ROBERTS COVE — Behind the sounds of polka, the smells of bratwurst and sauerkraut and the flowing kegs of beer at the Germanfest, Dot Leger and Josie Thevis sit in the German Heritage Museum.
The 81-year-old Thevis and 82-year-old Leger serve as co-curators of the German Heritage Museum. Festival goers travel to Roberts Cove to drink steins of Warsteiner beer, listen to accordions, alphorns and yodelers and taste German fare, but Thevis said the museum serves as a window into the steep German heritage of the community.
“It is a highly Catholic region,” Thevis said. “Our ancestors brought this religion to us, and it’s going down generation to generation.”
Thevis said the German customs continue in their Catholic church and museum.
“We never did stop singing German and we never stopped praying in German. They stopped us from talking German, but they couldn’t take away the singing and praying,” he said.
The early days of the museum began as 10-day exhibits in the church hall at St. Leo IV in Roberts Cove. Thevis said she and Leger would pack up the exhibits after 10 days and the community would always ask for year-round exhibits.
“We exhibited what our ancestors’ homes looked like, what their furniture looked like and the tools they used to farm,” Thevis said. “The people wanted a museum because we have so much German heritage. We worked on a building.”
The building, which opened in 1992, sits on the fairgrounds at Roberts Cove, side-by-side with St. Leo IV Church, right in front of the Germanfest.
Gretchen Zaunbrecher, president of the Roberts Cove Germanfest, said 2015 has been on of the more successful years in the festival’s history.
“Saturday we had an amazing crowd, probably one of our best we have ever had,” Zaunbrecher said. “It usually depends on the weather, but every year is a good year. It’s about families coming together and catching up. We aren’t here to make money; we’re here for the families.”
Zaunbrecher said the Germanfest is not just about Roberts Cove, but about celebrating the German heritage around the world. She said she hopes the festival doesn’t get too much bigger.
About 1200 crowded into the festival Saturday and 500 on Sunday.
“I like it this size,” she said. “It’s the right balance between new people coming in, but maintaining a safe environment for the children to play around and parents enjoying themselves without worrying too much. I don’t want to see it get too much bigger. It’s just the right size.”
Every year, the museum honors three or four of the 36 original German families to settle in Roberts Cove. Thevis said it is refreshing to see the younger members of the festival taking part in it.
“The younger people are realizing what we have and they’re getting interested in this and want it to continue,” Thevis said. “I feel a lot of pride about that. Our aim from the beginning was to have something for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to always know where their roots came from. This is it.”