Photo: Meghan Hennessey (centre with crown) tapping the keg as Miss Oktoberfest at the 2011 Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest.
If you’ve never attended an Oktoberfest event beyond one of the festhallen, you probably think that, for 10 days every year, Kitchener-Waterloo locals party hearty and call it tradition.
Well, you may be partially correct.
Oktoberfest is part of our makeup. We learn to polka in school. We get our pictures taken with Onkel Hans (or run away terrified if you’re like me) and we attend the Thanksgiving Day Parade, year after year, in the same spot our grandparents staked claim to years before.
Growing up, I always sat under the chestnut tree at the corner of Pine and King streets in Kitchener. To this day, the scent of decomposing chestnuts brings me right back to chilly parade mornings with my grandpa, spilling hot chocolate down my snowsuit.
As I’ve grown up, my Oktoberfest experience has expanded to include attending A Blooming Affair fashion show, official keg-tappings and yes, some festhallen celebrations.
Kitchener-Waterloo’s Oktoberfest began in 1969 as a way to celebrate our local heritage. Today, it’s still a chance to experience German traditions, but also to celebrate our community.
I sat down with Meghan Hennessey, another local who lives the Oktoberfest experience to the max. By day, she helps spread the word about Clearpath Robotics as their marketing and communications co-ordinator. During the evenings, though, she spends a lot of time with the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest committee.
Hennessey got involved with Oktoberfest at a time when most people are just trying to survive: After graduating from the University of Waterloo with a speech communications and English degree, she had just left BlackBerry’s beta testing team to go back to school to earn her master’s in business, entrepreneurship and technology at UW.
“I had flexible time, and a friend invited me to a marketing committee meeting for Oktoberfest,” Hennessey said. The free pizza convinced her to attend.
The marketing committee is one of more than 40 volunteer-based committees that help Oktoberfest run successfully year after year.
Hennessey volunteered for four years. In her fifth year, she applied to be Miss Oktoberfest, a title that used to be pageant-based but is now focused on building Waterloo Region leaders.
She won the title of Miss Oktoberfest in 2010, and after a year of building her network and expanding her public speaking and community relations skills, she was offered a position on the Oktoberfest board.
She’s now the youngest board member to serve with Oktoberfest.
She draws a lot of parallels between her time spent with Oktoberfest and her time in the tech industry.
“They both have traditionally been a man’s world,” she said. “[As a woman] you want to prove yourself all the time.”
Hennessey learned that the skills that help her succeed as an arts graduate in the tech world are the same as those that have helped her succeed with Oktoberfest. Her background in communications, and working as a passionate intrapreneur at Clearpath and previously at BlackBerry, mean that she’s skilled at bringing new ideas to the table and filtering information to the public.
“I call myself a social engineer,” she said.
As the board member in charge of family and cultural events, Hennessey spends January to October of every year with her team of volunteers, helping to plan events that pull the community together.
“My portfolio includes events like Cooking with Oma, the Tour De Hans, Stein and Dine and Oktoberlicious,” Hennessey said. “Most of my events are done before the festing actually happens. I sometimes forget that’s even part of Oktoberfest!”
Hennessey keeps coming back year after year because, for her, Oktoberfest is like a family.
“You get to reconnect once a year,” she said. “You build friendships and network at different events. It’s fun. Barriers are broken down. People are just people. It’s organic.”
Hennessey is one of 480 volunteers and eight staff members who bring festive cheers, and plenty of tourism, to Waterloo Region.
“It doesn’t matter what industry you work in,” Hennessey said. “There’s an incredible group of people that supports our community.”
This long weekend, celebrate Thanksgiving and Oktoberfest safely. Once you’ve had your fill of turkey, I see and hear that…. Startup Grind Kitchener-Waterloo is bringing Jim Scheinman of Maven Ventures to the Communitech Hub for a fireside chat. The paid event starts at noon on Thursday, Oct. 9… BoltWorks is hosting Rapid Prototyping Part 1: Low-Fidelity at the Boltmade office, 187 King St. S. in Waterloo. The event starts at 7 p.m. on Oct. 9…. If you want a different perspective on the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, why don’t you try the Official K-W Oktoberfest 5k Fun Run? Race down the parade route early in the morning on Monday, Oct. 13, and then stick around to watch the parade…. And finally plan ahead to attend a new, non-official Oktoberfest event. Mike Wekerle of Dragons’ Den is bringing Wektoberfest to Waterloo. Hosted at the Waterloo Innovation Network at 156 Columbia St. W. in Waterloo, the event is a fundraiser for the YWCA of Kitchener-Waterloo. The event starts at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 19, and has fun for all ages until 5 p.m. After 5 p.m., the event becomes 19+ as 5440 and Kandle take the stage.