The tradition continues

Vandalia Oktoberfest celebrates international family

By Lisa Bennett

Photo: The Vandlia Oktoberfest takes place Sept. 11-13 at Vandalia Sports Complex; photo: Rick Shieltz

Sometimes, even the simplest of activities can lead to the most unlikely of events. In the early 1970’s, Vandalia Mayor Walter Lakin was looking for something fun for the city that could bring folks together. He considered track shooting and heard there was a facility in Germany that was successful. He made a few calls and as he got to know people there, became fascinated with the idea of bringing the cities together. He did some research and eventually attended a Sister Cities International seminar. Soon he found himself signing up for a program that was started by the very last U.S. president to be born in the nineteenth century: Dwight David Eisenhower. President Eisenhower was a man ahead of his time. He dreamed of one day ending conflicts between the nations of the world and envisioned a future of peace and order. He reasoned that if people here in the U.S. could just interact with others in foreign countries, they would forge friendships and bonds that would eventually lead to world peace.

So, in 1956 he formed the People to People program. The organization was designed to foster an exchange between U.S. cities and cities abroad that would promote international cooperation, interaction and growth. Over time, the organization grew, becoming Sister Cities International (SCI). Today, thanks in part to Mayor Lakin, Vandalia is a proud part of Sister Cities International. SCI now boasts 2,100 partnerships in 145 countries that span six of the seven world continents. Membership in Sister Cities International includes tens of thousands of citizen diplomats. The unlikely partnership between Vandalia and Lichtenfels became official in 1975 and was celebrated in 1976 when the Lichtenfels Farfarenzug band joined in the bi-centennial parade. The result was a lasting friendship that has continued to evolve and grow every year since.

“We ARE People to People,” Harvey Kimmel, president of the Sister Cities of Vandalia, says. “We’ve gone over to Germany for weddings. We’ve gone over for funerals. We are family.” As the friendships grew, so did Sister Cities of Vandalia. In 1993, Prestwick, Scotland joined Vandalia as a Sister City. “They were a sister city of Lichtenfels and that’s how we got to know them,” says Kimmel.

This year, Sister Cities of Vandalia plans to celebrate those friendships with their 39th annual Oktoberfest. The event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 at the Vandalia Sports Complex in Vandalia, Ohio, and will run through Sunday, Sept. 13.

Admission is $4 and kids ages 12 and under get in free. Visitors will enjoy authentic German food including their famous brats and original German Potato salad made from scratch (just ask the intrepid volunteers who braved cleaning and peeling over 500 pounds of potatoes!) There will also be a special kids section with face painting and kid-friendly games including the much-loved pop toss, craft vendors and a stunning handcrafted replica display of downtown Lichentfels by artist Budd Zupp.

The live entertainment line-up includes the Sauerkraut Band, Dance Expressions Group, Klabberheads, Euromutts and Stranger. There’s no word yet if mascot Mr. Crossroads Potato Head will be making an appearance, but his growing fan base is hopeful.

The Sister Cities of Vandalia uses part of the proceeds from Oktoberfest to fund scholarships awarded to up to five Vandalia Students annually. They also use funds to pay for airfare for three students to go to Germany as part of their youth exchange program.

Kimmel remembers one young man who was so touched after visiting the Dachau Concentration camp in Germany that he said, “I knew about it before I went, but now I KNOW about it.”

The youth exchange program offers students a chance to experience other cultures both abroad and here at home. In fact, Vandalia students were shocked when, upon arriving, the German exchange students asked them if they had electricity or running water.

“It never occurred to them that kids in Germany might not have those things,” Kimmel says. “The program really opens their minds and teaches them about others. It’s a great program.”

Besides the festival and exchange program, members of Sister Cities of Vandalia also participate in the Air Show Parade, host a special Christmas party that is open to the public and keep in close contact with their friends oversees. “I love Sister Cities,” Kimmel says. “We do it right.”

Vandalia Oktoberfest takes place Sept. 11-13 at Vandalia Sports Complex, 1101 Stonequarry Rd. Festival hours are Friday 6 p.m.-midnight, Saturday noon-midnight and Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information and a complete schedule of activities, please visit or find Sister Cities of Vandalia on Facebook.

Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennet at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at

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