November: A Time to Celebrate German Heritage in South Central Texas
November is here, which means it’s the season of giving thanks; but in South Central Texas, November is also a time when many residents celebrate their German heritage at the annual Wurstfest Festival in New Bruanfels, Texas. One of our own, GVEC Board Member Joe A. Castilleja, has a great involvement in Wurstfest: Along with being a Wurstfest Opa, he has also served as a Board member for the Wurstfest Association for many years.
Who better to give us insight on the ins and out of Wurstfest than Joe himself? He was generous enough to spend some time with us chatting about the festival and about his own Wurstfest journey.
Castilleja’s Involvement in Wurstfest Goes Back to 1966
Castilleja has been attending Wurstfest since childhood. He grew up in New Braunfels and stuck around the area after graduating New Bruanfels High School. He attended Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) in San Marcos, Texas, where every November he would drive a few miles down the road to attend the annual German celebration event. He currently resides in New Braunfels with his family, where they continue to attend Wurstfest every year.
What is a Wurstfest Opa?
Let’s start with the question you must be wondering: What is a Wurstfest Opa? Opa is a German word meaning grandfather, while Oma means grandmother. “Opa” is the Wurstfest Association’s only membership category; however, members are not exclusively male.
The next question you’re probably asking is, what does a Wurstfest Opa (grandfather) do? Currently, Wurstfest has 295 Opas and they hold many responsibilities, including:
- Working a minimum of 24 hours at an assigned task during the festival
- Attending at least three of five social membership functions annually
- Being present during the festival as much as possible
When Wurstfest season is over, Opas have additional responsibilities beyond the ten-day festival, too. The board meets monthly from November to September and weekly in October.
Who is a Wurstfest Opa, then? Think of this person as a civic-minded community member. A Wurstfest Opa is dedicated to promoting and celebrating German heritage within the community as part of the Wurstfest Association—but that’s not all. Opas are also typically involved in the community in other meaningful, impactful ways, too. As you’ll read below, Castilleja’s community involvement and profile is what first drew the attention of the Wurstfest Association, prompting them to ask him to apply.
How Does Someone Become an Opa?
First, you become a Kleine Opa, meaning you are a non-voting member that must reapply annually for membership. This is an apprentice position a member must serve for a minimum of three years before earning “shareholder” (Opa) status. After several years of service, a shareholder Opa becomes a regular Opa, meaning he can vote and serve in various capacities (e.g., Chair of a committee, elected Board member, etc.).
“It is an honor and a privilege to be selected to serve as an Opa of Wurstfest.” -Castilleja
Castilleja’s Community Involvement Lead to Becoming an Opa
Castilleja’s community involvement got the attention of various Opas and he was asked to apply and was sponsored by Mitch Sacco, D.D.S., and local attorney Steve Taylor. Castilleja, being a New Braunfels native, said, experiencing the festival and knowing what it did for the community, was his motivation for wanting to be a member of the Wurstfest Association. In 1987, Castilleja became a Kleine Opa and in 1994, he rose to Opa status!
Castilleja’s Next Step: Becoming a Wurstfest Association Board Member
Castilleja was first appointed by the President of the Wurstfest Association, Steve Taylor, to serve as a Board member in 2011. Voting shareholders then elected him in 2012 to officially serve on the Board. He has served seven years on the Wurstfest Association Board.
Experiencing Wurstfest Through Castilleja’s Eyes
We asked Castilleja a series of questions about his Wurstfest experiences over the years, as well as what it was like being a part of the organization. The memories he shared with us really helped us see the festival through his eyes.
What’s your most memorable Wurstfest experience?
- In 2006, when Wurstfest was aired on ABC’s Good Morning America Show on the festival’s opening day.
What’s your favorite part about Wurstfest?
- I love the music, the selection of adult beverages and the food, but if had to select one, it would be the entertainment.
What is your favorite German dish?
- A plate of Kartoffel Puffers (potato pancakes) with apple sauce and cinnamon and a sausage.
Do you have a favorite German band that performs at Wurstfest?
- We pride ourselves on providing the finest in Alpine and Bavarian style entertainment. Whether the polka is sung in German, Czech, English or Spanish… a polka is a polka. All our entertainers have a great sound and style of their own. It would be difficult to select just one.
What’s the most rewarding part of being an Opa?
- Two things: seeing family, friends and visitors enjoying themselves and knowing that you had some part in that, as well as, promoting local commerce through tourism and preserving the community’s heritage.
What’s the most challenging part of being an Opa?
- During Wurstfest, it would be balancing your time between your responsibilities as an Opa with commitments to family, career and other civic organizations like Rotary.
Now that you’ve learned the ins and outs of Wurstfest, make sure to mark it on your calendars; this rich, annual celebration of German culture is an event you won’t want to miss! This year, the dates fall between November 2-11. Visit the Wurstfest website for more details!
To learn more about Joe A. Castilleja and his community involvement, visit our leadership page to view his bio.