2024 Festmaster and Lady Butterfest announced in Sparta


Recently, the coveted titles of the top Butterfest positions were announced in Sparta, Wisconsin. Mike Bernath was given the news, in quite a unique fashion, that he was chosen as the 2024 Festmaster, while Deb Smith was chosen as Lady Buttertfest, for the 2024 Butterfest campaign. It just so happens that Mike and Deb are neighbors and Deb was actually informed about her new title from Mike and Amy Bernath. Amy had held the prestigious title herself, in 2017.

The Herald caught up with Mike and Deb, at Deb Smith’s home. Mike walked over to the interview from his home, which is a staggering two houses away. In keeping with last year’s Herald article, the same questions were posed to this year’s Butterfest duo.

Why do you think the past Festmasters/Lady Butterfests asked you to be this year’s royalty?  

Mike Bernath: “I would guess that it is due to my involvement in the community. We do not apply for this position. Others have recognized this involvement and certainly the idea was to never be recognized. It is really a cool part [of being chosen] knowing that fellow community members were aware of me participating. I have gotten to know some of the Festmasters quite accidently. They chose me for their own reasons.”

Deb Smith: “I agree with Mike. We both do a lot of volunteer work, and no one does it for the recognition. We do it because it is important, and it takes care of people in the community. We are both members of the Kiwanis and I was actually Secretary when Mike was President. In 2017, I became a certified tax preparer and joined the AARP Tax Aide program in Sparta, where we prepare taxes for free, 2 days per week. As of June 2023, I am the President of the Morrow Memorial Home Board of Directors, after having served as a board member for four years.”

When you received the news of being chosen as Festmaster and Lady Butterfest, where were you, who told you and were you surprised?

Mike Bernath: “I was home alone because [my wife] Amy was at a meeting somewhere. I heard a knock on my door, and when I went to answer it, there was Reinhard Mueller. He came into the kitchen and asked, ‘Mike, what is the matter with your phone?’”

“I said that I did not know that anything was wrong with my phone. I went and found my phone and it was dead as a doornail. Reinhard then says, “Well, I have been trying to call you because the Festmasters have met, and they have chosen you to be this year’s Festmaster.’”

“Then I told him, ‘Well, thanks for coming over!’ Then I had to use his phone to call Randy Pfaff, to acknowledge my acceptance.”

Deb Smith: “I was totally surprised. I had received a call a month prior, asking me if I would be interested in being Lady Butterfest. I said sure, but had not heard anything back, and I know that there are a lot of deserving people. Then I got a call from Mike and Amy [Bernath] saying that they had some community events they wanted to discuss. I thought is was odd, but said ‘OK.’ They came over, since they live a couple doors down, and knocked on my door. When I answered they said, ‘Guess what? We want you to be Lady Butterfest.’ It was a total surprise.”

What are you most looking forward to as Festmaster/Lady Butterfest? 

Mike Bernath: Certainly, the parades. There is such a community outpouring of happiness and festivities and those kinds of things. Of course, the royalty for the Butterfest Court as well. Those royalty members are budding volunteers for the future as well. It will be so much fun to interact with them, as well as the community, in my role as Festmaster.”

Deb Smith: For me, I absolutely love the thought of representing Sparta. Mike and I both get to represent this great city and the wonderful things that happen here. There is so much good in this community. We get to be front and center representatives for the town we love and cherish.

As a great volunteer in this community, what does this community mean to you?  

Deb Smith: “I was not born and raised here. I have lived here for over 35 years. I feel like the community has embraced me and supported me. I raised my family here, so Sparta is the hub of my life.

Mike Bernath: “This is interesting because I draw a parallel to Deb’s answer. I was not born here either. Amy was, but I grew up in Washington State. I was a military guy and retired a couple of times. We were living in Germany, and we had to pick a place to go and live. We had visted Amy’s mother here, periodically, and we really enjoyed the community. We really liked the climate, the people and all of the participation we saw throughout the community. We made the decision to come here in 2008, from Germany. We were registering to vote one day, and John Sund came out, just to say hi. We asked John, ‘We do not know anyone here, how do we find the community?’”

“John said, ‘What you need to do is sign up to be an election poll worker.’ So, we did exactly that. I lasted 10 years doing that, but Amy is still going. We met tons of people and it just flowed from there. As an outsider, you are always an outsider because you have no relatives. You have to aggressively seek out the community members. Sparta’s total acceptance was paramount in our longevity here, and our happiness.”

Both Mike and Deb told the Herald that they are humbled by their new positions, and they eagerly look forward to working with the Royal Court and everyone involved with Butterfest. Mike reiterated how interesting it was that the people and community members they worked beside, while volunteering, were observant of them being participants. The Herald congratulates Mike Bernath and Deb Smith, as Sparta Butterfest’s newest Festmaster and Lady Butterfest.

Benny Mailman, Finding 42, Butterfest, Sparta Butterfest, Festmaster, Lady Butterfest, 2024 Sparta Butterfest


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