GAYLORD – The 56th edition of Alpenfest, Gaylord’s annual summer celebration in the Alps, kicked off with rain on Tuesday, but clear skies in the afternoon made the city center vibrate with people enjoying carnival, food and unique activities that mark the event.
In the morning, hundreds of people gathered under the pavilion dressed in their finest Swiss-style attire for the annual parade. They were supposed to go through the city center but a heavy downpour forced everyone to stay inside and walk around the lodge. Prizes were awarded for the best dressed men, women, children and family.
As a rule, the honorary festival luncheon takes place on the first day of the afternoon. This year, the awards were presented in the morning under the pavilion. Bobby McNamara, the 2021 “Der Buergermeister”, received his black jacket as did Marshal Ken Mattei.
The DAR award went to Dave and Sarah Duffield. Dave was the Otsego County Fire Chief, a longtime civic animator and Openfest enthusiast who passed away in April. The award was named in honor of Darlene Mongeau, whom everyone called “Dar”. She was married to Jim Mongeau, who was very active at Alpenfest years ago.
The Patti Dobrzelewski Edelweiss Award was presented to Rachel Frisch, Otsego County Administrator. Terri Cwik received the Pam Duczkowski Unsung Hero Award.
The Honored Industry Award was presented to frontline healthcare workers – including staff at Munson Otsego Memorial Hospital and the Health Department of Northwest Michigan – for their efforts in the coronavirus pandemic.
Showers kept the crowds away, but by late afternoon the sky started to clear up and even the sun appeared. Hundreds began to come to the city center to enjoy the attractions of the festival.
One visitor was Bill Van Maele from Milford, who is on vacation in the area and has heard of Alpenfest.
“We are visiting the area and decided to check it out,” he said.
Van Maele was impressed with the event.
“We are happy that the weather has cleared so that we can enjoy it even more tonight. Look at the crowd here, people are starting to have fun again. It’s great,” he said.
Joseph Tazelaao was visiting from Bartlesville, Oklahoma. He is a native of Gaylord and like many ex-residents, has chosen to return to visit family and friends during the festival.
He noticed the crowd was smaller than in previous years, but noted that this was mainly due to the lingering effects of the pandemic. Most of the restrictions imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19 were not lifted until May or June. This left festival organizers with little time to plan or prepare, so this year’s version is a smaller-scale affair.
“I know they don’t have some of the events they normally have to attend due to the pandemic,” Tazelaao said. “It’s still great to see everyone here.”
Tazelaao left Gaylord years ago to join the military and he believes Alpenfest is important to the spirit of the region.
“When I tell people about Gaylord it’s the one thing I always mention,” he said. “When I talk about Alpenfest, it’s a source of civic pride because it’s something that I loved every year until I moved.”
The Alpenstrasse featured artisans offering unique handcrafted items. Chuck Field of Wolverine was attending his 46th Alpenfest selling genuine leather items such as belts and wallets.
“This is one of my favorite shows to watch,” said Field. “It’s great to see everyone going out and having fun.”
Jeremy Barrett of Traverse City specializes in the art of cutting parts. He has been in the business since the 1980s.
Barrett takes real coins and converts them into jewelry, key chains and puzzles, his specialty.
“Yes, it is legal to take real coins and drill them out,” he said. “You won’t be able to use it as currency anymore. A good example is that you can’t put two zeros on a dollar bill and use it.
“I specialize in the endangered art of coin cutting,” he continued. “I have added a modern art finish to a craft that dates back over 400 years. I have gone beyond jewelry in golf ball markers, key chains and my original puzzles.”
Barrett said 2019 was his best year and that Alpenfest is generally good for sales.
“It depends a lot on the economy. Hopefully this is the perfect storm because so far this year my shows have been busier than they have been in the past.
Barrett said it was nice to see almost all of the restrictions lifted.
“It still doesn’t seem quite normal, but it’s good to get back to some kind of normalcy,” he added.
Gaylord Mayor Bill Wishart presided over the official opening of Alpenfest 2021. The national anthem was sung by students from Gaylord High School and the Swiss national anthem was also played. There was a presentation of the colors of the Ralph Holewinski VFW Post 1518 at Gaylord.
During the day, people wrote down what bothered them on paper and placed it inside the böögg, a Swiss tradition. Later that evening, those worries went up in smoke when firefighters set the böögg on fire.