By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
BERTRAM — They pick up trash. They solicit people in the crowd to sign up for games. They “guard” the tables of cakes and pies for the year’s bake-off from would-be intruders.
The tasks Oatmeal Festival organizers ask high school student volunteers to do are typically small jobs here and there.
But for an event that draws hundreds into the streets of a town as small as Oatmeal or Bertram, “every little bit counts.”
So says Kade Schooler, a freshman at Burnet High School who volunteered for last weekend’s 40th Annual Oatmeal Festival.
His family has attended the festival, and volunteered at it, for as long as he can remember. His father helps run the tournament for Washer Pitching behind City Hall. The game, which is similar to horseshoes, has continually proved a favorite at the festival’s “World Championship Games.”
Schooler’s own task this Saturday morning was to help “corral” the crowd as the parade made its way through the streets of downtown Bertram.
It was fun, he said, but the talkative 14-year old is more used to spending his weekends showing cattle with the local Future Farmers of America chapter. The activity won him an award earlier in the year at the Burnet County Livestock Show. Down the line, it could yield for him even more.
The festival association awards scholarships to a select number of high school seniors every year.
Otto Pfahl, a member of the festival association’s “Bowl of Directors”, says the group looks beyond an applicant’s volunteer contributions to consider many other factors, such as “demonstrating community spirit.”
Pfahl says the festival sees many students volunteer every year.
“Some help out more than others, and some help and don’t even turn in an application,” he said.
Last year, the association gave scholarships to five seniors. The awards have come to be a hallmark of the festival, which is reflected in the association’s new motto, “Endeavoring to ensure scholarship opportunities and supporting programs to enhance our community.”
The Oatmeal Festival has not always awarded a scholarship. But since organizers held its first incarnation in 1977, it has always put civic involvement and community programs at its center.
In 1983, then Texas Gov. Mark White issued a proclamation recognizing the festival for its service in funding the community’s sports, emergency services, agriculture shows and more.
That tradition continues. Recently, the festival association contributed to the Bertram Volunteer Fire Department’s annual 4th of July Fireworks Display, Bertram Little League, and participated in the town’s “Halloween on Main Street” event.
And for their part, Texas politicians have continued to honor the event.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who previously represented Bertram and Oatmeal as their State Senator in the 1970s and 1980s, wrote a letter to congratulate the Festival for its 40th anniversary.
“I commend the many volunteers on your creative efforts to raise scholarship funds to encourage more Burnet County students to achieve their full God given potential,” Doggett wrote.
Many of the scholarship’s previous winners have gone on to study at schools such as Baylor University and Angelo State University. Schooler hopes to one day study chemistry or engineering at Texas A&M University.
He plans to apply for the Oatmeal Festival scholarship. Its amount is probably not very high, he says, but again— “every little bit counts.”
His application will be far from the only one on the table.
Standing nearby that Saturday morning, in yellow visibility vests marking their status as high school volunteers, Braden McPherson, 15, and Ethan Floyd, 14, say they also would consider submitting applications when they graduate.
None of them like oatmeal, but they do like Bertram.