For the second time in 57 years a couple from the Westby Times “Gives a Whoop” coverage area was awarded a key role in the La Crosse Oktoberfest community celebration.
In 1966, Lincoln Neprud and his wife, Laura, of Westby, were selected the festmaster and frau and in 2017, Brian and Karen Rude of Coon Valley will reign over the festival, Sept. 28 to Oct. 1.
The Rudes were introduced as festmaster and frau for the 57th annual Oktoberfest during the Festmasters Ball held at the La Crosse Center on Saturday, Aug. 26. More than 800 people were on hand when the couple proudly entered the building riding in a Dairyland Power utility bucket truck.
Brian is Vice President of External and Member Relations of Dairyland Power, based in La Crosse and Karen is a pediatric nurse practitioner at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse.
The Rudes have regularly attended the Festmaster Ball since 1983, never dreaming one day they would be the ones standing front and center, wearing authentic German clothing that reveals more of Brian’s knees than he typically has for years.
The Rudes readily confess to having diluted bloodlines. Karen is 50 percent German, along with a mix of Swedish, Scottish and English. Brian on the other hand is three-fourths Norwegian and one-fourth Dane, but according to the couple during Oktoberfest everyone is part German, just like everyone is Norwegian during Syttende Mai.
Brian said he has already taken plenty of flak about being Norwegian and disguising himself as a German, but for the Rudes all area festivals are a celebration of heritage in general and were never meant to exclude anyone because of their individual ethnic makeup.
Brian grew up in Westby, graduating from high school in 1973. Karen was raised in Platteville and graduated in 1974. Both of them attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and they met at an election night party on Nov. 5, 1974. Brian graduated from college in 1977 and Karen in 1979. They were married on Oct. 24, 1981 and have called Coon Valley home ever since.
The Rudes have two sons. Erik resides in Westby with his wife, Kristie, and their two children, Bailey and Brodie. Nels, lives in Madison and is a lobbyist, a profession Brian attributed to his own career as a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, and then Senate, before stepping out of the political arena.
The Rudes are having a great time learning the ins and outs of the roles they are honored to have received. Since accepting their titles, the couple has been overwhelmed by positive comments, cards, notes, emails, and family support. They know that free time will be a limited commodity over the course of their reign, with an estimated 200-plus public appearances in their future. Brian might enjoy wearing his Lederhosen so much that he won’t want to give them up when his reign is over.
The Rudes have been on the go nonstop attending events since their introduction as festmaster and frau. Prior to the actual Oktoberfest festivities they have already attended the Miss La Crosse Oktoberfest pageant; the Special Festers ball and the naming of the parade marshals; numerous meetings with Oktoberfest officials; public appearances; and will be attending the Mrs. Oktoberfest celebration on Sept. 27.
Following the conclusion of Oktoberfest the Rudes will continue to make plenty of public appearances promoting the festival, community and heritage at schools, hospitals, nursing homes and businesses. The couple will attend numerous events throughout the Midwest including trips to Illinois and Minnesota. They will also make appearances in 20-plus parades, including the 50th annual Westby Syttende Mai next May.
“We understand why people talk about the Oktoberfest family because the commitment and dedication binds people together in a very positive way. People from all different walks of life serve as Grenadiers, Board members and other positions,” Brian said.
Karen added, “It’s an amazing organization, almost completely volunteer, with a great tradition, many different programs and activities and outreach in the community in many different ways.”
One of the Rudes favorite parts about Oktoberfest is the music. Both Brian and Karen have amazing vocal talents and aren’t afraid to belt out a song with the best of them. The couple are both long-time members of the Coon Valley Lutheran church choir and Brian was also a member of the Luther College Nordic Choir and has been a soloist for many area events.
According to Brian during Oktoberfest the, “Ein Prosit” song tradition is special. The song—a toast to good cheer—is the traditional fest song, but the Festmaster determines when it should be “officially” sung.
“I am finding lots of people requesting one for a birthday or other event when we are out. Given my musical background, I will be singing... a lot,” Brian said.
The Rudes are very community minded and love the opportunity awarded to them. They have 10,000 buttons to hand out, plenty of old friends to bring along for the whirlwind ride, and will make just as many new friends along the way.
They’ve already been fed more brats, beans and German potato salad then they ever thought they would digest in a lifetime, so if someone sneaks Brian a Norwegian pastry along the Maple Leaf Parade route he won’t be offended, he’ll accept it with a smile and a hearty laugh.
Karen, who’s retiring from her nursing career in January, already knows that her retirement isn’t coming with some much needed time off, just breathing room between public appearances as ambassadors for Oktoberfest.
The Rudes said they are honored and thankful to join the Fest family and to have the opportunity to share the word about why this event celebrates heritage, the beauty of fall and our community.
“We are grateful to our families, friends and communities for always being there for us and we both wish our parents were still alive to celebrate this special honor with us, but we know they are smiling down with us,” Brian and Karen said.