BRANDON — Retired Nativity Catholic School teacher MaryAnn Whitman fondly recalls the days leading up to Novemberfest every year.
"Once the food tent went up it was a struggle to keep the kids focused," she said. "But it was great to see their excitement."
That same enthusiasm is evident today as students count down the wait time to Novemberfest 2018, which runs Nov. 14–18 on the school campus, located just east of Bryan Road at 705 E. Brandon Blvd.
The family-friendly attraction filled with an assortment of freshly prepared and ethnically diverse foods, rides, games, band performances and a multitude of gift cards and other raffle items — including a grand prize of $5,000 in cash — is fashioned to attract folks of all ages.
The 49th annual affair, stemming from what was once the school's semi-annual small carnival-like gathering held mainly for students and their parents, has grown into what organizers say is Hillsborough County's third largest days-long events behind the Florida State Fair in Tampa and the Plant City's Strawberry Festival.
The fest tends to draw its biggest crowds on the Friday night when the Soul Circus Cowboys, led by Nativity graduate Billy McKnight, performs under the big tent. Former Nativity students gather with graduates from area high schools to create an informal all-class reunion. Brandon native Wes Dearth will open for the Cowboys this year.
Perhaps even more significant about Brandon's Novemberfest, which typically draws close to 100,000 people from throughout Tampa Bay and beyond, is that it is the largest volunteer-run event in the eastern part of the county.
More than 1,000 volunteers donate close to 10,000 hours toward its success every year, according to 12-year chairman R.J. Brauneker, a 1983 Nativity school graduate, whose two sons followed in his footsteps by attending the school.
Like her husband, Brauneker's wife Debbie Brauneker, a teacher at the school, also stays very involved year after year in the planning and implementation of Novemberfest.
She pumps up the students by organizing pep rallies and providing incentives that encourage them to ask their relatives, neighbors and family friends to buy armbands and food tickets in advance online at discounted prices through Sunday (Nov. 12). On the website NativityCatholicChurch.org/Novemberfest one-day ride armbands are available for $17, whereas the on-grounds cost is $23; and 10 food tickets may be purchased for $9 in contrast to $10 at the festival, where parking and admission are free.
In addition, details regarding Novemberfest's hours of operation, special appreciation days, and the dates and times of musical performances can be found on the website.
"For me it's all about community and families. I enjoy how much fun everyone is having," said Debbie Brauneker, who also helps count the money brought in daily at the festival and along with her husband takes a week's vacation from her job during Novemberfest to do their part.
All proceeds benefit Nativity's school in the form of need-based scholarships for students, classroom needs and Nativity Catholic Church's programs that benefit the youth.
"The money really makes a huge difference for our school," said principal Maureen Ringley. "It's used to improve our technology, our academics and our religious program."
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Chris Assaro, a Novemberfest chairman in the early 2000s who this year will perform for the first time on Thursday evening with the five-member Classix rock band he put together, looks forward to taking on a different role in a happening he always looks forward to and has attended for close to 35 years.
"It's a phenomenal event and I wouldn't miss it," he said
Contact Joyce McKenzie at firstname.lastname@example.org.