Freeman Academy Auxiliary © 2022
Schmeckfest began in 1959 when the Freeman Junior College Auxiliary chose to serve traditional foods for its 10th anniversary celebration. A buffet was planned featuring dishes from the heritage of the three Mennonite groups that settled in southeastern South Dakota – Low German, Hutters and Schweitzers. They called the event “Schmeckfest” which translated loosely from German, means “festival of tasting.” In a community where most people rarely ate out, some wondered if anyone would pay to eat foods they had at home. But the Auxiliary believed the idea was worth pursuing, so they planned for about 200 – or maybe a few more.
The response to the 1959 event was overwhelming. Only 49 workers and 15 waitresses served more than 1000 people on an evening in March. For many workers, the event was a nightmare as they attempted to keep up with the demand for food by making fleisch kuechle (hamburger in dough pockets), the one item that could be made quickly. Unfortunately, many people were turned away and resorted to the local cafes that also ran out of food.
The workers sighed with relief at the end of the event; however, talk of another Schmeckfest soon began to circulate. A writer in the The Mitchell Daily Republic wrote, “…if you ever have another Schmeckfest, we’d like to know about it.” Given the response, the Auxiliary planned for two nights the following year.
From this surprising beginning, Schmeckfest has grown and flourished. Each year something new is added, changed or improved. An advance-sale meal policy began in 1967, along with the tradition of a musical theater production. In 1973, the festival expanded to three nights and in 2005, Schmeckfest moved to two consecutive weekends in response to increasing demand for Friday and Saturday tickets. Demonstrations, displays, art exhibits, music and historic presentations continue to add to the Schmeckfest experience.
Schmeckfest has evolved to become a significant community event that requires months of planning and countless hours of effort by local volunteers. COVID-19 concerns just one week before the 2020 Festival brought a swift halt and shift to a hybrid event that cancelled the meal, musical, and demonstrations. Quick-thinking leaders were able to provide online orders and drive-thru options to purchase the Country Kitchen products and Homemade Sausage in 2020. This was followed by 2021 and 2022 festivals running a similar hybrid event that allowed folks an opportunity to purchase baked goods, sausage, and modified to-go Schmeckfest meals.
Schmeckfest 2023 brings the retirement of the Freeman Academy Auxiliary and a move to one weekend of activities. In place of Auxiliary leadership, the Freeman Academy Board of Directors recruited a coordinator and steering committee of volunteers, many who were involved in past years.
Dedication to the mission of Freeman Junior College and Freeman Academy was the driving force behind the inaugural Schmeckfest. Although 1986 was the final year for Freeman Junior College, the same commitment to Christian education drives Schmeckfest today as proceeds from this annual event continue to provide support for Freeman Academy.
Schmeckfest is a treasured tradition and an annual highlight that crosses ethnic, religious and philosophic lines and includes people of all ages and occupations. It is a cooperative community event that binds us all together. Through food, fellowship and music, we share our joy with you in being a community.