Get out your lederhosen

Oldham County celebrates
the area’s German culture, heritage with
'Octoberfest' in August

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (August 2005) – Various ethnic groups settled Oldham County and gave it the diverse background of people it has today, rich with culture, traditions and memories of life in the Old World. Hans Saunders on Aug. 27 will share the talents of his German heritage at the inaugural “Octoberfest in August” at the Oldham County History Center.

Hans Sanford

Photo by Darrel Taylor

Hans Saunders will perform his specialty,
German music, at the inaugural
“Octoberfest in August” celebration.

Saunders was born in 1943 in Celle, Germany, during World War II. His hometown was close to Hanover, Germany. He came to the United States in 1973 and eventually married an American citizen.
He said he had been drafted into the military forces. He went into the field of electronics and received training in the United States in electronic intelligence. He learned the American language and met his future wife in Biloxi, Miss.
He took her back to Germany for three years, where he held a city administration job close to his hometown. They returned to the United States, and he studied piano at the University of Louisville.
“Pianos grew out of fashion in Germany,” Saunders said. “I saw an opportunity for the piano here.”
Saunders, who now lives in Shepherdsville, Ky., was trained in classical music in Germany. He preferred such piano music as ballroom dancing and eventually began his own dance band while still living in Germany.
Specializing in German music, he has more than 1,000 song titles he can perform. “I try to accommodate the crowds,” said Saunders.
Locally, he has performed at the Walnut Street Baptist Church, various VFW functions, private parties, dinner and cocktail parties and festivals.
Saunders is a piano tuner technician for U of L and also teaches a music course. He often gives concert performances, which may include a brief talk about his life and German music. He credits his mother as the driving force behind his ability to play music. “I wanted to do other things,” said Saunders.
The Oldham County History Center has been providing an ongoing exhibit in the Peyton Samuel Head Museum centered on the German families who settled the county. This exhibit contains artifacts, family photos, a genealogy display, and early 19th century dress belonging to later immigrants who fled Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s.
Many were part of a group of German immigrants who became brickmakers and layers. They began their own brickyards and made brick for many of the structures in the county, including the present day courthouse.
Saunders will play German folk tunes at the Octoberfest. Saunders is part of a lineup that will include ethnic dancing, additional music by the Oldham County Singers, and catered food by The Silver Spoon. A cash beer and wine bar will be available on the grounds of the History Center. Saunders said he was surprised that Oldham County had such a large German population.
In the 19th century, “many of the Germans who came to Oldham County were fleeing from the Civil Wars that were taking place prior to the 1850s in Germany,” said Nancy Theiss, executive director of the Oldham County History Center. Theiss estimated that about 20 percent of the county population during the 19th century was of German descent.
“The Germans settled in colonies throughout the county, mainly farm communities,” said Theiss. They were shoemakers, cabinetmakers, dairy farmers, wine producers and raised large vegetable gardens. Many of these items were shipped to Louisville via the river and later the railroad. “By the middle of the 20th century Oldham County was the leading diary producing county in Kentucky.”
Internationally known horticulturalist and Oldham Countian Theodore Klein had German ancestors. Oldham County had its own German military leader during the Civil War, Col. Froh, who commanded the Kentucky 6th Regiment. Col. Froh led a local company of German speaking soldiers.
Theiss’s own husband, Jim, is also of German descent. She said her husband’s family came to Oldham County during the 1840s from a small town in Germany, Noherd, which longer exists.
“The Bible on display in German was the Theiss family Bible brought to America by John Christian Theiss who started a German speaking Lutheran Church in Louisville,” said Theiss. John and his wife settled in Oldham County for a while, and some of their children remained in the county marrying into the Clore family.
“It seemed that many of the local Germans kept “within” the clan of German families that were in the community,” said Theiss. This is a common factor with many immigrant groups in America, to settle within communities where the same ethnic groups had previously settled.

• The German exhibit will run through Sept. 24. Admission for “Octoberfest in August” is $22 per person, which includes food and entertainment. For more information, contact Nancy Theiss or Devin Oak at (502) 222-0826.

Back to August 2005 Articles.



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