1. Things to Do

Food, fun and family-feel help rev up Nativity's annual Novmberfest


In 1969, organizers probably stirred up excitement for the inaugural Nativity Catholic School Novemberfest with old school posters emblazoned with bold red letters — all caps.

Today, praise for the annual event comes on Facebook, no less enthusiastic.

Excellent festival … Great food and entertainment … Well organized … Lots of fun and fellowship … Safe and secure … Awesome people.

Nearly a half-century later, Brandon's most popular annual event still draws accolades from folks of all ages.

R. J. Brauneker, who's attended the event every year for more than four decades, cherishes the reunion-like atmosphere that brings together generations of family members, former classmates, and acquaintances who seldom see one another.

It also ranks at the very top of his list of most enjoyable activities, so much so he has voluntarily opted to serve for 11 consecutive years as director of the five-day event. Brauneker and a team of volunteers help transform the southeast corner of State Road 60 and Bryan Road into a big-tent food and fair extravaganza.

The festival, which features free admission and free parking, is filled with midway rides, games and music, plus a host of freshly prepared and ethnically diverse fare including American, Cuban, Indian, Polish, Mexican specialties and more.

All proceeds benefit Nativity's school and youth ministry programs.

It's a big undertaking, Brauneker said, especially considering the event has grown to attract more than 100,000 people every year.

But, it's one he thrives on with the help of what he calls "a great team" of people who are also dedicated to making it what the church deems as the area's third largest annual event behind the Florida State Fair and the Strawberry Festival.

"I think the biggest thrill for me is watching the kids, especially the smiles on the faces of kids that are there for the first time," Brauneker said.

With that said, he's particularly excited about the festival's new Youth Ministry Night from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday (Nov. 15). It's the brainchild of longtime church member and its part-time strategic planning coordinator Laura Bray, who enlisted the help of Spirit FM 90.5 radio morning show host Abby Brundage, a fellow Nativity church parishioner, and her fiancé Davis Watts, the station's music director and announcer.

The couple came up with the idea of hosting a Family Feud television show-type game, pitting kids from Nativity and other area churches' youth group members against their respective youth ministers.

"We love playing games on the air so we thought this would be fun," said Brundage, who noted winners will receive Spirit FM gift packages.

Watts, a former youth minister, said they are pitching the event on the station and reaching out to youth ministers throughout the greater Brandon community.

"Wednesday night is when a lot of youth groups meet so we're hoping they'll come and be part of it," Watts said.

The Youth Ministry Night will also include a $5 bargain meal of pizza, chips and a soft drink; performances by Nativity's youth praise and worship band, plus Spanish and Filipino musical ensembles from the church.

"I would love this to be the beginning of a tradition at Novemberfest," Bray said.

Other area musicians who hope to fire up the crowd at the festival are the Soul Circus Cowboys, a southern rock band led by Nativity Catholic School alumnus Billy McKnight, who will be on stage under the tent from 8 p.m. to midnight on Friday (Nov. 17); and Daniel Sprouse, a Plant City native who'll perform from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 18).

In early August Novemberfest Operations Manager Greg Harrell, who's held that voluntary position for eight years, began contacting and contracting with vendors who supply a large portion of the event's equipment needs.

That includes some 40 port-a-potties that will be positioned throughout the site.

"Then about 20 days in advance of the festival we start to get everything set up, working from 5 to 9 p.m. on the weekdays and Saturdays from 9 to 5," said

Harrell specifically noted that part of their work consists of painstakingly laying out some five-miles-worth of electrical cables to the food tent, the ride and games areas, plus various out sites on the church grounds.

"Safety first is what we stress to all our volunteers. If something doesn't look right, we tell them to let us know and we'll take care of it," he said.

Harrell, who also noted it takes four or five days to remove all the equipment off the campus following the event, said he began volunteering at the festival 15 years ago when his children were students at the school.

"I enjoy the camaraderie – it's a feeling that affects everybody," he said.

Contact Joyce McKenzie at


Nativity Novemberfest

The Nativity Catholic School Novemberfest is open from 4 to 10 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday (Nov. 15 and 16), 4 p.m. to midnight on Friday (Nov. 17), 11 a.m. to midnight on Saturday (Nov. 18) and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday (Nov. 19). Thursday is Law Enforcement and First Responders Appreciation Day, and Sunday is Military Appreciation and Nativity Homecoming Day. In their honor those attendees may purchase all-day unlimited-ride armbands for $17, whereas the individual armband price for the general public is $23. Ride tickets are priced at $1 each or 22 tickets for $20. Food tickets are .50 cents. For more information, call (813) 681-4608 and to obtain armbands and tickets in advance visit"