History of St. Rita Fest

What began as “Visiting Day” in 1916 for families and students attending St. Rita School for the Deaf has turned into one of the longest running festivals in the tri-state area.St. Rita Fest has a long-standing tradition of community involvement.
Since the inception of “Visiting Day” which is now known as St. Rita Fest, local businesses and volunteers spend many hours helping to prepare for the annual festival.Whether it is the family that makes the famous turtle soup, which sells out before the festival closes on Sunday evenings or selling raffle tickets to win tons of great prizes,
St. Rita Fest is successful because of the commitment from people and businesses in the community.The festival originally started with 7 booths and today has over 100 booths that include rides, food, and games.
Over the past 25 years, because of the generous support of volunteers and donors at St. Rita Fest, over $5 million dollars has been raised to help educate the students of St. Rita School for the Deaf.

Turtle Soup

Tradition Continues.....
Ben Koenig has been committed to helping St. Rita School for the Deaf for over 50 years. It all began on a blind date with the woman who became the love of his life, Ruth Woebkenberg.

He remembers that date like it was yesterday. And why shouldn’t he? With a little chuckle he spoke of how Ruth’s entire family was there too - all of her eleven brothers and sisters, and parents. He learned quickly of their strong family ties and of their love for St. Rita School.

The Woebkenberg family not only helped start St. Rita School for the Deaf back in 1916, but also helped initiate St. Rita Fest’s famous Turtle Soup. Ben knew that marrying Ruth meant also sharing her passion for the children at St. Rita School. So together, they happily made St. Rita part of their life through hours of volunteer work. They took a special interest in continuing Ruth’s family tradition of making Turtle Soup at St. Rita Fest.

Each year in July, Ben’s family still gets together in the school’s kitchen to begin the long process of making 600 gallons of Turtle Soup, all of which sells out by the end of the 3-day festival weekend. His daughters, son-in-law, nephew, niece, grandchildren and others put in about 258 man-hours in a two-week period. Ben says, “Volunteering has taught me that if everyone just does a little, then it can equal a lot.” But it is the lessons that his children and grandchildren have learned through their service for which he is most thankful. “You lead by example”, says Ben. “Through service you learn that it is not always about you. It’s about helping others in need and making their life better.”

Ben Koenig has applied this life lesson to all areas of his life, none more heartfelt than the loving care he gave to his wife, Ruth during her fourteen-year battle with Alzheimer’s. He was always by her side doing whatever he could to care for her needs. “Even after Ruth’s diagnosis she never wanted to miss volunteering at St. Rita Fest”, says Ben. “It was her life and she wanted to be there to show her support.”

Ruth passed away 4 years ago but Ben says her spirit is ever-present, especially during festival time when the family is back in the school’s kitchen preparing for another round of Turtle Soup. And if Ben is lucky enough to get any soup for himself, it’s safe to say that his appreciation comes from not only knowing its secret recipe, but even more in knowing and loving the woman who once helped him make it.

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