WaunaFest Run – Forty Years of Fun, Fritz & Fitness!
On July 27th, 2019, WaunaFest Run honored four decades of runners, walkers and volunteers with a 41st anniversary event. Thousands of participants, volunteers and sponsors have contributed to WaunaFest Run to make it what it is today. Ever wonder how it all began?
WaunaFest Run (formerly Volksfest Run) had its beginning when Waunakee residents, Ted Tweed and Bob Niesen, were on an early morning run in the late 1970’s. Ted came up with the idea to organize a community race that would bring a large number of people to the Village to boost attendance for Waunakee Volksfest of the Arts and to promote general physical fitness in Waunakee.
Ted Tweed–along with an eclectic collection of local residents–formed a committee and got to work. Volksfest organizers supported the idea of a run, but offered minimal financial aid. Jim Schmitz, then President of First Wisconsin Bank, was approached to sponsor the event. He enthusiastically endorsed the idea and Volksfest Run was born.
The first Waunakee Volksfest Run was held on July 28, 1979 where more than 400 runners lined up in front of Koltes Lumber on Main Street. Entrance fees were $3, which included a high quality t-shirt!
The First Courses
The late Russ Metcalf, an experienced runner, agreed to help lay out the courses. The first year, 1979, offered two courses measuring 15 and 5 kilometers. The second year, 1980, the courses were redesigned to measure 10 miles and 3.5 miles. The courses and distances varied over the years as the Village and the Run grew. Today, the Run offers a 10 mile, 5K and 2 mile walk with courses that wind through the neighborhoods of Waunakee before returning to the historic Village Park to cross the finish line. The Kiddie Run was added in 2011, making WaunaFest Run an event for the entire family!
Volksfest Run Renamed WaunaFest Run
Eventually, Volksfest of the Arts ended, but the Volksfest Run continued without it until 1986 when it became a part of the annual WaunaFest Festival and was re-named WaunaFest Run. The Run was organized solely by a volunteer committee until 2001 when the volunteer group handed the organizing over to the Waunakee Area Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, with the support of its business partners, citizen volunteers and the Village of Waunakee, continues to bring this annual tradition to the community to this day.
Fritz Turns Forty
Planning for the first Run was in full swing when the committee recognized they needed a unique logo to brand their race. Ted Tweed contacted local artist Steve Hovel to create a logo that would represent Waunakee’s German heritage, running and stand the test of time. Hovel came up with “Fritz”, a Bavarian runner complete with lederhosen, Bavarian hat, a stein of beer in hand and a fat cigar clenched in his mouth.
When Fritz made his debut on the first Run t-shirt, it quickly became clear the runners did not approve of Fritz smoking. The protest prompted the committee to request the cigar be removed the following year. That’s how Fritz quit smoking and here he is 41 years later still running, still enjoying his well-earned place in Waunakee tradition and still representing WaunaFest Run!
Start with a BLAST!
Race organizing has its learning curve and that first year the committee realized a little bullhorn isn’t very loud even at the highest volume setting (and a little .22 caliber starter pistol is not loud enough when 500 or more folks are waiting for the starting signal, either). With this in mind, the following year Ted Tweed decided to start the Run with the blast of a cannon. Gary Gade of DeForest provided the cannon and the Irish Ambassador to the U.S. fired it to start the race.
Of course, there were concerns about the amount of smoke from the cannon and one sharp-eyed resident was certain that he saw a cannon ball heading north. There was no cannon ball, just a loud blast that all the runners surely heard. This began the tradition of a cannon start for Volkfest, later WaunaFest Run. Different cannons and different shooters were used over the years until 2016 when the previous cannon operator, Gary Hanson, was not available to start the Run. It was decided to continue the “blast” tradition but to switch to a musket instead of a cannon. Similar blast, smaller puff of black smoke, easier reload process and simplicity of operation made it an easy decision. Local resident, Duane Statz, volunteered to provide the blasts with his musket for the next two years. In honor of the 40th Anniversary WaunaFest Run in 2018, Duane designed a custom “hand-held cannon” named “Virginia” that will signal the start of the Run with a BLAST for years to come!