Alpenfest History

Alpenfest Parade

In the early 1960’s Gaylord, which is the county seat of Otsego County, was in the process of changing the town’s image to that of the Alpine look. This change was hastened by the decision of U.S. Plywood to build a particle board plant in Gaylord. The process used to manufacture particle board was developed and patented by a Swiss businessman, Fred Fahrni. The new plant meant employment for many in the area and also opened the door for a big market in the county for aspen and pine, from which the “Novaply” was processed.

The plant was scheduled to open in 1965, and to help celebrate the opening, as well as show off the new look of Gaylord’s Main Street; a committee was formed in 1964 to plan a gala event. The committee was composed of General Chairman, Robert Fritz of Radio Station WATC; Finance Chairman, Harold Elgas, the President & CEO of Gaylord State Bank; Publicity Chairman, Robert Benidict, Publisher of the Herald Times; Nyman Tripp, the District Manager of General Telephone; Edward Calkins, Owner of Ken-Mar; Eileen Catt and Marie Sharp, Queens Committee; Nellie Schlang, costumes; Donald Smith, decorating; Gary Waldo, music; Bill Wishart, of Glen’s Market, in charge of concessions and Clark Bates, with the fire department, in charge of fireworks. The committee named the event THE ALPINE FESTIVAL, and it was later changed to the Alpenfest ®, as it is now known.

Opening day for the festival set for July 5, 1965, and it was to run through July 10th. A terrific amount of work had to be done in a very short time. The entire community rose to the occasion. Nellie Schlang held classes on how to make dirndls and men’s Alpine vests. Hundreds of these were made, all very colorful and designed with an Alpine flair. Main Street stores dressed their windows with Alpine materials (as we thought!). Work on storefronts and building went on apace, decorations were purchased, skits and sets were practiced and excitement was building up.

All of this cost money, and the committee had none. In addition to asking for direct contributions, the finance committee offered for sale, in stores and on the street, pins, buttons and little felt Alpine hats. Mr. Elgas vowed that every resident would at the very least have a hat and pin, and I believe they did! At least the budget was met.

The parade route was planned to go from west to east and scheduled for 8:00 pm on Friday. Later, parades would be held on Saturday afternoon and proceed from east to west. There was to be no road equipment, farm machinery, or fire trucks in the parade. Any horses that were in the parade were to be positioned to the rear of any band or marching units. Ed Calkins was in charge of the parade for many years and arranged to have several drum and bugle corps visit Gaylord to join the parade, thus providing not only a colorful marching unit, but also a whole lot of music. Fifty seven units made up the first Alpenfest ® parade, and it was on of the most beautiful and colorful to grace Main Street in years.