Organizers hoping for biggest-yet Sampler in Wamego

By Brady Bauman

Sunshine and warm temperatures could make this year’s Kansas Sampler Festival the biggest yet, said festival director Julie Roller.

Roller said Wamego — which won the bid to host the event for this year and next and is the smallest town to ever host it — has everything it needs to make the Sampler celebrate its 25th year in exciting fashion.

“Given the weather, we’re projecting it could see the largest crowd in the smallest town in its 25 years,” she said.

The Kansas Sampler will be in Wamego City Park on Saturday and Sunday (see box at right for details.)

It will feature 300 exhibitors and vendors from all across the state promoting Kansas-made goods, food and entertainment. The annual event moves to a different city every two years.

Roller said 250 volunteers — some from Wamego, some from other areas — will help make the festival run smoothly.

“The Wamego Area Chamber of Commerce is super excited that we were able to host as a community,” said Megan Umscheid, the executive director for the chamber. “The committee has gone through a tremendous amount of work to ensure the festival had something fun, exciting and new. We’ve had a lot of fun putting the Wamego touch on this festival.

“Wamego has a small-town feel, and we think visitors will feel like this is their own hometown.”

Roller, who is also a development associate for the Pottawatomie County Economic Development Corporation, said the festival will feature three entertainment stages featuring Kansas musicians along with areas designated for historical performances by live actors. There will also be a tent featuring the work of Kansas photographers.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife will bring its mobile aquarium, Roller said, and the Kansas Auto Museum will feature a racecar.

Roller said Wamego’s ability to land the Sampler is an example of how communities can partner together to accomplish a common goal.

“I attended my first Sampler festival in 2008 in Concordia,” she said. “And I thought, ‘You know, if they can do it, so can we.’

“It’s a true testament of what a small group can put together.”

Roller said Manhattan’s involvement was key, because the Sampler requires a certain number of available hotel rooms — rooms Wamego doesn’t have.

“We talk about regionalism a lot, and this is an example of how we can work together,” she said. “We’ve had a great partnership with Manhattan, and that’s what it’s all about.”

She said the two cities complement each other.

“We’re not competing, we’re completing,” she said.

Roller said the food is always a big draw at the Kansas Sampler.

“There will be Kansas City BBQ, Swedish food from Olsburg, German food, and a popular item called bacon-wrapped ham balls,” she said. “They’re a hot commodity. One of volunteers has already cleared out a spot in their refrigerator for them.”

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