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Sauerkraut's silver year marked by memorable past

From its beginning to its silver jubilee, the Sauerkraut Festival is about community

Photo Credit: FILE - The late Fred Bernet, one of the early Scappoose Sauerkraut Festival supporters, dishes up the Famous Scappoose Sandwich at the Community Club booth.Twenty-five years ago, the idea of holding an annual festival in Scappoose to relish sauerkraut, the literal translation of which is “sour cabbage,” might have seemed just as strange as the city’s name itself.

As the Scappoose Community Club gears up for its 25th and possibly last Scappoose Sauerkraut Festival, longtime volunteers reflect on what has drawn thousands of visitors to the quirky fest and made it a beloved annual tradition.

Evelyn Hudson remembers the festival’s inception. She was working as the city recorder at the time and was a member of what was then dubbed the Booster Club before being renamed the City Club and, eventually, the Community Club.

Hudson said local sauerkraut producer and business owner, Raymond Steinfeld, pitched the idea to the city.

“I was at the time working for the city of Scappoose and Mr. Steinfeld came into the office and said, ‘We want to sponsor some kind of festival around sauerkraut,’” Hudson recalled. “When he came to the meeting and proposed it to the council, everybody loved it.”

Hudson said the club members all pitched in to handle a portion of the inaugural festival’s planning. By the second year, the club designated a person to lead the festival’s planning, and Hudson took over.

“I was so totally amazed because it rained and did not stop anybody from coming,” Hudson recalled. “Little ol’ ladies were coming down the street in their walkers in the rain. We could not believe how receptive everyone was.”

Steinfeld’s, at the time an active and successful producer of the fermented cabbage, paid for a portion of the Sauerkraut Festival’s promotion in local papers, as well as in Portland and other neighboring counties.

Since 1989, the festival has offered food and product vendors, live music, games and activities. In year’s past, spectators watched Alaskan pig races. The community club has remained one of the key vendors, offering sauerkraut sandwiches for sale. The sandwich — now dubbed the Famous Scappoose Sandwich — uses a butterflied Oktoberfest sausage dog topped with sauerkraut and stuffed between a bread roll. Eaters add condiments of their choice.

To assuage the residents inconvenienced by the festival, Hudson made peace offerings.

“I would go to every house that was going to have the street closed by their house and offer them a free sandwich,” she said.

Each year, the Community Club’s sandwich booth is a large undertaking.

Local Realtor and Sauerkraut Festival volunteer Josette Hugo has organized the booth for the past 15 years.

She says the booth is a production of its own.

“It’s a minimum of 30 people, about 10 to 12 per shift,” Hugo explained. She estimates the booth serves about 1,200 sandwiches each year.

Despite the chaos, most years have gone smoothly, Hugo noted, but the annual operation has encountered its share of glitches.

“One year, we ordered the sandwich rolls and they forgot us,” Hugo recalled. “It was 9 in the morning and I thought, ‘Gee, they should be here by now,’ so we ran to the store and bought all that we could at Fred Meyer, and then the bread company brought us all that we needed. I think that’s the only calamity we had.”

Despite hiccups and a few glitches along the way, veteran organizers say they kept at it not for the financial boon the event brings to the Community Club, but for an even greater return.

“We formed friendships, a working relationship,” Lisa Smith, a Community Club member and former Scappoose city councilor, said. “[We] laughed together, cried together, pulled out our hair together. We did it for the community spirit, I guess. We always knew we were doing it for the community.”

Hugo admits she was skeptical of the festival at first, but as it nears its 25th year, she says it’s hard to imagine the event going away.

“When I first got involved, I thought, ‘Really? Sauerkraut?’” she said. “It didn’t seem like the greatest idea in the world, but it’s been successful each year.

Hugo, like most of the club’s other members, credits the success of the festival to its volunteers, but club members say those, along with vital sponsorship dollars, have dwindled over the years. The club voted earlier this year not to plan for another sauerkraut festival, meaning the event’s silver year will likely be its last.

“Community Club is just a neat organization,” Hugo said. “We wish we could’ve tracked some new blood. New people we have in this town, we’d certainly like to see them come join us.”

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