Hall of Fame
Established on September 23, 2011, in honor of George F Schmidt. Mr. Schmidt established the Columbus Oktoberfest in 1965. Over the years, Columbus Oktoberfest has been held in several locations, from Schiller Park in the German Village area to The Ohio State Fairgrounds. Oktoberfest has provided German culture, food, music, and enjoyment to the residents of Central Ohio. In conjunction with the German Village Society and Mr. Schmidt, The German Village Oktoberfest was operated throughout the community for several years and now has returned to the Schmidt family as The Columbus Oktoberfest. Over the years, many community members have been influential in developing and promoting the event. Hence the Hall of Fame committee wishes to elect each year a deserving individual to The Columbus Oktoberfest Hall of Fame.
Kelly Shields Locker
Celebrates a 50+ year connection with Schmidt’s Sausage Haus and the Columbus Oktoberfest. One of Kelly’s first memories of the Oktoberfest was in her early teens when bussing tables at the event when it was held inside the Agriculture/Horticultural building at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. Kelly grew up in Ashville, Ohio, and her connection with the Schmidt family and Oktoberfest began when her mother, Sue Shields, was the general manager for several of the Schmidt’s restaurant locations for many years, and the first location her mother put Kelly to work at was the restaurant opened year-round located at the Fairgrounds.
Kelly loved working at Schmidt’s because it gave her the opportunity to enjoy the many exciting special events held at the fairgrounds, and the most memorable event she worked at was the Columbus Oktoberfest!
As time evolved, Sue managed two other Schmidt Sausage Haus locations, and Kelly moved along with her. Through the years, after graduating from college and working full time in Event Management, she also continued to work part time at the Schmidt’s restaurant located at the Ohio Center and in time, was promoted assistant manager of nights and weekends.
Eventually Kelly married, moved to Canton, Ohio, and now has two wonderful sons. While raising her sons, Kelly continued to coordinate and organize projects and events until she came upon an interesting offer to buy a well-known Art & Craft Show business that was based out of Canton, Huff’s Promotions. At the time, Huff’s Promotions organized multiple Art & Craft shows each week at indoor malls in many different states including Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida and more, and eventually Kelly expanded to include other show themes and in different venues, as well.
About 12 years ago, she received a phone call from someone asking if Huff’s Promotions would be interested in organizing the Art & Craft area at the Columbus Oktoberfest which was being moved back to the Ohio State Fairgrounds. As they continued to talk, she recognized the voice and asked, “Is this Geoff (Schmidt)?” Indeed it was, and after reminiscing, the circle was completed and Kelly is now connected to Schmidt’s again after 23 years apart. Over the last several years, Kelly decided to step back from organizing events and changed her focus to take an active role in her husband’s business; however, organizing the Columbus Oktoberfest Art & Craft Marktplatz was one event she knew she couldn’t give up because it means so much to her. So, instead of dissolving her business completely she continues to organize the Merchant Market and Art & Craft Marktplatz for the Columbus Oktoberfest!read more
This year the Columbus Oktoberfest is inducting the first female into the wall of Fame. Carla Epler has been a part of Oktoberfest in various capacities for over 30 years. Her first introduction to Oktoberfest was as a team member in one of the Schmidt’s Restaurant und Sausage Haus food stands. At that time Schmidt’s was one of the presenting sponsors. Three years later she joined the executive committee as a beer captain and later as food vendor coordinator.
In 2009 when the German Village society decided to cancel the Oktoberfest Carla, along with Geoff Schmidt, was quick to propose that Schmidt’s once again produce the Columbus Oktoberfest as they had for several years in the 70’s and 80’s. Carla became the Executive Director and alongside the Schmidt family and great marketing partners has produced and directed the Columbus Oktoberfest for 14 years.
When she isn’t busy dotting I’s and crossing T’s for the Oktoberfest Carla is the COO for Schmidt’s Restaurant und Sausage Haus, a CTA (certified Tourism Ambassador)for the city of Columbus, is a wife and a mother of three teenage boys who keep her busy with multiple sports.read more
Grew up in Washington Court House and is a Wilmington College graduate. Charlie got into the food/concession business as a young man. He started out with an ice cream truck that soon led to manufacturing and selling ice cream trucks world- wide including 40 to Vietnam during the war. Ice cream soon led to catering and retail food service nationwide. Concessions by Cox has participated or produced over 300 events in 28 states providing food service to some of the biggest and most prestigious events including 4 days on the White House Lawn and Youth Days in Toronto for Pope John.
Concessions by Cox has been part of 5 Super Bowls, The Kentucky Derby and major NASCAR races. Locally Concessions by Cox was the exclusive food service at the Columbus Zoo for 13 years and has been the full time Concessionaire for the Ohio Expo Center for the past 16 years. Has been part of the Ohio State Fair for 62 years.
Throughout it all Charlie and Concessions by Cox has been a part of the Oktoberfest. In the late 80’s, early 90’s Concessions by Cox provided all of the operational and logistical support to the Oktoberfest when it was held in German Village. When the Columbus Oktoberfest wanted to move back to the Ohio Expo Center Charlie rolled out the red carpet and paved the way for a smooth transition. When Charlie is not working on Oktoberfest he divides his time between working on the Concession trailer Sales, Georgia National Fairgrounds, Kentucky Derby Festival and Storm Services portions of his business. On the rare occasion he isn’t working he tries to spend as much time as possible with his wife Stacy, five children, 7 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren. Thank you Charlie for all you do to make the Columbus Oktoberfest a success year in and year out!read more
The Franz Klaber Orchestra is Hamilton, Ohio’s oldest band. Although the FKO is a popular band at Oktoberfests and other German functions, the band has never been strictly German in nature. The original Franz Klaber Orchestra was founded in 1930 and led by Franz Klaber, a German immigrant from the Saxony region of Germany, who taught himself to play stringed instruments even before he had an instrument. The first version of the Franz Klaber Orchestra consisted of a five piece band of fellow German-Americans that played a lot of German folk songs at gatherings and festivals of the Deutscher Hausverein, the local German Society. At the age of 24, Franz Jr. took over the band when his father died in 1963 (and played a gig the very next day after Franz Sr.’s untimely death). Bill Klaber, the younger son of Franz Sr. joined the band as a young teenager, and was in the band for over 50 years, playing saxophone and serving as the lead voice of the band until he retired in early 2016.
Franz Jr. took his father’s musical passion and built upon it; leaving his own indelible mark by expanding the band, its repertoire, and instilling an enthusiasm and showmanship that is truly unique. Under his leadership, the band affectionately became known as the Klaberheads. It’s a name that is used for the band as well as the fans! Although he suffered a stroke in 2006, he was able to make a comeback and resume performing with the band. Through therapy he was able to recover from his paralysis and regain his speech and the ability to walk. He even regained the ability to play his trombone and sing! In 2018, with a double knee replacement under his belt, Franz is showing no signs of slowing down, even after 66 years with the band!
After his stroke, Franz turned over management and musical direction of the group to his daughter, Erika Klaber. She has continued with her father’s and grandfather’s vision, and has put her own imprint on the group as well. After college, at her father’s urging, she began to play her steel drum in the band. No one could have imagined how well this beautiful instrument would blend with German music! With a Masters degree in Music Education and Ethnomusicology, Erika has expanded the musical range and repertoire, even adding some original music to the line-up. The fourth generation of Klabers are making their mark as well. Erika’s daughter, Emily Muench, is a featured vocalist with the band.
With multiple professional quality singers, a full horn section, a variety in our sound and instrumentation, a finely honed and diverse (yet Oktoberfest appropriate) repertoire, a multi-generational family dynamic, professional quality signage and visuals throughout the show, and high a level of crowd interaction a Klaberhead show is pretty special. They don’t just come and play waltzes and polkas for a few hours; They truly put on a show for all generations that honors their German heritage and celebrates the season. The Klaberheads help keep German Heritage alive musically across the USA; in recent years they have performed at large Oktoberfests in Zinzinnati, Cleveland, Minster, Nashville, St. Charles,Tulsa, Ashville, Milwaukee, and the Wurstfest in New Braunfels. The Columbus Oktoberfest will always hold a special place in their hearts, with many good friends made over the past 20+ years.read more
Grew up in Parkersburg, West Virginia. In high school he was a two sport athlete participating on both the football and track teams. He graduated from Fairmont University and performed in the Doo Wop Band The Casuals.
Wayne served in the U.S. Air Force and was Co-Owner of National Highway Express prior to his retirement.
Wayne’s life has always involved music and entertainment. He was member and past president of the Worthington Chorus for over 25 years. Wayne is a “full time” volunteer for many German Village Society events and was awarded the Fred and Howard Award in 2003. Wayne attended his first Columbus Oktoberfest in 1988 and has been hooked ever since. Wayne and his wife Willa were encouraged by Fred Holdridge and Aaron Leventhal to join the fun bunch.
In 1992 Wayne was asked to announce the tapping of the keg ceremony, an honor he still holds to this day. Wayne has been the Entertainment director for the Columbus Oktoberfest since 2008.
Through the years Wayne has promoted not only German culture but that of Blues, Jazz, Rock and Pop.
Wayne and Willa have 5 children, 9 grandchildren, 4 great- grandchildren and still counting. In his “spare time” Wayne and Willa travel across the country to many Oktoberfests representing the Columbus Oktoberfest.
According to Willa his energy level is unequaled and he has never met a stranger. We agree!read more
Tommy Schober was born May 2, 1950 in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. He was the youngest child of the late Richard and Viola Schober. His father was born in Stuttgart Germany and eventually migrated to the United States where he married his mother Viola Friedrich, who was born in Detroit, Michigan. Tommy began his first formal lessons on the accordion. After about six months of lessons, Tommy’s instructor, George Collato, quickly realized Tommy had no real desire to learn how to play the accordion. George was also aware that Tommy was playing “by ear” and not actually reading the sheet music. After he had been “found out”, the instructor had a nice long talk with Tommy’s Dad. His exact words were “Mr. Schober, you are wasting my time your money”….so needless to say much to the dismay of his parents, that was the end of Tommy’s accordion lessons. As a youngster Tommy attended Stellwagon Elementary School. While there the school offered music lessons to interested students. His parents were quite reluctant after the fiasco with the accordion lessons, but agreed to purchase his first clarinet for him. He became very adept on the clarinet and the music instructor advised his parents that Tommy would need private lessons to get the intense musical education he needed. From the clarinet it was a natural step up to a saxophone, which is his main instrument he now plays. As the years progressed so did Tommy, he played with several bands, he formed a rock band called the “Marquis 4” with several friends, and was also a member of the ‘Die Gruppe” which frequently played at local German establishments. It was in 1972 that Tommy, Karl Peters, Eric Seitz and Karl Ebersphacher formed the band “Die Sorgenbrecher Band.” They quickly became known as a high energy band with a different sound. Many different musicians have graced the stage with Tommy; including his current members: Gene Bilewicz, Kim Berg, Joel Zwerk and Tom Darling. Throughout Tommy’s life music has played a very important role. He has managed to juggle his daily work schedule, his family and his home life all for the love of playing music. He is truly blessed to be able to have such a talent to bring so much happiness to so many people.read more
Celebrating 50 years with us at Oktoberfest! Hank Haller first picked up the accordian as a child an it has taken him around the world. He recalls that the lessons on the "button box" began to pay off early. "I paid my way through Case with it," he says of the days when the Haller Band played at campus events and parties around Cleveland.
After graduation, Haller worked as mechanical engineer for TRW for NASA as branch chief of quality assurance, and for the Defense Department. However, he always pursued his avocation. Haller, along with five other musicians and his wife Mary Ann as the vocalist, became the Hank Haller Ensemble that performed on weekends at polka festivals, made records, and appeared on the Polka Varieties TV show in Cleveland for 27 years. Haller has gamered many honors including the Lifetime Achievement Award 2000 from the National Cleveland Stylw Polka Hall of Fame. He received a Grammy nomination in 1987 for the album, "Thank You Dear and Give Her Roses".
"There are six different styles of polkas and we've mastered them all," Haller laughs. "There are so many styles of polkas, that it keeps me interested. Diversification keeps me interested in what's being played. Playing gets us on the road and we make a lot of friends." Now retired from engineering, he devotes himself to music. He has entertained on dozens of cruises and trips to Europe, Hawaii and Latin America. He releases five new Polka CDs a year.read more
Roger Dini was born outside Chicago, Illinois and became interested in playing the accordion at the age of fourteen. By the time he went off to college, he had started a band. The band played at various venues around the Chicago area as well as at weddings, class reunions, VFWs, American Legions and various other events. He would later go on to give accordion lessons.
After moving to Columbus, Roger became aquatinted with George Schmidt and was given the job of hiring and scheduling bands for the Columbus Oktoberfest. This was a task he throughly enjoyed for several years until it was turned over to the German Village Society. His greatest satisfaction during that time was discovering a band near Toledo, Ohio. He immediately booked Tommy Shober and the Sound of Sorgenbrecher thirty years ago and they have become the house band every year since.
Since 1972, Rodger’s band, Schnickel Fritz, has had the pleasure of performing at Schmidt’s Restaurants – first at the Patio at Morse and Karl Roads since 1979 at the German Village location. The band has also performed at many Ohio festivals over the years to include the Cincinnati Oktoberfest, Bucyrus Bratwurst Festival, Marion Popcorn Festival, and at many private events. One of his greatest thrills happened in 1984 when Schnickel Fritz was honored to be invited to perform for one week at the Epcot-Disney World® German Pavillion. Roger has never lost his thrill for entertaining and still loves playing with his bandmate and friend, Tom Swisher.
Roger has been married to Arlene for 61 years. Together they have four children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.read more
Bill began volunteering for Oktoberfest the year it came to the Brewery District as the first Fred Holdridge and Aaron Leventhal production. He chaired the communications committee, because he was the only one who knew how to use the radios! He later took over the volunteer coordination from Bob Balthaser (because, apparently he is good at alphabetizing as well as radio operations) and joined the Oktoberfest Steering Committee in 1992. Over a gourmet dinner at White Castle in 1997, Fred revealed his plans to step down as Chairman, and asked Bill to accept the leadership role. Bill served as Chairman of Oktoberfest for 10 years, through the 2008 event. He was recognized by the International Association of Festivals & Events as one of the top 3 volunteers of the year in 2001.read more
When Fred Holdridge decided that Oktoberfest should return to German Village, one of the first people he contacted was Aaron Leventhal. Armed with only $1,000 in seed money and donated office space, in just six months, Leventhal, an accomplished special event fundraiser, pulled together sponsors, entertainers, vendors, and a volunteer force of more than 1,000 to create the German Village Oktoberfest in the Brewery District, Sept. 5-7, 1986. None of this would have been possible without the generous support of the Schmidt family, who had held the Oktoberfest for several years at the Ohio Expo Center. During Leventhal’s 15 years of producing the German Village Oktoberfest, it raised more than $2 million for German Village Society historic preservation and community service projects and in 2000 was named by the American Bus Association as one of the Top 100 events in North America.read more
George F. Schmidt
George F. Schmidt was born in Columbus in 1921 and spent most of his life in Upper Arlington. Today he resides in Worthington with his wife Patsy. George attended both John Carroll University and the University of Dayton along with serving as a pilot for the U.S. Navy. Upon returning from his naval duties he joined the family meat packing business and ran it alongside his brother Grover. In the mid-60s the meat packing plant was closed and George renovated the old livery stable into Schmidt’s Restaurant und Sausage Haus, at the same time he was growing his family business he was also helping to build the Columbus Oktoberfest through his vision and leadership.
George has been a member of several organizations such as the Northwest Kiwanis, Charity Newsies, Columbus Maennechor and the March of Dimes in addition to being a wonderful self-taught water color artist. George has turned the day to day operation of the restaurant over to his six children but remains the Chairman of the Board for J. Fred Schmidt Packing House Co. George enjoys watching his 15 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren grow and delights in seeing them enjoy the Columbus Oktoberfest. George will celebrate his 91st birthday this August and continues to be the guiding light in the production of the Columbus Oktoberfest.read more