Partygoers celebrate German heritage and folklore at Kutztown University

For some it was a walk down memory lane.

For others, it was a glimpse into their heritage.

And for a few, it was like coming home.

The Heemet Fescht brought culture to life. Held on Saturday at the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University, the annual event featured traditional artisans, folklore lessons, cooking demonstrations, performances by folk musicians and good times.

“The good thing about this event is that you can find something to enjoy even if you have no connection to the German culture of Pennsylvania,” said Patrick Donmoyer, director of the heritage center. “It is not just a celebration of the past, it is a celebration of the cultural traditions that still accompany us today.”

Donmoyer explained that Heemet Fescht in Pennsylvania Dutch translates to Home Festival in English. The festival would commemorate the successful end of the harvest season with members of the community gathering in area churches to celebrate.

Donmoyer said the good attendance at Saturday’s event is proof that there is a growing demand among local residents to learn more about these traditions – spurred in part by the ongoing global pandemic. Time spent at home, he said, sparked a renewed interest in learning the beliefs and customs of the past.

“The heritage center strives to be a resource for this,” he said.

Karen Shuey – Reading Eagle

Sarah Edris, senior at Kutztown University, is working to complete a hex sign during Heemet Fescht on Saturday. Edris is studying Anthropology and Pennsylvania German at KU.

Glenn and Margitta Stevens believe the Heritage Center is a tremendous resource for the region.

The couple, who live in New Ringgold, made the short trip from their Schuylkill County home to Heemet Fescht almost every fall that it took place. They also regularly attend Christmas and Easter celebrations held at the heritage center.

“It’s like a piece of house for me,” said Margitta.

Margitta was born and raised in Germany, so she said these events gave her the opportunity to showcase her language skills and participate in activities that remind her of home. And that’s something she can share with her husband.

Glenn and Margitta met in Germany while stationed there during his military service. In fact, he spent so much of his career in this country that he said he would often replace the words he knew in Pennsylvania Dutch with German.

“When we come here we have the chance to see it like it used to be,” said Glenn. “It takes us both back in time and gives us the chance to see some friends we’ve made along the way. We are really looking forward to it.

Karen Shuey – Reading Eagle

Glenn and Margitta Stevens, left, give a Pennsylvania Dutch lesson to Heritage Center volunteer Richard Reilly. They rarely miss the celebration of Heemet Fescht.

Craftsman Matthew Vardjan has also become a regular at Heemet Fescht. He began to learn the family craft of paper art and to accompany his father to German festivals when he was just a youngster.

“It’s a family tradition that I want to keep alive,” the Oley Township man said as his hands folded strips of paper into patterns that would eventually take the shape of tiny stars. “I’m the fourth generation to practice German Folk Art from Pennsylvania and I love showing people what we can do. “

In addition to his Moravian stars, Vardjan uses equipment from 1890 to create postcards adorned with intricate block designs that were carefully carved by his mother. Some of the designs are hundreds of years old – relics from the past.

Karen Shuey – Reading Eagle

Artist Eric Claypoole displays the hexagonal signs he designed for the Heemet Fescht.

Eric Claypoole is another artist who followed in his father’s footsteps.

The Lenhartsville resident said he painted his first hexagonal barn sign when he was around 12 years old. And just completed his 100th hexagonal barn sign a few weeks ago at the age of 60.

“It’s a fun thing to do,” he said when asked why he was continuing. “It’s in my blood so I don’t think I’m going to quit anytime soon. I plan to keep going for as long as possible and keep showing people this amazing craft. “

Claypoole said that perhaps the most interesting thing about hexagonal signs is that no one really knows why the colorful patterns started to appear on the sides of barns.

“You can ask 10 different people what they mean and you’ll get 10 different answers,” he said with a big laugh. “It’s funny like that.”

Karen Shuey – Reading Eagle

Lydia Al-Khal, 3, left, and her sister Laine, 6, paint their own pumpkins at Heemet Fescht. The girls were there with their grandmother to learn more about their heritage.

Laverne Passman comes to Heemet Fescht every fall to hear these kinds of stories. And she brings her daughter and two granddaughters so that they have a better understanding of their heritage.

Passman, who lives in Schnecksville, said she was traveling to Kutztown from County Lehigh to give her family a glimpse into her past.

“For me it is very important to participate in the events here at the center,” she said. “This is what we do to keep traditions and stories alive.”

“I love telling my daughters about their roots because we are all Pennsylvania Germans,” added daughter Ellie Al-Khal, watching her daughters decorate pumpkins at a nearby table.

Donmoyer said Heemet Fescht is one of the many opportunities the heritage center offers those looking to explore culture and find out more about the past.

Located on the historic Sharadin Farm on campus, the Heritage Center provides public access to historic buildings, seasonal events, and Pennsylvania German dialect classes. It also offers a research library for those who wish to conduct genealogical, historical, linguistic and cultural research.

“The heritage center is a way for people to experience the university and for the university to serve people,” he said. “This exchange is the main reason why the heritage center is so important. “