Germans from Russia. It’s a heritage all its own. Traditions are what keep a heritage alive and Sauerkraut Day is Wishek North Dakota’s longest running tradition.
Sauerkraut, or kraut as it’s often called, has a special place in the shaping of Wishek. Since 1925, the second Wednesday in October has been dubbed Sauerkraut day. It started as a way for businesses to thank local patrons for their business. LeRoy Wanner has been the head chef for the last 45-years, using the same 2 cast iron kettles for the past 70-years. He can still remember when it was a wood fire they cooked over. One doesn’t get to be the head chief by asking nicely either. “You had to wait till someone died,” Wanner told Jamestown Sun in an interview for the 85th anniversary. Wanner took over after Mr. Schafer passed away and has been helped by his son, Patrick for the past 30 years.
500 pounds of wieners, 110 gallons of sauerkraut, and 200 lbs of bacon are used to make the classic staple and little remains at the end of the day. People from all over the Dakotas and parts of the Midwest have come taste.
LeRoy and Patrick are far from the only people making Sauerkraut day a success. The Wishek Association of Commerce roundup local businesses to volunteer serving this massive meal. Last year, it was estimated that over 1,800 people were served, doubling the population of Wishek. They’re not just serving the average Joe either. Several politicians have attended such as current ND Governer Doug Burgum, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, and U.S. Senator John Hoeven to name a few. “The sauerkraut festival defines Wishek, it has for me, as I’ve known about it ever since I was a little kid,” Heitkamp said in an interview for the Jamestown Sun. “So for me, it is an opportunity to just celebrate what I think is the best of North Dakota, which is our communities and the people who make them run.”
During the celebration, the Wishek High School Band and Choir play and sing German folk music, under the instruction of Janet Wolf, including accordions.
Sauerkraut not really your cup-of-cabbage? The Wishek Baptist Church holds a Pie Social following the luncheon. “They’re all made by the women in the church here. That’s why they are so good,” Cleo Boschee commented to Prairie Public Broadcasting at the 91st celebration.
Don’t like food in general? There is also a vendor show with more than 20 booths located just down the street at the National Guard Armory.
Whether you are 2 or 92, Sauerkraut day has something for everyone. To learn more about Germans from Russia visit the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia or Germans from Russian Heritage Society to learn more.
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