Rural PA Dutch farmers partook in folk festival to make event authentic (Part I)
Showcasing our rural folk culture to the nation demanded a lot of serious dedication and work
When I became involved with the newlysplit and named Kutztown Pennsylvania German Festival in 1995, building stands alongside Richard Shaner, which thankfully regained its name back to the Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Festival (at Kutztown), Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker’s desire and vision to operate a true, authentic festival passed along to Mr. Shaner in its early years. Dick carried on Doc’s determination and made sure I was introduced to the PA Dutch “workethic” of our rural farm people, which I had only somewhat been accustomed to as a youth.
This level of expertise of Shoemaker’s former colleagues, friends at the annual folk festival, and even back to those involved at Franklin and Marshall College, his vision, determination, grit, and goals so impactful, all those who knew and learned under Dr. Shoemaker also wished to showcase our rural folk culture to the nation and demanded a lot of serious dedication and work!
With its inception (in 1950), his co-editors of the widely read Pennsylvania Dutchman news¬paper, (1949-1952) like Dr. Don Yoder and J. Willian Frey had already excited a number of PA Dutch people in southeastern Pennsylvania that our native folk culture was a proud part of America’s dynamic heritage and should be shared with the entire nation.
So, in 1950, when the staff of The Dutchman newspaper began its PA Dutch Folk Festival at Kutztown, there were already Dutchmen newspaper readers and natives willing to do the work to share Alfred Shoemaker’s national Pennsylvania Dutch folk festival no matter how much work or time it entailed to present an authentic academic folk festival.
However, since many of these fluent-speaking German Dialect Rhineland descendants liked the fact that Dr. Shoemaker’s editors could converse in PA Dutch, themselves, and understood their culture, they were more than willing to join in his efforts to celebrate their Americana features of our more than 300-year-old PA Dutch Culture at a time in the 1950s when urban Americans were enjoying push button modern living.
However, the rural PA Dutch Folk Festival still appealed to city folk who no longer remembered life on the farm, let alone delicious PA Dutch cooking that was eagerly anticipated at the annual celebration.
Among numerous natives of both Berks and Lehigh Counties, Shoemaker (a native of Lehigh) discovered the pride which swelled within each Dutch person who was more than willing to demonstrate or help build authentic folk festival demonstrations.
In the early years, perhaps no other farm family on which Shoemaker relied for much of the folk festival preparation was Herb and Viola Miller, and later their children who lived on a farm just north of Kutztown.
Still today, their son Lester in his 80s still calls the hoe downing at today’s 21st Century festivals with his grandkids mostly in their 20s and 30s now involved in the dancing. As the folk festival progressed the following year in 1951, Doc Shoemaker counted on a local Dutchman named George Adam (1910-2002) and liked this congenial farmer’s disposition.
George was also a road supervisor for Richmond Township, near to the borough of Kutztown.
A lifelong farming
Dutchman who could correctly set up rail fences and rural threshing grain demonstrations, (George) Adam was called “Butcher George” by those who would hire his excellent services to butcher animals on their farm site and render lard and scrapple for family use. George’s
red painted stake body truck, large enough to carry his butcher kettles and butchering trough, was always seen around Kutztown with shovel and push broom standing high in the air above the cab, a symbolic trademark of the festival and his willingness to lend a helping hand.
A jovial and humble native who never shirked at helping a friend or farmer, his work-ethic was to share the burden of everyone who asked his help. He believed anything was possible if you had a proper positive work attitude, an oldtime PA Dutch work ethic custom.
Sterling “Tiny” Zimmerman, a true grit farmer and butcher Dutchman, is pictured with folk singer son, stage name, Kenn Brooks also was a part of the historic Kutztown Folk Festival.