It’s not covered in many history books, but the Swiss were in America long before the United States was even an idea. Over 200 years, in fact. But, as with many other immigrant groups, it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the pace of immigration began to pick up.
It is estimated that nearly a quarter of a million Swiss arrived in the United States between 1860 and the 1910s. Some of these pioneers went to the Pacific Northwest – Oregon, to be exact – and settled in Tillamook County.
Proud of the legacy they brought to their new country, these settlers eventually founded the Tillamook Swiss Society in 1922. A century later, the community is preparing to celebrate the organization’s 100th anniversary.
“Swiss pioneers brought their dairy farming expertise to this coastal Oregon environment, with the promise of building a new life for their families and creating a community,” said Julie Hurliman, Tillamook Swiss of 4th Generation and Manager of Community and Industry Programs for Tillamook Coast Visitors Association. “Through their hard work, collaboration and resilience, they laid the foundation for the region’s cheese-making business, which is now a nationally recognized brand. I am thrilled to be able to celebrate the cultural ties of our community.
The Tillamook Swiss Society celebrates every year with traditional dances, music and food since its inception; but this year is, of course, a year of particular importance. Everything is in place for a particularly memorable event on Saturday, November 5 from 10:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. at the Tillamook Fairgrounds.
Admission is free and there will be food for sale at the event.
Swiss culture at every turn
The day begins with a 5 km run. But this is no ordinary 5K. It’s the Lederhosen 5K Fun Run, challenging participants to make it to the finish line wearing the traditional shorts and suspenders that many non-Swiss associate with yodelers from old movies. Pre-registration and an entry fee are required to participate in the Fun Run.
The cultural salute continues with Swiss music and dance throughout the day, including accordionists, choirs, alphorns, yodelling, dance academy performers, dance lessons and even highly skilled Tyrolean dancers.
There are even Swiss sports on the program: a competition from Schwingen and a competition from Steinstossen.
Schwingen is a traditional style of Swiss wrestling in which competitors face each other in a sawdust ring wearing schwinghosen over their pants. Schwinghosen are a pair of rough material shorts secured by a strong leather belt which is gripped in order to perform catches and throws. The winner of the contest is crowned King Schwingen.
Steinstossen is similar to shot put, except the game’s rural roots have competitors throwing large stones. To give you an idea of the dexterity required, an Ohio man once held a steinstossen record of 21 years for throwing a 138-pound stone a distance of 14 feet 4 inches.
Anyone looking for a less culturally complex game can try Corn Hole Tournament or, for those who find Corn Hole too tame, Ax Throwing. A fee is charged for these games.
Proud people, cultural craftsmanship and more
A special appearance at the festival is a local fourth-generation dairy farmer,
Derrick Josi, known worldwide as TDF Honest Farming. Also present will be the Tillamook June Dairy Ambassador Court 2022, all from Tillamook Swiss Pioneer families.
At noon, the Tillamook County Quilt Guild will open its Tidal Treasures Quilt Show celebrating 100 years of quilting; the guild will also hold a quilt raffle. Also at noon, a museum tour of objects from various Swiss heritage collections will begin.
To show that there is no age limit for cultural pride, festival-goers can also enjoy a Little Swiss competition in which boys and girls dress up in traditional clothing.
The day will end at 7pm with the ‘tapping of the festival keg’ followed by a merry party named after a popular line dance called the Swiss Stomp. Music for thestomp will be provided by the hugely popular Polkatones, an eight-member band in traditional costume, who are sure to add plenty of oom-pah and two-quarter polka fun to the festivities.
A true community event The festival promises to be a full day of fun, so to help keep festival-goers energized, Holly the Trolley will be on hand – courtesy of the Tillamook County Transportation District – to provide a free shuttle service around the exhibition center from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Tillamook’s Swiss Centennial is a community sponsored event, with special support provided by Werner Gourmet Meat Snacks Company, Tillamook Creamery, Fiber Federal Credit Union, Pelican Brewing, Jenck Farms, Tillamook People’s Utility District, Rosenberg Builders Supply, Oregon Coast Bank, Umpqua Bank, Tillamook YMCA, Northwest Dance Academy, TP Freight Lines, Tillamook Trashers, Tillamook Swiss Society and Tillamook Coast Visitors Association.
Anyone interested in more information is encouraged to follow the Swiss Tillamook Centenary 2022 on Facebook.