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0754, 16 May 15

Last Germanfest in West Bend

Judy Steffes reports that this will be the 30th anniversary of Germanfest in West Bend. It will also be the last one unless someone else picks it up. This comes on the heels of some other long-term events coming to an end. Judy asks some interesting questions:

All the change begs the question, why? Do the events run their course? Is change inevitable? Many of the civic groups and organizations talk about a severe drop in volunteers and new recruits. But in an era of technology where we’re not doing laundry on a rock or even getting out of the car to close the garage door – why does it seem we have less time to volunteer and give back?

It’s always worth asking whether the perception is reality. Overall in the U.S., volunteerism is pretty steady:

Statistics released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showing volunteering at a 10-year low have some in the industry scratching their heads or backing away from the numbers, including a sponsor of the survey.

According to the BLS, the volunteer rate declined by 1.1 percent to 25.4 percent of the population for the year ending in September 2013. Approximately 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2012 and September 2013.


When it comes to actual hours spent volunteering, “No matter what happens with rate, the total number total tended to be very, very consistent over time,” said Dietz. There was a large increase between 2010 (8.1 billion hours) and 2011 (8.5 billion) otherwise the numbers have been consistent, he said.

But that may still mean that volunteerism is down in pockets like West Bend. Perhaps it is because of a change in local demographics? The statistics bear out that people who are white, female, married, employed, have kids, or are more highly educated tend to volunteer more. Or could it just be that people are volunteering for different things now and volunteerism isn’t actually declining?


0754, 16 May 2015


  1. Kevin Scheunemann

    When you have more unmarried parents, having multiple kids with multiple partners, it does make for a social mess. Who would have time for “formal” volunteering in such a situation? So I can see the study stat that married women are more likely to be volunteers, in the “traditional sense”.

    However, the internet and social attitudes about meetings has changed everything. I try to preach this to my Kiwanis Club. Younger volunteers don’t want to be bogged down with meetings. They want to be told where the volunteer opportunity is: and just go and do it. The WWII generation, no disrespect, was big on a lot of meetings and planning. That has all changed.

    The internet has also changed volunteerism. My wife made 200 pillow cases for Children’s Hospital as part of a larger effort. There were no meetings or “formal” planning, it was done through social media chat. how can you, possibly, measure that? If my wife had to go to a formal, traditional, “meeting”, it would have taken up her time to get it done.

    That is the problem Germanfest, Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, and other service clubs are going to have. Change will be hard, because, literally, the generation that loves formal meetings tends to be in charge of these civic organizations, and some of them don’t even have a computer.

    The perception is decline for the traditional volunteer paridigm, but the reality maybe the internet is opening up and fostering volunteerism on a grand scale tha tis difficult to measure.

  2. Jadedly Unbiased

    Well said, great points and outstanding perception. A social media campaign may be Germanfests (West Bend) saving grace. If anyone has any ideas.. Let’s get the ball rolling.

  3. Dale Kent

    I think it’s that people volunteering in different places. My wife and I certainly do. As far as Germanfest goes, we’re not native Benders. We’ve lived here for 20 years and have never been to Germanfest. I’m Scotch-Irish, prefer Guinness, and do not like the August humidity, she has an aversion to yellow jackets and we’d rather spend the time on Big Cedar Lake. Move the thing to mid-October and call it Octoberfest and we’re in….cooler temps, no yellow jackets, have that tasty Octoberfest concoction on tap that’s brewed up over at the Riverside. Perhaps Germanfest needs a little “rebranding”.

  4. Jadedly Unbiased

    Good idea.

  5. Mark H

    From my perspective, people are still volunteering, but interests and demographics change, as well as the people involved. Usually these efforts gain momentum when a group of people that have things in common (interest in a cause, same church/family/social/work group, etc.) get together and start something up. Most of the core founders stay with it, but then there is attrition due to relocation, family issues, health, death, etc that causes their numbers to go down. As time passes, it gets harder to engage new people in the cause – recruiting becomes a bigger and more difficult burden. As welcoming as the core group might be, it still might be intimidating to newcomers to feel comfortable jumping in. Germanfest was started 30 years ago, and a lot of the originals are still involved, and they have probably known each other longer than that. However, age will eventually catch up with that group. The Red Cross in West Bend used to have a very active and effective group of retirees that served as volunteer drivers for people going to medical appointments, and served as disaster volunteers. That has faded away. Mark and Diane Fechter ran a music ministry (Lighthouse) with a large volunteer base that did free concerts for many years – due to health & retirement, that initiative has ceased. Mark is hopeful that someday some other young people (he was in his early 30’s when he and others founded it) will come up with something new that appeals to today’s young people, and not based on his vision of 30 years ago. Big Brothers/Big Sisters is having trouble finding people willing to serve their program – I heard they have about 200 kids waiting for a match. Many years ago West Bend almost lost the Memorial Day parade, but when that possibility became apparent, people were motivated to step in and help keep it going.

    I myself have tended to be more involved at the startup level, and then move on to something else. I did that in the past with Habitat for Humanity, Washington County Interfaith Caregivers, Red Cross Homeless Prevention Project, & Big Brothers/Big Sisters (fund raising). In most of those, i got involved because of friends or coworkers asking me. Now in my later years most of my volunteer efforts are at one of the elementary schools, which started when my daughter was there.

    I think Germanfest has simply run it’s course, and the core group wants to end it on a high note (think of the Seinfeld show) instead of watching it struggle to survive with a waning group trying to keep it going. And as Dale Kent noted, maybe a different concept is in order, something that is more relevant to today’s potential attenders, organizers, and volunteers. The group did an awesome job for 30 years – it would be cruel to expect them to continue it for another 10-20 years.

  6. scott

    If we’re done blaming single mothers and the internet, I heard it actually had more to do with funding being cut for the downtown association. Money that was earmarked for them. Without it, they can’t help run Germanfest. So in a way, this being the last one has more to do with conservative politics here in West Bend than anything else.

  7. west bend observer

    You knew politics has to come in to play. The DWBA lost some of their funding from the BID because egos prevailed and they would not come up with a financial plan. Two groups that should be working together going in separate directions. When and if people can put their differences aside and work together we will see progress downtown. In today’s climate its extremely hard to put a large group together and make any progress on anything, headstrong egos and political ideology prevail.

  8. west bend observer

    Of course politics had to be part of it. All DWBA had to do was prepare a financial plan and the BID would have continued its contribution. DWBA played a very minor role in financing German Fest, find it hard to believe it had any part in it. More like the same volunteers for 30 years and nobody willing to step up. When egos and political beliefs are set aside our community can move forward, there is far to many people who forgot how to work together, everything has to become political.

  9. steveegg

    Shorter Scott – “Everything flows, and should flow, from the barrel of the government.”

  10. Pat

    Or, with 36% of the population in West Bend being between the ages of 18-44, there may not be as much interest in a Polka fest as there was 30 years ago.

  11. Scott

    You’d think that, Pat. But every time I’ve been there the joint was packed and the lines were long.

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