Hiners, ABWA brat tent keep rolling on at Heritage Days

Marj Hiner garnishes a hamburger in the American Business Women’s Association (ABWA) Brat Tent during the 2011 Heritage Days Festival. Hiner is the architect of the event, which has been running for 29 years.
Marj Hiner garnishes a hamburger in the American Business Women’s Association (ABWA) Brat Tent during the 2011 Heritage Days Festival. Hiner is the architect of the event, which has been running for 29 years. TAB file photo.

"I have probably cooked over 50,000 brats in my lifetime," says Marj Hiner.

Not for herself - she's accomplished that feat by working at the American Business Women's Association (ABWA) Brat Tent since its inception during the 1984 Heritage Days festival.

Hiner, who was the chairman of the Heritage Days steering committee that year, says the idea came from a desire to do something new.

"Someone said, ‘We need to have a Germanfest with the brats and the beer and the whole bit, because we (Huntington) are German and our themes go along with our heritage,'" she says.

At the time, a men's group in town had previously held a beer fest that left a bad taste in the mouths of community members, says Hiner.

"So I said, ‘We'll put a new twist on it. We'll have a women's group back it.'

"So I went to the ABWA and said instead of selling wrapping paper and chocolate candy bars, how about if we just do a couple of big projects a year and then we don't have to worry about the rest of the year.

"And, I talked them into it.

"So, the ABWA has supported it and worked it every year ... we got through without any trouble and it became a family thing."

Now, she says, "we may be one of the oldest events left."

This year, Hiner and her husband, Homer Hiner, started working on the event the weekend before Heritage Days began.

"He refurbished the electrical boxes and cleaned the grills," she says. "We got the banners to add the updated design. I got all the aprons and towels and cooking mitts in the basket ready to go out the back door."

On Tuesday they were busy loading, and on Wednesday morning the tent went up. First, she says, they move in ticket booths and string the lights.

"We have to do all that kind of stuff before we can put all the tables up," she says. "We have a set routine now - we know which stuff comes first."

And Homer doesn't just help with the setup.

"My poor husband, not only does he cook, but he has built one of the ticket booths, the grills, electrical boxes and he does the wiring.

"And,we store all that stuff all year long. We have ticket booths, freezers, refrigerators, fencing, trash barrels ... He's been a good helper."

Although the Hiners are - and have been since its launch -heavily involved with the ABWA Brat Tent, the event is all about fund-raising for the American Business Women's Association.

"Some people think it's Homer and Marj's, but it's not Homer and Marj's.

"It's just - Marj started it, so Marj keeps it," she says of their continued involvement.

"ABWA is all about helping women, and education, and networking."

Hiner says most of the money that is made throughout the year by the ABWA is used for scholarships and education.

"Even if it is a technical school, or an LPN that wants to become an RN.

"Any female that wants to improve themselves, we are willing to help."

She says the women of the ABWA continue educating themselves as well.

"Because times change and you have to keep up with the times. Of course you have to keep improving yourself in the business world and learning how to network and take those extra classes."

She says ABWA funds also go back to the public.

"If we have any money left over after the scholarships and education, we give back to our community.

"A lot of the money goes back into the community that people probably aren't aware of."

Hiner says she has been a member of ABWA since 1977.

"Back when we started, networking among women was a little bit unheard of.

"The men all ran the businesses, and they all had their own networks and they got lots of places," she says,
"But ABWA came in helping women get education, promoting education, and educating ourselves."

The brat tent has become a steadfast tradition at Heritage Days, and not much has changed in the nearly 30 years it has been running.

"It was supposed to be something new and different, and now it is old hat," says Hiner.

"We try to change, and we've tried not to increase our prices because of the economy. We want to be family friendly," she notes.

Hiner also points out that "attendance is not quite what it has been."

This year, attendance may be up, or it may be down, she says,

"Every year it's always something different - you just never know."

A bratwurst stand that will be set up at the location of a car show held downtown on Friday evening, is a new addition this year.

Hiner says brats and bottled water will be served at the stand.

And, while the group tries some things new, some things have resurfaced, such as the advertisement that was used this year. Hiner says the logo that was used in all 2013 advertising is actually the original advertisement from 1984.

"Some things just die hard, you know?" says Hiner.

Over the years, she says, "the thing that has changed the most - nowadays you have to pay for everything.

"So, our expenses have gone up considerably compared to what we used to make. But, that's the change of the times. And sometimes you grumble and say, ‘oh my gosh.'

"The tent used to only cost $1,200 in 1989 and we bought our onions at the B-K Drive-In," she recalls.

But, through the ups and downs of the fund-raiser, Hiner says, "So far, the tent has worked."

The ABWA Brat Tent is open during this year's Heritage Days festival on Friday, June 21, from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. and on Saturday, June 22, from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. with live music each evening from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

View complete Hertage Days Schedule of activities...