Christine Colley: Oktoberfest inspiration for 13 years

By Barb Charzuk

The Colley name is synonymous with Fountain Hills’ Oktoberfest.

Over a period of 12 years, Christine Colley, president of Fountain Events  Inc., raised more than $100,000 for the non-for-profit organization to raise funds for her adopted hometown charities.

After a two-year absence, Oktoberfest returns for the 13th time Friday and Saturday, Sept. 24 and 25, in Fountain Park. Rain flooded the site in 2019, forcing cancellation of the festival and creating smaller venues for satellite events. Like many public events in 2020, Covid-19 prevented Oktoberfest from happening, leading to Colley’s decision to “retire.”  The Fountain Hills Chamber of Commerce volunteered to take over its sponsorship.

“It’s a bittersweet time for me to give up this activity that I love. I’m happily looking forward to my friends at the Chamber to carry forward this tradition,” said Colley. “As an active board member, I’ll stay close and continue to provide support where needed.”

When Colley and her husband, Jack, moved to Fountain Hills, they met many German-speaking residents and in 1997 organized the German Club. Their first project was Oktoberfest festivities in a 10,000-square-foot tent attended by about 50 guests in Fountain Park. 

After the second Oktoberfest, Fountain Park became off-limits for large events because of replacement of the lake liner. Oktoberfest moved to Fort McDowell for one year.  The German club relinquished control after the third year to Fountain Hills Chamber of Commerce. The event did not fit the chamber’s strategy at that time so it was not repeated.

In 2007, the town’s Parks and Recreation manager Bryan Hughes approached Colley to rekindle Oktoberfest. She did with the aid of more than 150 volunteers from service organizations. The cultural event became popular with locals and visitors from the Greater Phoenix region because of its authenticity in food and music. Tacos and tequila were purposedly absent from the menus.

As a Germany emigrant, Colley knows firsthand the Oktoberfest atmosphere of a live oompah band, steins of beer, Bavarian dirndls and lederhosen, and bratwurst. She left her parents, five sisters and a brother behind in Mainz, Germany, in 1969 after completing her education in business administration and acquiring an internship in wine importing in Dallas, Texas. She built a successful career that continued in California and later in New Jersey.

While in New Jersey in 1995, Christine received a call from a recruiter who offered a job with the Dial Corporation in Scottsdale. The move offered an opportunity to build on her German heritage and become involved in community activities.

Daughter Tania Tammaro and 16-year-old daughter, Kate, have moved from Houston to join the family. Jack continues to support and promote Oktoberfest activities in his assisted nursing residence.

A passion for diverse folk art and cultures prompted Christine to introduce the inaugural Chinese Lantern & Folk Festival with the Universal Cultural Organization, a group that promotes friendship and an exchange of cultures between China and the United States. She visited the lantern creators and explored the culture of Chengdu and Bangkok, Thailand, in 2015. The festival did not return a second year because of its staging expense. 

President Dwight Eisenhower created Sister Cities International in 1956 to foster friendship and peace between people from different communities around the world. Not surprisingly, Colley became involved with the local Sister City committee in developing a relationship between Dierdorf, Germany, and Fountain Hills in 2004. 

Colley hosted Dierdorf mayor and a small delegation during their first visit. She and local high school teachers developed a student exchange program between the two cities. Students learn about everyday life while living with families in their host country.

Fountain Hills currently has sister cities in Ataco, El Salvador; Kasterlee, Belgium, and the newest in Zamosc, Poland. Christine serves as treasurer and a director of Sister Cities, Inc. One of her latest projects has been supporting a German honorary consulate in Scottsdale.

Sister Cities is open to new members. Meetings are scheduled for 5 p.m., the second Monday of the month, in the Chamber of Commerce office. Individual membership is $15, or $25 for a family.

Oktoberfest pre-sale tickets can be purchased for $5 at the Chamber’s website (fhchamber.com) through Sept. 19.  Day-of-the-event admission will be $10. Children 12 and under are free. Anyone wearing authentic German attire will receive $5 in tickets for food or beverage.