Special Fester
Nine-year-old Jonah Cowgill, center, is Oktoberfest's 2010 Special Fester. His sisters, Grace, 10, left, and Sophie, 7, will help him celebrate the honor. Jake Rajewsky/La Crosse Tribune Jake Rajewsky

Jonah Cowgill was 19 months old when he stopped. He stopped talking and would go off on his own. He stopped playing with his toys. "Within two weeks he disappeared," his mother, Shelly Cowgill, said.

His father, Terry Cowgill, read the list of symptoms for autism on the Internet.

Jonah had them all.  

He was diagnosed three weeks before his second birthday.

"Because of the shell of the boy he was, it was really heartbreaking," Terry said. "It was like we had the rug pulled out from under us, but, like with anything, good things can come."

Such as Jonah, 9, being named to the Oktoberfest Royal Family as the 2010 Special Fester.

They've all gotten proper attire and plan on attending as many events as their schedules allow.

"We got lederhosen and dirndls for the whole family. We wanted to go all out and participate," Shelly said. "The kids are really into it. The girls (Grace, 10, and Sophie, 7) dance and he (Jonah) goes to their performances, so this is a nice opportunity for him to shine."

Shelly has been actively involved with the Chileda Women's Board that annually selects a local child with special needs for the post, announced Sept. 19 at the Special Fester Ball.

"Being it's the 50th, the timing is good," Shelly said. "He's older."

Jonah responded well to the lederhosen and really likes the gray hat with a feather he received from Oktoberfest officials.

He grinned several times while decked in the attire at a prefest event, and he's been leading Festmasters in the "YMCA" dance.

Jonah is a third-grader at Blessed Sacrament school, where Shelly said, "His friends and teachers have really rallied around him to make him feel part of the classroom."

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