For Gov. Mary Fallin, Septemberfest is a time to celebrate “everything that makes Oklahoma a great place to live.”
“I look forward every year to, first of all, just having Septemberfest. It's a great family activity for Oklahomans to come to, and it's free. It allows our state to be able to showcase its past, its present, and talk about its future. It's a celebration of our culture and our history,” Fallin said in a phone interview last week. “We think it's a great way to celebrate after school starts and also to move on into the fall season and just have a great time with our Oklahoma families.”
On Saturday, Fallin and first gentleman Wade Christensen will host the 17th annual Septemberfest, a free fall festival that features a wide range of activities at the Governor's Mansion, at the Oklahoma History Center and along NE 23, which will be closed for the event.
An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people from around the state attend the family-friendly event each year.
Farming and fun
Friends of the Mansion Inc., a nonprofit organization working to restore and preserve the Governor's Mansion, started Septemberfest in 1997, and Fallin said she has been to most every one.
“I think the best thing that I get to do, besides seeing all the wonderful people that come, is I love reading books to the children because they're just funny. They'll ask different questions ... and they'll help me read. It's just always fun to see the excitement in the children's eyes when we read books,” she said.
During Septemberfest 2012, her husband read books to youngsters, helped teach cow milking and spearheaded the display of a new combine, which will be back this year.
“Growing up on a farm, Wade loves to get into the agriculture section of Septemberfest and talk to the people that come and certainly the young students that are there about agriculture and farming and ranching and animals,” Fallin said.
The Governor's Mansion will be open for tours, and the grounds will be packed with an array of hands-on activities, including giant inflatable toys, face painting, carriage rides, live music and dance performances, a petting zoo, rock-climbing wall and photo opportunities with the Thunder Girls. In the health and safety zone along NE 23, the Oklahoma City police and fire departments and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol will showcase their trucks, command centers and special equipment.
All the attractions are offered free of charge, said longtime Septemberfest co-chairman Jim Hasenbeck.
“A lot of times, it's single moms and dads that can't afford to do a whole lot with their kids, but this is something that they can come and do and it's safe,” he said. “The day of the event, you just start seeing what a family thing it is ... and it's pretty cool.”
The wheat, peanut and dairy commissions typically entice visitors to sample tasty treats like cinnamon rolls. Families are invited to bring picnic lunches or to purchase food from an expanded selection of vendors on Phillips Avenue.
Hats and history
Across NE 23, the Oklahoma History Center offers free admission to its exhibits as well as a variety of special outdoor activities, including living history performers, demonstrations and games. Septemberfest typically draws the museum's largest attendance of the year, said Oklahoma History Center Director Dan Provo.
“The History Center and what we do belongs to the people of Oklahoma. And part of the fun is to get to share that and say, ‘This is yours. Come and enjoy it,'” he said.
This year, the History Center is adding an outdoor music tent that will feature Oklahoma high school bands and local musicians Kyle Dillingham, Sarah Dye and Carter Sampson.
“The energy that music brings and the inclusiveness and the ability to draw people in, that's all part of what we're also trying to accomplish and share with people,” Provo said.
Plus, the History Center is putting hats in the spotlight at this year's Septemberfest, with a hat scavenger hunt in the exhibits, hat-making activities and a hat passport that will guide visitors through the living history stations. If they complete and return the passport, they get a prize.
“With every Septemberfest event, we focus on history and education and different ways to make that fun and participatory for the families and the people that come,” Provo said. “Hats through history can be many, many different things. There's a wide range of expression and functionality ... anything from very traditional, workaday hats to things that are more flamboyant and colorful.”
Hundreds of people put on their volunteer hats to make Septemberfest possible. Friends of the Mansion partners with many nonprofit organizations, including the Boy and Girl Scouts, the YMCA and the Red Cross, to pull off the free festival, and about 450 volunteers work on the Governor's Mansion side of the event.
“I've been amazed how much the Septemberfest event grows every year,” Fallin said. “I think (it) is a wonderful Oklahoma tradition. It's certainly one of our great family events that we can give as a gift back to our citizens.”
About 250 volunteers and staffers work on the Oklahoma History Center's Septemberfest festivities.
“Volunteers really make the event happen to a large degree ... and that's a special thing,” Provo said. “It's an event by Oklahomans for Oklahomans.”