Sampler Festival celebrates Kansas in Wamego

Marci Penner, director of The Kansas Sampler Foundation, engages the crowd in trivia questions on Kansas history during the Kansas Sampler Festival on May 2, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Renner)

“If you think Kansas is boring, you’re doing it wrong,” the shirt worn by Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, said. The statement proved to be true at last weekend’s 26th annual Kansas Sampler Festival in Wamgeo’s City Park.

The Sampler Festival, annually prepared by the Kansas Sampler Foundation, is an event held in different cities in Kansas, showcasing all the different communities around the state as well as its food, art, history, landmarks and tourist attractions; The main purpose of the event is to sustain, preserve and promote Kansas culture.

Every tent in the park represented a part of the state, and inside the tents are booths and tables where representatives of each city creatively showcased the best of their towns. Some dressed up as immigrants from their homelands, while others gave away memorabilia or sold their specialties such as art, food or printed T-shirts.

Food vendors were also a significant attraction of the festival; with 22 food vendors selling Kansan immigrant specialties like bierocks, schnitzel sandwiches, buffalo burgers, German bratwurst, bison hot dogs, Swedish baked goods and Scottish sausages, visitors had a taste of genuine Kansas history.

The festival also offered educational entertainment for children, the most popular of which was a miniature train ride that ran around different parts of the park which represent different areas of the state.

Penner said that the festival is an opportunity to change how a lot of people view Kansas.

“We’re here to educate and bust the myth that Kansas is flat and boring; to show that the complete opposite is true,” Penner said. “Perhaps all these towns have little attractions and little things to explore and do, but Kansas is strong collectively as an explorer state, and when we put everything we have together this state is rich.”

Ken Spurgeon, history instructor at Friends University in Wichita and executive director and representative of Lone Chimney Films at the festival, said the Sampler Festival is the ultimate way to showcase what Kansas has to offer.

“I like how you can see all of Kansas in one place,” Spurgeon said.”I also like how this event brings people from all over the state together to celebrate and educate people on Kansas culture and history. We’re a not-for-profit that makes historical documentaries, so this is something that we value a lot.”

Ed Berger, vendor and partner at Mom & I’s Candy in Everest, Kansas, said he tries to make it to the Samplers Fest every year.

“The Fest is a different experience for us (Mom & I’s Candy), but it’s still something we enjoy and look forward to every year.” Berger said. “Staying in a motel and showing up early to prepare the booth makes our time here different than from the visitors. It would be a lot of fun if we had the time to walk around and look at other attractions and learn about other towns in Kansas, but we still appreciate our time here and appreciate what the fest does to promote Kansas.”

Berger said the fest is a very important event for local and small businesses like Mom & I’s Candy.

“My wife Margaret and her mom used to make the candy around Christmas time and give it away to neighbors and relatives, and it was so good that I told them they ought to be selling the stuff and that’s where our business started,” Berger said. “Nowadays, we ship candy all over the country and we go to events in Kansas like the Sampler Fest and the Topeka Cider Days to promote our products and reach out to the local community.”

According to The Topeka Capital-Journal, it required around 300 volunteers and $100,000 to host the festival in Wamego. The festival will set up shop next May in Winfield, Kansas.