Jerry and Mary Kuehl said they were humbled and honored to be selected as the festmeister and festmeisterin of the 2021 Oktoberfest. As the royal couple, they served as ambassadors of the weekend event, spreading cheer and handing out buttons.
“Our kids have grown up here,” Jerry Kuehl told a crowd numbering 400 at the kickoff ceremony noon Friday at Leinenkugel Brewing Company. “They learned to polka in the tents. The great thing about Oktoberfest is it’s a family-friendly event. It’s helped us grow in the German faith and culture.”
Jerry Kuehl, 57, has worked at Northwestern Bank in Chippewa Falls for 28 years, and serves on a variety of boards and organizations, such as the Chippewa Falls Rotary, the St. Francesca food pantry, the Children’s Museum, and the Chippewa Falls Economic Development Committee. Mary Kuehl, also 57, works at an area medical facility. They have two grown children who attended McDonell-Central High School and one grandchild.
The Kuehls have been attending the annual September festival since its inception, saying they have only missed perhaps twice.
“We’re both German,” Mary Kuehl said. “The music is really top-notch. And it’s fun to see the little ones dance.”
Bill Febry, the first-ever Festmeister in 2003, serves on a select committee that chooses the royal couple. He informed the Kuehls they were selected in February.
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“They are community-minded people,” Febry said. “It fits who we are looking for in royalty.”
Dick Hebert, the 2007 festmeister, offered similar words of praise for the Kuehls.
“Great choice. They’ve been big supporters of Oktoberfest over the years, and active in the community,” Hebert said.
Ian Kopp, the 2016 festmeiester, said Kuehl used to be his boss.
“He’s a wonderful man. They do a lot for the community and a lot of volunteering,” Kopp said.
Jerry Kuehl grew up in Port Edwards, in Wood County, and Mary Kuehl grew up in Eau Claire, but they are both proud to call Chippewa Falls their home.
“We are just blessed to be part of this community,” Jerry Kuehl said.
Secrecy in selection
The selection of the royal couple is a well-kept secret; only about five people know who is chosen in advance of the big reveal each year. That presented a challenge for the Kuehls, who had many friends ask them if they were this year’s royalty.
“The hard part is when you are questioned because you don’t want to be deceitful,” Jerry Kuehl said. “Part of the mystique is the secrecy.”
Mary Kuehl added: “Keeping it quiet is part of your duty.”
Hebert said the guessing game has become part of the Oktoberfest tradition.
“You always guess,” Hebert said. “Most of the time, you are wrong.”
Nearly all of the royal couples since the event began were on hand Friday; with two families missing, and one festmeisterin, Carol Gienapp, now deceased.
Oktoberfest typically draws 14,000 patrons over the course of the weekend; numbers from this year weren’t available yet.
Since the beginning of Oktoberfest in 2003, the Planning Committee has donated more than $345,000 to local community groups and non-profits, including $20,000 last November from the 2018 event.