Despite the chilly winds, Clinton Brandt dons his opa outfit, shorts, cap and all. His hat is so covered in Wurstfest pins it hard to see the color of the fabric underneath.
Brandt, 87 and now an opa emeritus, smiles serenely as he leads the way from the front of the Wurstfest offices to Wursthalle. He stops to say hello to his daughter and several other staff members of Wurstfest as he passes through, politely allowing the ladies to go first out of the doorway.
Inside Wursthalle are about 200 family crests divvied up into two rows that cover the walls — the work of Brandt. About 50 more no longer in the hall have been retired, each crest having taken Brandt about 30 hours to complete. In total, this means Brandt’s put approximately 7,500 hours into the crests.
“The newest are the ones here at the end of the hall,” Brandt said, walking past the stage toward a far wall. “Some of them took me quite long, while others weren’t so hard,” he recalls.
Each crest represents a member, and pays testament to their family, said Suzanne Herbelin, executive director of Wurstfest.
“That was Mr. Brandt’s idea,” Herbelin said. “The concrete halls in Wursthalle are pretty stark, bare, ugly … We talked about, ‘How do we decorate?’ it can be hard, in a big old building like that, so it was his idea to produce these.”
After serving as president in 1987, Brandt suggested the idea. In 1988, the first of the crests went up on the wall.
“We did about half the bottom row that first year,” Brandt said. “Then we continued until that bottom row was filled out, and the second top row was added.”
The latest additions were added in the 1990s, Brant said — and are a little more colorful in nature.
“Last time we did it I believe we had eight spaces available and so we filled those really quickly,” Herbelin said. “I just had a member ask last night, ‘Are we going to do that again?’”
The idea came to Brandt when he noticed a friend of his making small crest print outs for families.
“He had a book with a lot of family crests in it, and I looked at that and thought, these would look great on a wall,” Brandt said. “So I gave the idea to the board of directors and they really liked it and agreed.”
The board put out word that members needed to give Brandt their family crest, and he would paint it onto a 2 ½ by 3 foot crest for hanging up.
“I did it on a first come, first serve basis so Haas was the first one,” Brandt said, with his own crest actually coming in third. “Some people didn’t have a family crest so they made one up — so that was kind of neat like, ‘My family and my crest start here.’”
Each year before the Wurstfest grounds open up, the hall and crests are all cleaned. Exposed to no weather or no sun, the crests still look new — many of them still baring Brandt’s signature in pencil on the bottom right.
“One I thought was really interesting to paint and that really sticks out to me is the Castilleja crest,” Brandt said, leading the way over to a crest displaying a helmet surrounded by silver wings, a small detailed castle and a gold shield. “That one took me a while on the wings.”
Visitors to the hall will notice Brandt’s name and shield twice — the second of which is for Brandt’s son who is also an opa.
“Brandt is German, so our shield actually comes from there,” Brandt explained.
Brandt received each wooden shield already cut and painted white, done by Wurstfest’s maintenance man, Brandt said.
“I did them out of that same booth the crests were done before until I said, well maybe I should take them home so I can do more,” he recalls. “My wife would tell me to take a break when I was going for too long but they were so much fun, I didn’t even notice how much time had gone by.”
Brandt said he still gets requests often from newer members who want him to make their shields.
“I’d be happy to do them again,” Brandt said. “They should do it quick before I get to 90,” he laughed.
Brandt said the members were only charged for the cost of the paint and wood, but his labor was a work of love.
“I really hope everyone that comes to Wurstfest enjoys looking at them,” Brandt said.