigate your way through Berges Fest while presenting an erudite and knowledgeable mien to all and sundry. May I suggest that you detach this page or two and secrete in some handy place about your person, perhaps in a handkerchief or copied in tiny figures on your wrist, and bring out a few pertinent facts every couple of minutes to amuse and impress your companions? However you choose to avail yourself of this cheat-sheet, you’ll soon be the life of the party!

1. Say you’re standing around in a group and your romantic rival, trying to look like a big shot, gets all sentimental and says something cheesy like ‘Ah, Berges Fest, as old as Boerne herself!’ This is your chance to expose him as a charlatan and a poser. With or without removing one of your gauntlets and using it to lightly slap him on each cheek, you should chuckle deprecatingly and inform the assembled that his claim is a bald faced lie. You then point out that the celebration of Berges Fest is a mere forty-nine years old, having begun back in 1967 as a venture of the Boerne Lions Club and the Chamber of Commerce. You might want to drive the point home by reminding your listeners that 1967 was the Summer of Love, that the Vietnam War was escalating as were peace protests and race riots on the home front, and that The Monkees were on TV and The Graduate on the big screen. You’ll completely finish him off as you sneer ‘Pshaw! Old as Boerne!’ Then turn on your heel to stride off to the Beer Garden. The chicks will be as putty in your hands.

2. If the defeated rival tries to rally by saying something like, ‘But it’s always been on Father’s Day weekend!’ give him a withering look and inform him that the first one was held on Saturday, July 1st. This should settle his hash.

3. When your new admirers follow you to the Beer Garden, as they are certain to do, recognizing you as an authority and a helluva guy – or gal – you will probably be pelted with eager questions, such as ‘But why did they start having Berges Fest anyway?’ Don’t worry – I’ve got you covered there too. See (you tell ‘em) in the 50s, everybody liked Ike, or at least enough people to get him elected president, and once he was elected, he had this crazy idea to build an interstate highway system in order to facilitate quicker movement of military supplies and troops across the country in the event of another war. World War II was just over and the Cold War was in full swing, and everyone was understandably nervous. So construction began on, among others, Interstate Highway 10, and in 1967 the part that went by Boerne was almost finished and people in town were freaking out a little. The feeling in those days was that without a major highway for a Main Street, all the businesses and eventually the little town itself would dry up and blow away. Think about it: they couldn’t have had any knowledge of what a high-speed interstate system would look like or how it would work or what to expect. Their elders had all, back in their days, seen other little towns rise and fall depending upon whether the railroad ran through them or passed them by, and the thought is that without a highway there wouldn’t be any traffic through town to drive business.

Used to be, before the high-speed highways, that travelling from one place to another meant going through all these small towns, with all their own unique mom-&-pop restaurants, stores, service stations, and motor courts; past farms whose owners would set up roadside attractions like fruit and vegetable stands, snake farms, the world’s biggest hay bale, and all kinds of things like that. People back then would know that one little town had a wonderful bakery or that another had a favorite restaurant, whereas nowadays travelers have the option of MacDonald’s, Subway, or KFC on this exit or on the next seven hundred exits all the way to California. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could go back in time and travel like that again, instead of down a streamlined highway through the sprawl of car dealerships and mobile home sales lots and every exit crowded with the ubiquitous Starbucks, Taco Bells, and big box stores? I can just about remember a time before IH10, riding with my family and my great-grandmother on a Sunday down those old roads, past the weathered old farmhouses whose owners, twenty-five years later, still hadn’t recovered from the Great Depression. For the purposes of your story at Berges Fest, you may borrow those old memories of mine, if you don’t have any of your own.

Anyway, what happened was, the local Lions Club and the Chamber of Commerce got together and hatched this idea to throw a little Main Street fair to attract people to downtown Boerne and show them what they’d be missing if they drove right past us. The county seat of Boerne had long (since 1906) been home to the Kendall County Fair, but had never had a city-sponsored event of its own, so the idea was that they’d put one together to attract people to town and once they saw what a charming little place it was, they’d keep coming back, with or without the major highway. The official purpose of that first town festival was “To promote Boerne as an attractive place to visit, to live, and to do business by encouraging friendly, courteous service. To provide an opportunity for fellowship and relaxation by people who are proud of Boerne and want to share their good fortune with others.”

4. By this time, I expect that word of your sagacity will have spread and a crowd will have started to form for the purpose of hanging on your every word. This is not the time to panic! Remember, with this guide I’ve prepared, you will be an expert on your subject. Proceed with confidence. Thusly, The Lions Club and the Chamber of Commerce both kicked in $250 toward the festival, and another $645 was raised from local businesses and sponsors. In May ‘67 they incorporated the thing, with this new, official stated purpose: “…….to raise and donate money to charitable, benevolent, religious, eleemosynary, educational, scientific, social, fraternal and athletic organizations and to organizations whose activities promote the health and general welfare and civic, business, commercial and industrial advancement and betterment of the community.” (If some upstart in the audience pipes up to question the meaning of eleemosynary, shoot them a scathing look and say ‘Shut up kid, I’m talking here,’ because I can’t help you there.) News of this brand new venture reached the ears of some of the directors of New Braunfels’ Wurst Fest, the oldest German festival in the hill country, and they offered to lend a hand in getting this one off the ground. Boerne gratefully- and eagerly- accepted the offer.

5. Whatever you do, do NOT insert an extra S into New Braunfels, rendering it New BraunSfels! This bush-league blunder will expose you as a mountebank and the crowd of new friends you’ve made will immediately disperse. (On a side note, also avoid ever pronouncing the S in Illinois, never omit the first R in library, and if I ever catch you saying or writing should OF instead of should HAVE, there’ll be hell to pay. Contact me for a full list of grammar and pronunciation rules.)

6. Tell your flock how the newly-incorporated Berges Fest along with the City of Boerne, in preparation for the upcoming town fair, launched the Boerne Beautification Project. Remember, now, that this was nearly fifty years ago, long before the developers discovered us and the city government sold us out, body and soul, and our whole town became a sanitized, frou-frou film set-version of Ye Olde Quainte Little Towne, and Main Street was just Main Street and not Hauptstrasse, and Main Plaza wasn’t an overly-landscaped spectacle with Wild Bill Hickok perched up front on a red bench for no reason whatsoever. Whew, wow! I guess you needed to get that off your chest!

Anyway, going back a little ways, 1967 wasn’t all that long after the Great Depression, like we discussed earlier, and if you know your history like I think you do, you know that the southern US took a lot longer to recover from that. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the South really started to kind of diversify and prosper on par with the rest of the country. Boerne was always primarily a farming community, and family farming had been suffering for a long time as giant ‘Agribusiness’ took over. See, I always find it fascinating (and you can pretend that you do, too), how history isn’t just one era or one event, standing alone and isolated, but how all these things mesh together and affect everything else. There’s a much bigger picture than just this one small town throwing a summer festival. There are factors going back to stuff like the agricultural South and the manufacturing North and the shifting ways of life in our country; from 1900, when forty-nine percent of the nation’s workforce owned or worked on farms, to 2000, when less than two percent of people worked or lived on farms. History, man – I mean, it’s the most interesting thing in the world! Some people are obsessed with music and others with their own various passions – art, maybe, or yoga, or makeup – but for me it is history, every time.

At this point, if you’ve repeated all that to your listeners, they’ll be looking at you in the same way you might look at an animal that suddenly stands up on his hind legs and starts talking. Boy do I know that look! So maybe just leave that whole part out and just continue about the Boerne Beautification Project. I brought up all that stuff about the hangover of the Depression and the economic troubles in the South, to explain that times were tough in 1967, in the little farming village of Boerne, and there were a lot of empty storefronts and vacant lots along dusty old Highway 87 through town. In preparation for that first town fair, the Boerne Beautification Project encouraged everybody to clean up their act, and sent business owners a letter with specific suggestions:

For the first time in Boerne’s history, we are going to have an event in Boerne that will be “All Boerne”. The Boerne “Berges Fest”, on the first Saturday in July (July 1), will have ample newspaper, TV, and radio publicity which is sure to bring a large number of visitors to our city. We want to put our best foot forward. Below are some suggestions from the Boerne “Berges Fest” Beautification Committee. Please use them as guidelines for getting your place of business ready for the “Berges Fest”.

a. Clean up! Spruce up! Paint up! Everyone can do this and the results will be long lasting.
b. Repair or else remove obvious eyesores!
c. Wash all show windows.
d. Clean sidewalks just before “Berges Fest”. (The city will provide for street cleaning.)
e. If you have window displays, feature articles that will be of interest to people coming to Boerne for “Berges Fest”, for example: local sausage or other food products, cast iron ware, etc.
f. Use your imagination in putting planter boxes or pot plants in front of your business establishment or in your window. (Note: I think they meant potted plants, but hey, it was the Summer of Love after all.)
g. If you have a flag, display it! If you haven’t, wouldn’t this be a good time to get one?
h. Be proud of our Boerne Community – and your business – and show it!

Boerne Boy Scouts chipped in to clean all the windows in the vacant stores and locals (probably a lot of elderly ladies, but that’s just my conjecture) decorated them with quilts and antiques and things like that. Mayor John Arleigh Huff wrote a letter to the owners of vacant lots, citing an ‘Ordinance on the books requiring owners of lots and premises to keep them free from weeds, rubbish, brush and other unsightly or insanitary matter’, but hoping that he wouldn’t have to invoke that ordinance and that the owners would just go ahead and clean up on their own. Most did.

7. At any small-town festival, where old friends gather and the beer flows freely, there’s a certain point in the evening when the vibe gets a little maudlin. Espying one’s old flame, now a portly matron with her grandchildren in tow, one may tend to wax a bit sentimental, remembering her as a cute young thing and that time out at the Lake. That one guy wanders by, the football hero on whom every girl in school had a crush, and never mind the fact that he’s now sporting a comb-over and a big ol’ pair of jorts, and that his current wife looks like she’s plotting to stab him with a fork. You’re transported back to a time when he was a dashing young hunk, striding across campus with the wind ruffling his feathered hair and the whole world at his Kaepas. This would be the time for you to startle them with a juicy tidbit of a shocking nature, to wit: Did you know that the first Miss Berges Fest contest included a swim suit competition? This should draw gasps from your audience. Oh yeah, and tell them an authentic German costume competition and a question and answer portion and all that. The contestants were judged on ‘beauty, poise, personality, posture and costume.’ Twenty-two girls competed in that first pageant, which was held at the Kendall Inn on the Friday night before the fest started (with the winner being announced the next morning), and Miss Patsy Traylor was crowned (by U. S. Senator Ralph Yarborough) the first Queen of the Boerne Berges Fest.

8. The main action of that very first Berges Fest happened on Main Plaza – the old one, with our plain old fountain and our plain old gazebo, just the way we liked it – with an art exhibit on Military Plaza. On the Plaza, merchants, organizations, and regular old people had their booths selling food, handcrafts, souvenirs, and various stuff, a lot like they do today. Some of the names of those organizations taking part will make the older folks among your rapt listeners homesick for the Boerne we loved: The Shamrock Cafe, for instance, Blue Boy, Bigs of Boerne, Surrey Village, the Boerne Locker Plant, the Flower Shop, and the Boerne White Sox. The roster of events included a whole lot of stuff, among the most interesting today being Herb’s Harpsters, a harmonica group, a teen dance at Kutzer Studio, an aqua show, a swap hour, and a fiddler’s contest. As a finale, something tantalizingly identified as a Schnitzelbank. You’re on your own there if someone should ask for elucidation, but hopefully someone who was there will enlighten me and I’ll pass that information on to you.

Several items were raffled off at the first Berges Fest, among them a registered Pollard Hereford donated by Cliff Lewis, a $50 war bond donated by WE Janensch, President of the Boerne State Bank, and a ‘stainless steelware’ set that was displayed at our own John Eddie Vogt’s Store. There was even a special raffle for children under twelve and accompanied by a parent: a burro donated by Fred Gremmel. You can understand why they required the young uns’ parental approval, as lugging a surprise burro home to Mother after a long day at the fair might cause upset in the household.

9. The Lions Club and the Chamber decided beforehand that if that first festival managed to cover costs, they’d go ahead and make it an annual event. They’d put five hundred of their own dough into it and another $645 in donations. After everything was said and done, the first Berges Fest made a profit of $584.94. So it became a thing, and next year we’ll celebrate fifty years.

10. After five years on Main Street and with the city’s survival assured, having run out of room at the original location, the decision was made in 1973 to move Berges Fest out to the Herff Park Fairgrounds, where it was when I was a kid and where it stayed until it moved back downtown in 1989. It went back and forth between the two locations a couple of times, and this year it’s back at the Fairgrounds. At this point, some smart-alec or heckler in the crowd may shout out a question, wanting to know the reason behind all this moving around, but forewarned is forearmed, and you’ll be ready for that! What I suggest is that you close your lips firmly as if to indicate that you know much more than you’re letting on but discretion prevents your saying a word. Because the truth is, I don’t know either. I tend to like Berges Fest better, personally, on Main Street, but that could very well be because back in my drinking days, it was convenient for me to stagger to my sister’s house nearby after a night of making friends and influencing people. I grew up going out to the Fairgrounds for my Berges Festing and that works for me, too. What remains to be seen is whether or not our Hill Country Festival remains free to all-comers and accessible to all of our citizens, or whether it goes the other way like the Kendall County Fair. Back before our hometown became the victim of all this wonderful progress, the Fair was affordable, if not free, if you went out there after dark. Now a whole lot of people simply can’t afford to stroll around the show barns or the exhibit halls. And I call that a damn shame.

11. Oh, and one more thing! In the very beginning they went around calling this new festival ‘Boerne Day’, but fortunately somebody decided that surely we could do better than that. A contest was held to name the thing. They got thirty or so entries, with the winning name submitted by Mrs. Anna Voges: Berges Fest, meaning Festival of the Hills.

I’ve saved the one most crucial, most unquestionably important point for last, so that it will etch itself indelibly on your brain – this is what will separate the true Boerneite from the base pretender. It’s pronounced Ber-GESS Fest, NOT Ber-JESS Fest! It’s a hard G, as in ‘grind my gears’, emphatically not a soft G as in ‘geez Louise!’ Make sure you drive this point home by hammering the fist of one hand on the palm of the other. It’s a hard G!