School is out for the summer for Brenau University senior Katie Barth from Duluth, Ga., but come Memorial Day weekend, she will join dozens of her classmates on the Gainesville campus as volunteers, working at the 5th Annual Brenau Barbecue Championship Festival.
Barth says it’s the least she could do. The barbecue raises money for scholarships and the mass communications major has been a beneficiary since her freshman year.
“Last year I was only supposed to volunteer for the Friday night preview party, but I ended up coming back and staying the whole day Saturday because I liked it so much,” Barth said. “So many people from the community get to see the campus for the first time, and this is a chance for us to thank them for coming and to show them how much Brenau means to us. A lot of the student volunteers travel in from out of town to some to the festival. It exemplifies how passionate we are about the college.”
The festival kicks off Friday night, May 24, for the preview party and to enjoy the great aroma while picking up some one-on-one pointers from some of the best barbecue cooks in the South. Then, relax and listen to some great music from the band Riverstreet, Allen Nivens, and the highly acclaimed North hall High School jazz ensemble. Admission is $10, which goes to the scholarship fund. Prize-winning cooks from previous festivals will have great barbecue for sale. Gates open at 5:30 p.m.
Admission on Saturday is $5 (kids 10 and under are free) for the festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the campus. About 40 professional and amateur cooking teams from five states battle for Memphis Barbecue Network and Georgia Barbecue Association grand champion titles as well as rights to compete the World Food Championship in Las Vegas in this family friendly event. The festival includes a classic car show, a supervised kiddie play area, vendors of everything from rubs, spices and sauces to custom-made jewelry, and music from top regional bands and north Georgia singers/songwriters. Prize-winning cooks from previous festivals will have great barbecue for sale, but many of the contestants also customarily pass out samples after judging is done.
Barth says she’s also pretty passionate about the food at the barbecue. It is really right up her alley. Unlike many college-age young women throughout the country, she is a declared and practicing anti-vegetarian. That does not mean she simply eats meat along with her vegetables; it means she scrupulously avoids most vegetables and cites reasons for doing so that indicate this is something she has thought long and hard about.
She grins sheepishly when you confront her with the opinion of how weird that all sounds, then points out that some of her classmates subsist primarily on pizza. That incontrovertible fact, plus her own healthy appearance, pretty much rests her case on the subject.
Barth’s duties as a barbecue volunteer include working with the Brenau president’s office to seat and serve trustees, event sponsors and other VIPs at the Friday night preview and will “wander around” on Saturday pitching in where needed.
Barth, the daughter of Richard and Marcia Barth, was yearbook and newspaper editor at Duluth High School, which piqued her interest in majoring in journalism or other communications arts – exactly what her focus has been at Brenau. She is a dean’s list student, which means she maintains at least a 3.6 grade point average on Brenau’s 4.0 scale, and she attends the university on the Faculty Excellence Scholarship, which covers one-third of her tuition.
“Brenau offers a lot of scholarship opportunities, and that’s something that makes a huge difference,” said Barth. “So many students wouldn’t be able to be at Brenau and get the amazing experience we get without them.”
However, Barth got her first look at the Brenau campus long before she decided to enroll in the 135-year-old Women’s College at the university. “I’d been coming to ballets at Brenau’s Pearce Auditorium since I was little,” said Barth. “My grandparents liked taking me to [the Gainesville Ballet performances each Christmas season] of ‘The Nutcracker.’”
But, it was on a real visit to the Gainesville campus during high school that Barth realized Brenau had everything she could wish for in a college.
“Everyone around me was extremely confident,” said the soft-spoken Barth. “The women carried themselves well and were very focused for being so young. It was just a different atmosphere than other colleges I visited, and that’s what sold me.”
Plus, she said she received a lot of encouragement form the students she met as well as from faculty and administrators. “They want you to come as badly as you want to be here.”
Jim Barco, who conceived the idea for the barbecue festival as a scholarship fundraiser, said the event in its first four years has raised close to $250,000. The private, not-for-profit university spends about $8 million a year out of its operating budget for undergraduate scholarships and tuition discounts, and the barbecue represented a new source of revenue for the endeavor.
But there was a bonus: “From day one this was a high-quality community-wide event that people look forward top and talk about all year long,” Barco said. “Many of the people who come to the event live close by but really knew very little about Brenau and seldom, if ever, visited the campus. This gives them the opportunity to meet students, like Katie Barth, and many of those are people who will remain in the community as nurses, teachers, business people and artisans, raising families and adding to society as a whole.”
Indeed, Barth says she hopes to stay in Gainesville, with her ideal job working in higher education public relations. She spent the last semester working for the Office of Communications & Publications, and she will intern this summer in the special events department of the External Relations Office. Previously, she interned for the city with Main Street Gainesville and in the communications and tourism office, helping with the First Friday events and concert series.
“Being at Brenau has helped me establish myself in Gainesville,” she said. “Everyone knows everyone- it’s a small town with a big city feel.”