Polka Mass attracts 175 at Shawano Fair
Mass continues a 20-year tradition at the county fair
By Joanne Flemming
SHAWANO - For the last 20 years, the Lord has been a regular participant in the Shawano County Fair.
That's how long Mass and a Lutheran service have been offered for fair goers, exhibitors and fair and carnival workers, said Bob Dillenburg, a fair board member. He and the board secretary, a Lutheran, decided the fair needed church services.
Shawano is "a rather religious town," Dillenburg said, and he and his colleague thought having the services would keep a "religious atmosphere in the fair."
"God has to be a part of the fair because he is the Supreme Being," Dillenburg said. "Our
crops aren't going to grow; our animals aren't going to grow. We're not going to have
anything without the Lord, are we?"
Catholic and Lutheran fair board members organize the services, which started at 10 a.m.
with services by St. James Lutheran Church, followed at 10 a.m. by Mass.
The late Fr. Anthony Baier was the first celebrant, followed by Fr. William Spaulding.
Fifteen years ago, Fr. Harry Hafeman, pastor of St. Mary Parish at Leopolis and St.
Francis Parish in Gresham, began presiding at the Fair Mass. Because he has celebrated it
every year since, Dillenburg has nicknamed him "the Fair Priest."
Fr. Hafeman said he agreed to celebrate the Mass because many of his parishioners had
responsible positions at the fair and could not get away from there for Mass. Celebrating
the liturgy at the fairgrounds "made it convenient for them."
He continues to make the 15-mile drive from Leopolis to Shawano every year because he
enjoys offering the Mass. "It gives me a way to participate in something for the
community," he added. He said he plans to continue that participation as long as he can.
Dillenburg said that fair workers and exhibitors have appreciated the priest's efforts.
Attendance at the Mass averaged 75-100 people, until last year when it dropped to 45-50.
This year, the organizers decided to try something different - a polka Mass.
Jerry Voelker, whose orchestra plays every Sunday at the Shawano fairgrounds, suggested it. The Mass was celebrated outdoors in a park shelter with a dance floor. Around 175 people attended, including several people from the Lutheran service.
Dillenburg said everyone was happy with the outcome and he believes even more people will attend next year.