Festmaster's Lederhosen

Caroline C. Morris

We got a whiff of autumn this week: chilly mornings, crisp afternoons, and school buses. Obviously, it’s time to talk about lederhosen.

La Crosse has an annual celebration of fall called “Oktoberfest.” You may have heard of it. For several days in late September or early October, the residents of this city – and quite a few residents of other cities – come together for parades, brats, and Gemutlichkeit. In 1962, the first-ever Festmaster, Don Rice, wore these lederhosen as he offered ein Prosit.

Lederhosen, loosely meaning “leather breeches,” were popular in nineteenth-century Bavaria, and live on through annual celebrations of all things German. Peggy Derrick, Executive Curator of the La Crosse County Historical Society, notes that the Festmaster’s breeches are more rightfully “baumwollenhosen,” as they are made out of cotton and not leather. Try saying it with a straight face.

In a special ceremony at the beginning of the 1962 Oktoberfest, Rice was appointed Festmaster as an acknowledgment of his decades of good deeds and hard work. In 1979, a La Crosse Tribune reporter described him as a Horatio Alger figure in La Crosse: a man who had pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He had begun his career as a messenger for the Exchange State Bank in North La Crosse, and had become its vice president by the time of his selection as Festmaster. The following year, he became the bank's president.

Rice was one of four golf buddies who conceived the idea and staged the first ‘fest in 1961, and it was fitting that he and wife Berdina reigned over the second one. Not all men look good in lederhosen, but Rice cut a sharp figure, so perhaps there were other considerations as well.

This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.