Take time to give back. It's a phrase Karla Stanek often heard her father say while she was growing up. That dedication to volunteerism helped Stanek earn the honor of becoming this year's Mrs. Oktoberfest, a title she accepted Wednesday night at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Stanek, director of UW-L career services and the Academic Advising Center, learned in March she'd been nominated for Mrs. Oktoberfest but didn't think much of it.

"There are so many deserving women," Stanek said. 

When she found out in May she'd been chosen, "I was a little overwhelmed and surprised," Stanek said. "Now, I'm humbled."

When thinking of a theme, her father's words - "Take time to give back" - popped into her head and now adorn this year's Mrs. Oktoberfest button.

Her father, O.J. Evenson, was Independence mayor for more than 20 years and publisher and editor of the weekly Independence News-Wave for 45 years.

"He left his mark everywhere," Stanek said.

Stanek's community involvement includes the La Crosse North Rotary Club, Rotary Lights, UW-L Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters and more.

"I really enjoy it," Stanek said. "I like to be busy."

She'll celebrate the honor with husband John and grown daughters Kasey, who flew in from California, and Kelly, who is coming from the Twin Cities.

Although she kept her new title a closely guarded secret, people began to figure it out by Tuesday afternoon. That was fine by Stanek, as she wanted many of her friends and colleagues to attend the announcement.

Past Mrs. Oktoberfests Robyn Tanke and Sue Schultz have been her mentors.

"It's like having a wedding, but you didn't have to plan it," Stanek said.

Attending Oktoberfest long has been a family tradition. Stanek looks forward to the parades, the music, the people - and knowing what she'll wear.

"Am I a dirndl person? I'm really not," Stanek said, referring to the traditional dress. "But it's nice, because you don't have to worry about buying a fancy dress."

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