BRANDON — As a Nativity Catholic School student, R.J. Brauneker can vividly recall staring out of classroom windows with excitement as the big white tent went up and workers assembled midway rides for Novemberfest.
In later years, the focus became who would be his date for Nativity Catholic Church's annual carnival, food fest and entertainment showcase.
Flash forward some 25 years, and Brauneker now finds himself serving as chairman of the event as it celebrates its 40th anniversary.
"Now that I have kids who attend Nativity, I see the excitement on their faces and that makes it even better," said Brauneker, 39.
The church bills Novemberfest as the county's third-largest social event behind the Florida State Fair and the Strawberry Festival, and estimates that more than 100,000 will attend. It kicked off Wednesday with the midway and a special salute to veterans. Novemberfest continues through Sunday.
Each day, a volunteer brigade will shepherd people around the school grounds at the corner of State Road 60 and Bryan/Kingsway Road as they spin through the Gravitron, test their abilities in skill games, watch youth groups perform and sample cuisine that ranges from pierogies to burritos to cheese steaks.
"Everybody seems to have their favorite dish," Brauneker said. "We added it up, and we serve over 30,000 pounds of food every year."
Part of the festival's success comes from the church's commitment to constantly update and enhance it for people of all ages. Not only did Brauneker note the addition of new midway rides, but he was quick to point out that the festival now includes a Saturday bingo game from noon to 3 p.m. in Nativity's social hall.
Novemberfest will be open from 4 p.m. to midnight today, noon to midnight Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission and parking are free. Armbands for unlimited rides cost $22.
Ernest Hooper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813-226-3405.