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A special fester: Onalaska Middle Schooler earns honor

From the COLLECTION: Catch up with Oktoberfest royal introductions series
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Liam Caulkins

Onalaska Middle School seventh grader Liam Caulkins is the 2022 Special Fester for Oktoberfest. Caulkins, who was born with hearing impairment, used American Sign Language as his first communication. Here, he’s signing “smile.”

For Liam Caulkins, Oktoberfest’s Torchlight Parade with its bright lights and Gemütlichkeit is special. This year it will be even more remarkable when he’s in the parade as the 2022 Oktoberfest Special Fester. And, he’ll even get to experience his first Maple Leaf Parade — riding down that route as well.

Caulkins, an Onalaska Middle School seventh grader, was very excited when his former Spence Elementary paraprofessional, Jane Fitzpatrick, shared the news in July with the 12-year-old that he was this year’s Oktoberfest Special Fester, according to Liam’s mother, Kimberly.

“We were excited for this opportunity for Liam,” says Kimberly. “Liam is looking forward to meeting so many new people.”

Liam’s new title was announced at the Special Fester Ball on Sunday, Sept. 11, at All Star Lanes.

Liam was born with various medical issues, including hearing impairment, a congenital heart defect, global developmental delay and autism. Due to the hearing impairment, his first communication was American Sign Language.

“Despite the delay in his speech, Liam is a social butterfly who loves meeting new people and engaging in any activity that allows him the opportunity to communicate with others,” says his mom.

Along with his mother and father, Robert, Liam has an older brother, Collin. Liam enjoys spending time outdoors gardening with his grandmother, playing Minecraft, and recently participated in La Crosse Community Theatre’s Penguin Project production of “Seussical Jr. the Musical.”

Liam enjoys school, especially spending time with his peers. In the community, he loves to spend time outdoors in the new All Abilities Trane Park.

“We are really looking forward to watching Liam getting to interact and socialize with so many new people,” says Kimberly. “He is a social butterfly who loves to say ‘hi’ to everyone.”

Oktoberfest has named a Special Fester since 1989. The honor goes to a young person between 9 and 21 with a special need or disability. Their duties as part of the Oktoberfest Royal Family include appearances at Oktoberfest functions and parades. Students attending any La Crosse area school are eligible. Nominations are accepted at


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