LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - Oktoberfest unites thousands of people in La Crosse who "prost" and have a drink of a good ol' Wisconsin brew.
Among the hundreds of thousands on the Festgrounds, Ken Weiler, best known as Red Dog, stands proud among the crowd knowing he, and a couple hundred friends and strangers in blue shirts, will be family for the weekend.
"This year we have about 260 coming, I think," Red Dog said. "They come from all over the United States. We even had a fella from Australia who joined our group last year."
Red Dog is part of the Blue Shirts, a group dating back to 1970 that brings in people from around the nation, even the globe, to celebrate La Crosse's Oktoberfest.
He makes the trip from Plymouth, Minn.
"Two brothers in Chicago had such a good time (then) a friend of mine from Texas invited me," he said. "When I came, there was only about 12 of us guys... now it's just a big group of fun loving people."
While holding it up on display, Red Dog said his most prized possession is his silver medallion. The plastic medal signifies he's been to Oktoberfest with the Blue Shirts for 25 consecutive years.
A father's tradition has been passed onto a younger generation. Nicole Roath, his daughter, is also a Blue Shirt, who the group fittingly nicknamed.
"I'm known as ‘Lil Pup because my father's Red Dog. I am the smaller version of him," Roath said.
"I became affiliated with the Blue Shirt group even though I was underage. Just getting together with them, obviously not drinking, you know, going to their traditional hot spots during the day and just getting to be a part of the group," she said. "I really fell in love with the people."
The back of the Blue Shirts T's list the years they've gone to the fest. Every five years, they get a beer on their sleeve.
Each year, members – like Red Dog and ‘Lil Pup – hope their wardrobe gets a little more decorated.
"People care about being part of this group. They want to come from as far away as possible to be here for this weekend alone," Roach said. "This last week in September means the most to us."
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