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Guide to the Robert Mullally La Crosse Festivals Inc. Oktoberfest U.S.A. Collection, 1962-2007 MSS 118

Guide to the Robert Mullally La Crosse Festivals Inc. Oktoberfest U.S.A. Collection, 1962-2007

MSS 118

Summary Information

Materials created by La Crosse Festivals Inc. for the Oktoberfest U.S.A. celebration in La Crosse, Wis., were compiled by Robert Mullally, a former festmaster. Materials included in the collection are La Crosse Festivals, Inc.'s administrative and associated groups' records, materials relating to the festival's "royalty," materials pertaining to each year's Oktoberfest celebration from 1962-2007, and materials relating to the La Crosse Festivals, Inc. Fourth of July celebration held in 1971.
Collection Title
Robert Mullally La Crosse Festivals Inc. Oktoberfest U.S.A. Collection
Date of Materials
La Crosse Festivals, Inc..
La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.).
Creator - Collector
Mullally, Robert
Oktoberfest USA.
Call Number
MSS 118
2.4 cubic feet (6 archives boxes)
Language of Materials
Mixed materials [Box]
La Crosse Public Library Archives

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Robert Mullally La Crosse Festivals Inc. Oktoberfest U.S.A. Collection, 1962-2007, MSS 118, La Crosse Public Library Archives, La Crosse, WI

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Biographical Note

Dr. Robert "Bob" Mullally was born May 15, 1929, in St. Cloud, Minn. After completing his doctorate degree in higher education in 1961, Dr. Mullally worked as the Assistant Dean of Men and Director of Student Activities at the University of Wyoming in Laramie until relocating to La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1967. Then he joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse as the Director of Student Activities and Centers and a Professor of College Student Personnel. Throughout his life in La Crosse, Dr. Mullally served on numerous committees both at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and throughout the city of La Crosse.

Specifically, Dr. Mullally was heavily involved in the Oktoberfest U.S.A. festival and La Crosse Festivals, Inc. organization. Beginning in 1967, Mullally volunteered for the parade committee and helped organize and execute the first Maple Leaf Parade. The next year he was asked to serve on the Board of Directors. In all, Mullally has served on the Board of Directors as secretary, on the Executive Board, as Board President, and as Festmaster for the 1981 Oktoberfest. In addition to serving on committees and in various positions, Mullally participated in drafting the agreements to create the La Crosse Festivals, Inc. organization and with Roy Kumm, establishing the permanent Oktoberfest festgrounds. He also assisted in the creation of the Mrs. Oktoberfest role and the Grenadier Corps.

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Historical Note

The Oktoberfest U.S.A. festival was first held October 13-15, 1961, in La Crosse, Wis. The festival was first planned in 1960 as a joint effort between the G. Heileman Brewing Company and the Greater La Crosse Chamber of Commerce, who sought to create an annual community-wide activity as the City of La Crosse had been without one since the early 1920s when La Crosse celebrated an annual Winter Carnival. Oktoberfest was chosen as the new festival. Festival coordination was taken over by the Oktoberfest Committee, which was created by the Greater La Crosse Chamber of Commerce. The organization set five main goals for the annual festival: 1) to promote local pride in La Crosse, 2) to obtain national publicity for La Crosse, 3) to promote tourism to La Crosse and the Coulee Region, 4) to involve a large number of people, and 5) to break even financially, while remaining a nonprofit organization.

In 1962, the name “Oktoberfest” was registered with the State of Wisconsin. In 1963, “Oktoberfest, U.S.A.” was registered and listed as a trademark with the federal government, and in 1966, the nonprofit organization, La Crosse Festivals, Inc. was formed through the purchasing of Oktoberfest’s assets from the Greater La Crosse Chamber of Commerce.

Early Oktoberfest celebrations featured square dances, soccer matches, German music, farm fairs, scenic bus and boat trips, a youth tent, and an emphasis on the celebration being a family festival. The 1971 Oktoberfest began the tradition of the Medallion Hunt. Other traditions that are a part of Oktoberfest include, Craft Beer Night, Ladies Day Luncheon, Lederhosen Luncheon, and the Special Fester Award. The Maple Leaf Marathon began in 1976, today the race is an annual half-marathon run. In 1969 the annual Oktoberfest race weekend at the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway began.

The Festmaster position began in 1962, and is the head of the Oktoberfest royal family, which consists of the Festmaster, Miss La Crosse Oktoberfest, and Mrs. Oktoberfest. The requirements for the Festmaster is that he is at least 55 years old, able to participate in all events, is friendly and outgoing, known for his contributions to the community, is a good family man, has a reputation for honesty and integrity, is successful in his chosen profession, has no conflicts of interest, has a friendly wife who is willing to participate, resides within 20 miles of La Crosse, has good public speaking capabilities, and has been a resident of La Crosse county for at least ten years. The wife of the Festmaster is expected to attend as many functions with her husband as possible.

Traditionally, the Festmaster position is not revealed to the public until the Festmaster Ball, which is held the weekend prior to the start of Oktoberfest. Don Rice, the President of the Exchange State Bank was named the first Festmaster, in 1962. Festmasters, along with the rest of the royal family, are expected to participate not only in Oktoberfest, but other festivals and various engagements throughout the entire year until a new Festmaster is elected at the following Oktoberfest.

Since its inception, the Miss La Crosse Oktoberfest beauty pageant, or in its early years, the “Queen Pageant,” has always been a part of Oktoberfest festivities. In July 1964, the Jaycees organization was no longer able to organize and promote a Miss La Crosse Pageant, and it was proposed to the Oktoberfest board to combine their pageant with that of the Jaycees. This decision was passed and Oktoberfest added the title of Miss La Crosse to their own queen, thus beginning the tradition of the winner of the Oktoberfest pageant being crowned Miss La Crosse Oktoberfest. Often the pageant is held the Friday or Saturday before Oktoberfest begins. After Miss La Crosse Oktoberfest is crowned, she is expected to attend all major fest events with the rest of the royal family and to also attend events throughout the rest of the year. The qualifications for Miss La Crosse Oktoberfest are the same requirements for the national Miss America pageant. Miss La Crosse Oktoberfest then goes on to compete in the Miss Wisconsin pageant.

The Mrs. Oktoberfest pageant was started in 1968, in an attempt by the Oktoberfest board of directors to further develop family participation and to deemphasize the beer drinking atmosphere in the fest. The qualifications for Mrs. Oktoberfest is that she must be at least 40 years old, have been married, known by her contributions to the community, have time to devote to Fest activities, and reside within a 20 mile radius of La Crosse. Mrs. Oktoberfest’s duties require her to attend all Oktoberfest events with the royal family both during Oktoberfest and throughout the year of her reign.

In 1971, the Oktoberfest board authorized the establishment of the Festmaster’s Grenadiers. The Grenadier Corps was established to appear at promotional proceedings and to assist with Oktoberfest events and “royal family” appearances. In a way, they serve as cheerleaders.

The first Maple Leaf Parade was held in 1961, the first year of Oktoberfest. During the inaugural year, the parade had a four mile route and lasted three and a half hours, and the crowd was estimated at 30-50,000. The name “Maple Leaf Parade” was adopted in 1962 at the suggestion of Terry Witzke, a teacher at Emerson Elementary school, to promote appreciation for La Crosse’s landscape.

Due to the length, enormity, and popularity of the first Maple Leaf Parade, the second Maple Leaf Parade in 1962 drew about 70,000 spectators from around the Midwest. In 1963, the Maple Leaf Parade drew a crowd of 200,000. The number of attendees would continue to grow each year.

The first Torchlight parade was in 1965. The parade was brought about to showcase the North Side of La Crosse and to kick off the festival. In 1981, the Torchlight parade would close the fest, however circa 2010, the Torchlight Parade would again mark the start of Oktoberfest celebrations in La Crosse.

Because of the German roots of the festival, Oktoberfest has always had a beer tent as part of the festival’s activities. G. Heileman brewery was initially the official beer supplier to La Crosse’s Oktoberfest in its early years.

Due to a substantial increase in younger generations and teenagers enjoying the nightlife and beer drinking aspects of the fest, the 1966 Oktoberfest was marked by “rowdiness and excessive drinking.” In this year a large amount of teen-agers were cited as swarming the bars and beer tents and causing chaos in La Crosse. In reaction to this, in 1967, Oktoberfest U.S.A decided to sponsor no beer tents and instead chose to focus on cheese and milk. However, this decision proved detrimental to the festival, which saw a deficit of $25,000 that year which took the organization two years to recover from. Because of the detrimental result of the 1967 Oktoberfest, fest leadership chose to take the festival in a new direction and to focus on promoting the festival as a family event. To achieve this while also bringing back the beer element to the 1968 Oktoberfest, the minimum drinking age at the Oktoberfest beer tents was raised to 21 years old, the Mrs. Oktoberfest pageant was introduced, and advertising for the Fest was limited to the local Coulee Region to reduce the number of out of town young people in attendance (previously Oktoberfest was advertised in St. Paul-Minneapolis, Chicago, and Milwaukee).

However, while Oktoberfest has sought to downplay the beer drinking atmosphere and tradition of the fest, it has remained a core piece of the annual festival. In the 1970s and up through the 1990s, Oktoberfest again saw backlash because of excessive beer throwing in the beer tents. This issue led to increased security, police force, and an age restriction on entering the beer tents. The North Side Fest Grounds also became established as the family grounds, which would host the carnival rides and games, and include a smaller beer tent.

As such, in 1968 G. Heileman Brewing Co. Chairman Roy Kumm withdrew the financial support for Oktoberfest they had provided in early its years, and moved to replace the “Tapping of the Golden Keg” opening ceremony with one where cheese and milk was served by then Wisconsin Governor Warren Knowles.

The Oktoberfest grounds in its first years were located in parking lots south of where the Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium was located at North 5th Street. In 1971, the fest location was moved from the area surrounding the Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium to grounds adjacent to the downtown district after more permanent structures were built at a cost of $20,000. These grounds, purchased and donated by G. Heileman Brewing Co., were rented for other festivals throughout the year, including the Fourth of July celebration which was a precursor to Riverfest. In 2001, La Crosse Festivals, Inc. unveiled plans to expand the south side Fest Grounds to front the causeway, and to build an amphitheater, a welcome and heritage center, and a retail store that could be open to the public and tourists throughout the entire year. To date (2017) this objective has not yet been met.

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Scope and Contents

This collection compiled by Robert Mullallyincludes items related to the La Crosse Festivals, Inc. organization and the Oktoberfest U.S.A. annual festival in La Crosse, Wis.

The La Crosse Festivals, Inc. materials include various editions and edits of their organizational articles of incorporation and bylaws (1965-2005), as well as editions of their organizational procedures, codes, and policies (1983-2001) for members and groups within the organization.

Administrative groups cover materials pertaining to the administration of the La Crosse Festivals, Inc. organization and the Oktoberfest U.S.A. celebration. Klub Membership (1987-2006) includes recruitment materials, donation requirements for membership, and membership rosters; Personnel Directories (1981-2005) includes rosters and mailing information for organization members; Presidents (1995-2004) includes a list which outlines all of the Oktoberfest U.S.A. presidents and their terms; the Board of Directors (1967-2005) includes finances, meeting minutes, event agendas, and board rosters; the Board of Trustees (19971-2006) includes meeting notes, board rosters, festground information, and strategic plan notes; and the Gemutlichkeit Foundation (2001), which includes plans, correspondence, and project notes related to the 2001 plans to renovate the festgrounds.

Within the Board of Trustees, several committees exist and the materials included are the Trustee Oktoberfest Committee assignments (1987-2005), which includes meeting notes, schedules, and policies; the Advisory Committee (2004), which includes meeting notes, financial records, policies, and materials regarding purchasing and locating a permanent festgrounds location; the Oktoberfest History Committee (1999-2003) which includes correspondence, a statement of purpose, and written histories; and the Festmaster Award Committee (2000-2001), which includes correspondence and lists of award recipients.

The Fest Royalty and Pageantry materials are made up of the General Fest Pageantry (1979-2001) materials, which include policies and lists of royal positions held in various years; the Festmaster position (1969-2005) materials include newspaper articles, policies and guidelines for the position, schedules, meeting notes, and lists depicting who carried the title each year; the Miss Oktoberfest materials (1969-2005) include newspaper articles, pageant programs, correspondence, and meeting notes; the Mrs. Oktoberfest materials (1969-2005) include newspaper articles and policies for the position; the Grenadiers materials (1971-2005) include newspaper articles, meeting notes, correspondence, policies, and directories; the Parade Marshalls (undated) materials include policies and procedures for the position; and the Trumpeteers materials (1971-1996) include newspaper clippings, schedules, and notes.

The Oktoberfest U.S.A. Event Materials are made up of an Oktoberfest General History and Information (1969-2005), which includes event memorabilia, such as ribbons, ticket stubs, and signs; lists describing the royal family, administrative positions, entertainment, events, dates, and themes for each year’s Oktoberfest; written histories; newsletters; event schedules; correspondence; and newspaper articles. The Annual Event materials are organized by year, beginning with 1962 and ending in 2007. Each folder contains materials related to that year’s Oktoberfest event, including programs, schedules, marketing materials, event participant rosters, newspaper articles, and materials related to that year’s Royal Family members, such as obituaries, funeral programs, biographies, and newspaper articles. In particular, the 1981 Fest Year contains the collection compiler, Robert Mullally's, resume and written biographies. The years 1971, 1975, 1981, 1991, 2002, and 2003 contain photographs.

The Fourth of July Festival (1971) materials includes newspaper articles, press releases, correspondence, and marketing materials related to the Fourth of July Festival and the grand opening of the new Oktoberfest grounds on 2nd and Front Streets as hosted by La Crosse Festivals.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

La Crosse Public Library Archives 2017 January

800 Main St.
La Crosse, Wisconsin, 54601
(608) 789-7136

Access to Materials

Materials in this collection are available for patron use.

Acquisitions Information

(Accession no. 2006.125) Donated by Robert Mullally via the La Crosse County Historical Society, October 2006

Processing Information

Processed by Margaret Donndelinger and William Doering, 2011, and Cate Purtirskis, 2013; reprocessed and finding aid written by Hannah L Weber, January 2017

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Related Materials

Related Materials

(Manuscript Collection)
 MSS 085 the John G. Zoerb Oktoberfest Collection, 1961-1994
(Clipping File)
 La Crosse--Oktoberfest--[year]
(Ephemera file)
(Picture File)

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • La Crosse County Historical Society (Wis.).
  • La Crosse Festivals, Inc..
  • Oktoberfest USA.

Personal Name(s)

  • Mullally, Robert


  • Ethnic festivals--Wisconsin--La Crosse
  • German Americans--Wisconsin--La Crosse

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Collection Inventory

La Crosse Festivals, Inc. 

Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws 

Box Folder


1 1


1 2
Box Folder

Procedures, Codes, and Policies 1983-2001 

1 3

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Administrative Groups 

Box Folder

Klub Membership 1987-2003 

1 4

Personnel Directories 1981-2005, undated 

1 5

Presidents 1995-2004 

1 6

Board of Directors 1967-2005 

1 7

Board of Trustees 

Box Folder


1 8


1 9


1 10

Oktoberfest Committees 1987-2005 

2 1

Advisory Committee 2004 

2 2

Oktoberfest History Committee 1999-2003 

2 3

Festmaster Award Committee 2000-2001 

2 4
Box Folder

Gemutlichkeit Foundation, Fest Grounds Plans 2001 

2 5

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Fest Royalty and Pageantry 

Box Folder

Fest Pageantry 1979-2001 

2 6

Festmaster 1969-2005 

2 7

Miss Oktoberfest 1969-2005 

2 8

Mrs. Oktoberfest 1969-2005 

2 9

Grenadiers 1971-2005 

2 10

Parade Marshalls undated 

2 11

Trumpeters 1971-1996 

2 12

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Oktoberfest U.S.A. Event Materials 

Box Folder

Oktoberfest General History and Information 1969-2005 

2 13

Annual Event Materials 

Box Folder


2 14


2 15


2 16


2 17


3 1


3 2


3 3


Box Folder


3 5


3 6


3 7


3 8


3 9


3 10


3 11


3 12


3 13


3 14


3 15


4 1


4 2


4 3


4 4


4 5


4 6


4 7


4 8


4 9


4 10


4 11


4 12


5 1


5 2


5 3


5 4


5 5


5 6


5 7


5 8


6 1


6 2


6 3


6 4


6 5


6 6


6 7

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Box Folder

Fourth of July Festival 1971 

6 8