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Nativity's Novemberfest delivers family fun to Brandon

Published Nov. 13, 2017

BRANDON — It never fails.

Every year as Novemberfest draws near, R.J. Brauneker can bank on the return of that same child-like adrenaline rush he's thrived on for close to 40 years.

"I remember looking out of my classroom window and it looked larger than life and now I love seeing the same kinds of smiles on other kids' faces that were on mine at their ages," said Brauneker, once a Nativity Catholic School student and now the parent of two other Nativity graduates, who for many years has served as director of an affair organizers say is one of Hillsborough County's largest family-friendly annual attractions.

Brauneker again will see those faces Wednesday (Nov. 16) when the 47th annual Novemberfest starts its five-day run on the grounds of the school and Nativity Catholic Church and school campus, located at the southeast corner of State Road 60 and Bryan Road.

The popular affair, which is expected to draw more than 100,000 attendees and raise about $155,000 to help fund the school and other on-campus youth programs, will be action packed with games, performances and contests, plus the availability of a broad range of craft beers and a wide international assortment of food, prepared on site.

New amid the almost 30 midway rides — which include the returning giant spinning-disc Moonraker — is the 52-foot-high Nitro.

Brauneker describes it as the ultimate "thrill ride" that swings back and forth while rotating in a circle.

"It will get you sick for sure," he joked.

Also on tap Friday night is the return of Tampa-based Soul Circus Cowboys southern rock band, led by Nativity alum Billy McKnight, and rockers Southern Train on Saturday night.

Nativity parishioner Sherry Stewart serves as the event's food fare chairman, and has done so for 36 years. She's thrilled to the extent the food tent has been enlarged and broadened in its selections from basic hamburgers, hotdogs and sausages to a myriad of tasty and unique treats representing multiple ethnic groups.

"It's a lot of work, but I keep coming back because everybody here is like family," she said.

Greg Harrell, operations chair, can attest to the massive collaborative effort it requires to organize and stage an event of such magnitude.

The year-long 9,000 volunteer man hours that go into the project, he believes, tells the story in itself.

The set-up alone requires several weeks, Harrell noted.

"The man who set up the tents last year said he could not believe how much electrical equipment was involved," he said.

Harry Dunlap, a 50-year Nativity church member, recalls a time when the event, staged on a much simpler scale, was held twice yearly and appropriately titled the spring and the fall carnival.

"I'd take a week off before and after to help out and I loved it," said the Valrico resident, also recollecting when on a particular Saturday night Father James Lara, a former priest at the church, announced he would hold a midnight mass so carnival attendees didn't have to get up early on Sunday morning.

"It's no longer Nativity's carnival, it's Brandon's Novemberfest and my wife and I and our kids still come back every year," Dunlap said. "It's like a reunion."

Contact Joyce McKenzie at hillsnews@tampabay.com.