The two persons who were primarily responsible for the formation of Edelweiss-Passaic were Bob Donnelly and Bill Fischer. They and their wives, Joan Donnelly and Marie Fischer, had a broad background in general folk dancing and belonged to such organizations as the German American Folklore Society of Montclair, and the Gesellschaft Fidelio, a German theatrical Verein. Bill and Marie Fischer and Bob and Joan Donnelly originally belonged to the Garden State Country Dancers, a square dance and general folk dance group led by Helen and Rod LaFarge. Among many other international dances, they learned 4 or 5 German dances in that group, mostly from the northern provinces of Germany. Helen and Rod led many other folk dance groups, such as the Lombardi Mountaineers, yes - an Italian group, and the Rosebud Dance Group, with which some of our founding members danced.
Helen also coached Joan twice for the Harvest Moon Ball Dance Competition held at Madison Square Garden and hosted by Ed Sullivan. Of course, she was entered in the polka category, first in 1951 with Carl Luhrs and then with Bob in 1952.
If it wasn’t for the LaFarges, there probably would not be an Edelweiss today. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the LaFarges played folk dances between the breaks in the square dance sets at the Wyckoff Grange in Wyckoff, New Jersey.
They also were responsible for the annual May Day Festival of the Society for the Reanimation of Interesting Superstitions and Medieval Recreations at Lambert Castle in Paterson; and our original Santa Lucia costume came from Helen. Joan wore it in 1951 at the Wyckoff Grange Christmas Party. Rod also published a magazine called Rosin the Bow, in which he included many instructions for folk dances, square dances, quadrilles, etc. He also advertised all current events and festivals. Rod’s day job was a professional photographer, and that is why we have many clear professional photographs from the early days of Edelweiss-Passaic.
After the Garden State Country Dancers, they joined the German American Folklore Society of Montclair, where they performed some new German folk dances and performed at many international affairs. One night when they were scheduled to perform, the leader of the group, Bill Deike, decided to change the performance to a dance that was not practiced - a Bavarian figure dance with no plattler. Bill and Bob declined to dance because they didn’t want to make mistakes. They knew they made the right decision when the next group performed a Bavarian steirer figueren tanz mit schuhplattler.
So they left that group and met at Bill and Marie’s apartment and decided to form their own group. They called one other member to join them in the planning session – Joe Delaney.
The first organization meeting was in 1956 at Fritz Bressler’s River Terrace. The name of the group was the German American Folk Dancers, and Jean and Arne Olson, Jean and Carl Luhrs joined them. At the time the club knew only one Bavarian Schuhplattler, the "Reit-im-Winkel," and a few folk dances from other parts of Germany; possessed two pairs of borrowed Lederhosen, several old 78 rpm records for music; and boasted $2.25 in the club treasury or "cookie jar".
Our first permanent meeting place was the Old Vienna Hall in Paterson. It was a warm and friendly place and nurtured the growth of our club for its first two years – and how it did grow. In 1958, under the name of Edelweiss-Volkstaenzer, we were fortunate to have attracted several new members who would play a very important role in the future of Edelweiss-Passaic: the Foersters, Joe Delaney, Johanna and Herman Deussing joined, and Herman became the first musician.
In 1957 and 1958 they had the help of Albert Richter, Johnny Link and George Moosebauer of Bayern Verein Newark to learn many of the Schuhplattlers. Apparently, Bill, Bob and Joe all tried to join BVN, but they would only let Bill in (only Germans allowed).
After their move to the Passaic Turnhalle, the name changed to the Edelweiss-Passaic Schuhplattler Verein. Edelweiss-Passaic, Inc., was not incorporated until July 1962.
Bob and Bill were an interesting study in contrasts. By nature, Bob was the quiet type – reflective, studious. Although a good dancer, he delighted in the scholarly aspects of dancing; translating dances and background materials, always insisting upon the correct nomenclature and pronunciation of dance terms, and preventing non-ethnic embellishments from creeping into our dancing. Many of the dances we perform today were taught by Bob back in the fifties and sixties when he was the club's dance director. Of the many plattler and figure dances that Bob has taught us, the "Kronentanz" remains our favorite and is performed for special events. In recognition of his contributions to the club in the area of dance, Bob was made Ehrenvorplattler in 1966.
Bob's performance as the first president of Edelweiss-Passaic was similarly competent. Bob was a superior administrator with good organization skills and a mode of conducting business that helped launch this young club on a very successful course. Bob was also responsible for the formation of our Kindergruppe in 1969 and served as director for many years. Today, five decades later, Bob remains an integral part of our club.
Bill was Bob's perfect counterpart. Bill had robust personality and an affable disposition. He was Edelweiss-Passaic's most successful public relations man, in the very best sense of the term. It was through Bill and his father, Bill Sr., who was very well known in local German circles, that Edelweiss made contact with its Patenverein, Bayern Verein Newark. Bill's engaging manner was largely responsible for the dramatic increase in membership in the early years.
Bill was also an "idea" man. "Let's go to Germany" – We did, in 1968. "Let's have a Strauss Ball instead of an Annual Dinner." – We did, in 1969. And of course, Gaufest XII was Bill's brainchild. Through the years Bill served the club in many capacities; in addition to being our first Vorplattler, he served as president and vice president and headed several important committees. At the time of Bill's death in 1988, he was president of Edelweiss-Passaic. Of all the personal attributes ascribed to Bill, one stands above them all: dedication. Bill was totally committed to Edelweiss-Passaic – he gave his all.
Marga Foerster was our first Trachtenmutter. Marga and her husband Gerhardt selected and purchased our first Festtracht while they were in Germany. Gerhardt Foerster followed Bob Donnelly as our second president. Herman Deussing – well, Herman was one of the pillars of the club. He was our first musician, our bell ringer, and our most enthusiastic supporter. Johanna Deussing was our Fahnenmutter and served many years as our Trachtenmutter. Joe Delaney served as president, Vorplattler and Kindergruppe Director for many years. The Foersters were awarded Ehrenmitgliederschaft in 1963; the Deussings in 1973; and Joe Delaney in 1977. Johanna was also made Ehrentrachtenmutter in 1980.
We cannot reflect upon the early years of Edelweiss-Passaic without mentioning our Patenverein, Bayern Verein Newark. Through the cooperation of Albert Richter, who was president of the Newark club at the time, Edelweiss learned several basic Schuhplattler. George Moosebauer, Ehrenvorplattler of Bayern Verein Newark, was also very helpful in those early years and provided us with much background material, dance books, and sheet music. George and Albert were two of our first honorary members.
In 1959 the club under the current name, Edelweiss-Passaic, held its first Oktoberfest as the Passaic Turnhalle, which was also our meeting place for some years. Bob Donnelly was Festleiter, and the affair was a great success both socially and financially. Our annual Oktoberfest has now become one of the most important events of the club year.
The 1960s were a period of new challenges, new ventures and new heights of achievement. In 1961 we joined the Vereinigte Bayern von Gross New York und New Jersey, a union of most of the Bavarian clubs in the New York City metropolitan area. In early 1962 we were introduced to a new facet of Bavarian tradition – Preisplatteln. That year the club gathered in Schuetzenpark, New Jersey, with several other groups from the greater New York City area to participate in the first Preisplatteln in this area. To everyone's surprise, including our own, we placed second in the competition.
We attended our first nationwide Trachtenfest and Preisplatteln in 1963 in Buffalo, New York. We were fascinated watching clubs from other areas of the country perform; it was our first exposure to such a wide variety of Bavarian dancing styles. On Sunday, partially recovered from the previous evening's festivities, we joined the parade to the picnic grounds. The excitement mounted when it came time to announce the winners of the Preisplatteln. There was a long pause and hushed quiet as the first place winner was announced . . . Edelweiss-Passaic!!! We were stunned! We gathered ourselves together and repeated the dance, the Birkensteiner Gloeckl. After receiving the award, we circles, the stage repeatedly with our Vorplattler, Bob Christie, on our shoulders.
Scarcely a year after our visit to Buffalo, we participated in another memorable event – the New York World's Fair. Though we danced at the fair several times during 1964 and 1965, no event was more dramatic than when Edelweiss-Passaic joined the other dance groups of the Vereinigte Bayern at the Singer Bowl to perform a single danced with 100 couples. It was indeed a beautiful sight. Bob Christie, our Vorplattler, was chosen to lead this formidable group; it was a singular honor to both our club and Bob.
Another significant event was our Fahnenweihe. The culmination of months of preparation came on October 17, 1964, when Edelweiss officially dedicated its flag with Johanna Deussing as Fahnenmutter and Joan Donnelly and Marie Fischer was Fahnenjungfrauen. Over 1,000 Trachtler, Trachtlerinnen, and friends attended the Fahnenweihe in the Passaic Armory. Both the festival on Saturday and the party on Sunday were heralded as a huge success. For the members of our club, it was a proud accomplishment and the realization of a dream.
In 1966 the members of Edelweiss-Passaic made their first trip to Montreal, Canada, to attend a Fahnenweihe and Trachtenschau. On Sunday afternoon the results of the Trachtenschau were announced, and Edelweiss-Passaic was awarded first prize. This award was quite unique in that it was not the dancers who stood in the limelight, rather our Trachtenmutter, Johanna Deussing, was the real winner. The club's Tracht has always been a source of pride among our members.
After several years of discussing the feasibility of uniting all the Trachtenvereine in the United States and Canada, the idea became a reality in 1966 when the Gauverband Nordamerika was born. Edelweiss-Passaic is one of the founding member Vereine of the Gauverband, and our members were actively involved in the organizing efforts and serving on various committees. Our own Bob Christie, the first Gauvorplattler.
On Memorial Day weekend 1967 the first Gaufest was held in Newark, New Jersey, under the sponsorship of the Vereinigte Bayern. The Gaufest turned out to be a great success. When the results of the Preisplatteln were announced late in the afternoon on Sunday, we had reason to be jubilant – Edelweiss came in first! We repeated the "Reit-imWinkel" on stage, accepted the trophy, and commenced to celebrate . . . Edelweiss-Passaic, a relatively young group, had been the first to take home the coveted Wanderpreis.
In reviewing the highlights of our history, the trip to Germany in 1968 must be considered one of he most formidable tasks undertaken by Edelweiss. We knew that all the arduous planning and work were well worth it when one bright morning in August we found ourselves in the village of Ismaning about an hour from the heart of Munich. One of the many high points of the trip was performing the Kronentanz on the stage of the Ismaning Fest tent in front of 4,000 people. The dance was received with wild enthusiasm and sustained applause.
Early in 1969 Edelweiss inaugurated a very special social event – the Strauss Ball. It is an authentic re-creation of a nineteenth century gala Viennese Grand Ball. A string orchestra performs Strauss music throughout the evening. At the ball our members perform an authentic quadrille and lead a Grand March. Under the leadership of Joe Delaney, the Strauss Ball has become an annual tradition.
The year 1969 also saw Edelweiss off to the second Gaufest in Denver, Colorado. We placed second in the Preisplatteln.
We closed the 1960s with one more significant milestone – the formation of a Kindergruppe. In September 1969 the first meeting was held at the President Palace in Passaic with Bob Donnelly as director. Many of our current dancers have come to us by way of the Kindergruppe.
Permanently set in our calendar by the 1970s were such pleasurable events as the Strauss Ball, Spring Fest, Summer Beer Fest, Stolz Alm picnic, Oktoberfest, and Christmas Party. We also supported several German festivals, the New Jersey German Heritage Festival at the Garden State Arts Center, and the German-American Steuben Day Parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City. Jim Grieco has served as trustee and continues to serve as special events chairman for the German Heritage Council of New Jersey.
And how we did look forward to the biennial Gaufeste – Detroit in 1971, Washington, D.C., in 1973, Montreal in 1975, Milwaukee in 1977, and Los Angeles in 1979.
In March 1980 we attended the fiftieth anniversary of Bayern Verein Newark. It was a great success, and it was a pleasure for us to participate in our Patenverein's big birthday party. In July 1981 we attended the 8. Gaufest and fiftieth anniversary of Die Gemuetlichen Enzianer at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. We were particularly delighted when our Preisplatteln team, led by freshman Vorplattler, Joe Straub, and Vortanzerin, Madeline Ulrich, captured third place.
In February 1982 Edelweiss celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. Ed Mayer was president and Bob Christie was Festleiter. Over 500 Trachtler and Trachtlerinnen attended our big celebration. We had a full program that ran over the course of two days. Over a dozen Bavarian clubs and the Glinka Russian Folk Dancers joined us and put on an exciting exhibition of dances. Edelweiss performed the Kronentanz.
After our memorable 25th Anniversary, Bob Christie was made an Honorary Member. Bob served the club in so many ways, including 5 years as President, 8 years as Vorplattler, and more than 10 years as financial secretary for our Oktoberfest. He was Gauvorplattler of the Gauverband from 1967 to 1969 and held the office of Revisor for over 20 years.
The year 1988 brought more celebrations as we were honored to become the Patenverein of Alpenveilchen, Silver Spring, Maryland. In February Edelweiss and Alpenveilchen came together for a Patenbitten; and in May we traveled to Silver Spring for their Fahnenweihe.
In November 1988 Madeline Ulrich was made an Honorary Member and Honorary Vortanzerin for her 19 years as Vortanzerin. She continues to serve our club in many areas and is currently Trachtenmutter, a position she has held for 10 years.
Edelweiss members continued to support the Vereinigte Bayern von Gross New York und New Jersey and attended the 60th Anniversary dinner and flag rededication in May 1989. We were proud to have our own Ed Mayer serve as 1st vice president, president and financial secretary of the Vereinigte Bayern.
Of course, we continued to participate in Preisplattln and attended the Gaufeste in Cleveland in 1983, Denver in 1985 and Milwaukee in 1987.
In the fall of 1983 founding member Bill Fischer initiated the idea for Bayern Verein Newark and Edelweiss Passaic to jointly sponsor a Gaufest. Although Bill passed away shortly before the Gaufest, his dream was brought to fruition at Gaufest XII during the Fourth of July weekend of 1989 in Parsippany, New Jersey. Jim Grieco filled in for Bill and did an outstanding job. This undertaking was one of the most significant events in the club's history. Edelweiss placed once again in the top three, coming in second place in Preisplatteln.
In the 1990s we celebrated significant anniversaries of many of our friends – the 60th Anniversary of Gemuetlichen Enzianer, the 70th and 75th Anniversaries of Original Enzian, and the 25th Anniversary of Germania Almrausch. Other organizations for which we have performed for many years also had anniversaries – the 100th anniversary of Germania Park and the 25th Anniversary of the German Heritage Festival at the Garden State Arts Center.
We welcomed another Patenkind – Germania Almrausch, Poughkeepsie, New York. We held another Patenbitten and attended their Fahnenweihe in April of 1991.
Edelweiss also enjoyed the weekend festivities and participated in the Preisplattln in Gaufeste in Buffalo in 1993, Milwaukee in 1995 and Delaware in 1997.
In November 1997 we welcomed another Honorary Member – Paul Ulrich. His contributions to Edelweiss over the years has been significant. He was instrumental in Gaufest XII, we put our flag in his care when it was refurbished in Germany, and he has made many trips to and from Germany bringing us additions to our Tracht. But most of all, we value his friendship and that of our Patenverein, Bayern Verein Newark.
In the 2000s we celebrated significant anniversaries of many of our friends. We attended the 75th Anniversary celebration of the Vereinigte Bayern in 2004. Jim Grieco was installed as President of the United Bavarians in 2003 and continues to serve in that capacity. For all of his hard work, dedication and contributions to Edelweiss in many capacities, Jim was made an Honorary Member.
In 2005 the members of Edelweiss attended and celebrated the 75th anniversary of Bayern Verein Newark.
In November 2006 we bid a sad farewell to the Hofbrauhaus in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. The Hofbrauhaus has played a big part in our history, as we have danced there since 1970. For many weekends during the spring and fall we would carpool from northern New Jersey to the restaurant on the hill with the beautiful view.
We attended the 2001 Gaufest in New York, the 2003 Gaufest in Philadelphia, and the 2005 Gaufest in Buffalo. In 2007 we participated at the Gaufest in Hershey and performed our Ehrentanz, the Bergvagabunden, with 22 couples including our Kindergruppe members.
We celebrated our 50th Anniversary On October 6, 2007, and honored our founding members Marie Fischer, Robert and Joan Donnelly, and Joseph Delaney. Jim Grieco was Festleiter and Michael Wolz was President. It was a proud moment for Bob Donnelly, our founding member and Ehrenvorplattler, to watch his son, Bob Jr., lead the club as Vorplattler in our 50th year.
In 2009 we participated in the Toledo Gaufest, and in 2011, a large group attended and participated in the Orlando Gaufest.
One of the highlights of 2011 was Kinderfest, which we hosted on June 4 at Germania Park. It was very successful due to the efforts of Chairwoman, Judy Kulich, and her committee including Michael Wolz, in his 15th year as President.
So as we continue this year our collective feeling is one of gratitude – gratitude to members and leaders, past and present, who have taken the club this far and a deep feeling of faith and confidence that those who will serve and lead this club in the future will not only equal but exceed the aims and deeds of the past.