Ohio Swiss Festival presents a nostalgic return to Swiss heritage

Screen Shot 2022 09 21 at 9 44 28 AM

With any annual event that dates its beginning back to 1953, there is a certain amount of nostalgia that accompanies the yearly celebration.

For the Ohio Swiss Festival, which will take place in Sugarcreek Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, that bit of nostalgia includes Swiss cheese, yodeling, tossing around large rocks, polka music, apple fritters and many other events that harken back to the early days in Sugarcreek’s highly anticipated three-day spectacle.

However, it’s not as much the things in the weekend, but rather the experience of Swiss heritage and community that make the Ohio Swiss Festival so much of a reunion-like atmosphere.

“Not only do we as people living in Sugarcreek look forward to hosting this event, we have college kids and people who have lived in Sugarcreek coming back just for the weekend, and plenty of visitors from outside the community who circle this event and make it an annual pilgrimage each year,” said Bev Keller, Ohio Swiss Festival director of marketing. “Over the decades, the Swiss Festival has remained committed to everything that people have come to love about the event.

”Those events are time-honored and cherished Swiss activities like the power of Steinstossen, where men and women hoist huge rocks as far as they can.

Keller said former U.S.A. Olympian Jud Logan put this event on the map, participating many years and holding the record until Beau Lenarz bested it a few years ago. She went on to note that many locals have made this an annual effort, and the crowds who come to watch make it one of the most anticipated events of the weekend.

“Jud is part of the legacy of this great event,” Keller said of the ex-Olympian and longtime Ashland University coach who died in January. “It’s so unique and has such a wonderful following.

”Then there is the Schwingfest, an unusual Swiss activity that sees its participants flinging each other around in outfits resembling large diapers with a barrel top. Keller said she has done extensive research on the event and found it surprising that back in the earlier days of the Swiss Festival, they invited the public to give it a try.

Today, the event is only done via demonstration by Garaway High School wrestling coach Gregg Miller’s wrestlers, for safety purposes. Miller worked closely with Dan’s Hunting Gear to replicate the outfits several years ago.

“It’s one of those charming Swiss heritage things that remains pretty true to the Swiss people,” Keller said.

Then there is Joey Tomsick, who has routinely performed at the Swiss Festival for decades. Keller said the crooner and his band has been a part of the entertainment slate as far back as she can remember.

“Joey and the Swiss Festival go hand-in-hand,” Keller said. “I can’t imagine this event without him and there are probably many people who feel the same. He’s been coming for about four decades, so he is ingrained in creating this incredible polka atmosphere we’ve been known for.

”He may be the old hand, but joining the pavilion music venue this year is Aaron Dussing, who will add his band’s polka skills to the fun.

Another Ohio Swiss Festival staple is the Swiss cheese, which has been the heartbeat of the event. When the Ohio Swiss Cheese Association disbanded in 2021, the festival committee dug in and found a new way to promote the cheese, teaming it up with another local staple, the wine-making community, to create the Wine and Cheese tasting event at the firehouse.

Keller said the Swiss cheese simply went a different direction, and partnering with wine seemed like the perfect fit.

“One of the things the Swiss Festival promotes is supporting our local vendors and businesses, and adding the wine to the cheese to create a new event is perfect,” Keller said. “People can still get their fill of cheese, but in adding the wine, it takes it to a whole new level, and we have seen so much growth in our local wineries in recent years that we felt it was good to promote everything they are doing.

”She said the wine and cheese tasting station has been a popular favorite among adults, who can enjoy the event while their children revel in the many rides and attractions throughout the festival setting.

In addition, festival food included fried cheese, plenty of fair food, and of course apple fritters, which have become a staple over the years.

“We are thankful for the Garaway High School Athletic Booster Club for taking the reins on the apple fritters,” Keller said. “All of the proceeds from the fritters goes to the club, and they pour it right back into the community.

”The Swiss Festival oozes with tradition, culminating in the grand parade, that sees the masses line up several people deep all up and down Main, Factory and Maple Streets.

Keller said the grand parade is the perfect way to put the wraps on the weekend that starts Thursday night with the queen and Little Swiss Miss contest and a performance by the Garaway marching band.

“It’s family-friendly fun that continues to showcase Sugarcreek, the community, its people and our Swiss heritage,” Keller said.

For a complete schedule and descriptions of the various events, visit: www.ohioswissfestival.com.