The people behind the Hay People

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The hay people have been part of Cullman’s Oktoberfest celebration since 2000. (Cullman Tribune file photo)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Each fall, Cullmanites mark the times with colorful mums around downtown, and the annual appearance of the hay people is a public reminder that Oktoberfest is almost here. The two practices share a common origin. 

In 1999, Cullman residents Pat and Philip Clemmons traveled to Germany and brought back the traditions that have become seasonal staples for the community. 

“My parents loved Oktoberfest and were also active members of St. John’s Church,” said Nancy Moore, the Clemmons’ daughter. “It was my mom’s dream to make Cullman look festive. She would bring mums to downtown businesses to help decorate for Oktoberfest.”

Moore also recounted that Cullman’s first hay people were assembled with hay from her parents’ friend’s farm, clothes from her uncle – who owned a sewing factory and had experience making dog clothes before this – and hats and hair made by a group of women from their church. 

“My mother had been very involved in Oktoberfest,” Moore remembered. “The hay people were a group effort, and she was very good at getting volunteers together.”

At one time, there were displays set up all around Cullman–in front of the courthouse, the hospital, Mitch Smith Chevrolet, Bill Smith GMC–but the number had to be brought down to just two: the one downtown and the one in Depot Park.

Evelyn Cox, one of the volunteers who has worked on the project since the very beginning, said that the Clemmons family used to pay for all the supplies themselves. 

“Usually, Nancy will call us around May to make sure we have the materials we need, and the City of Cullman pays for everything,” Cox stated. “But back then, Pat and Phil were the ones who provided everything.”

Cox has helped with cutting the fabric for the clothes since 2000, and she recalled that much of the process to make the hay people has stayed the same over the years.

The clothes are made by Elk River and then sent to Cullman for the hair to be stuffed and braided. 

Pat and Phillip Clemmons passed away in 2008, after which the Moore’s decided to continue the traditions to honor their memory. For everyone involved in the hay people project today, keeping the tradition alive is not only a celebration of Oktoberfest, but also maintaining the couple’s legacy.  Even the notes that Nancy uses to plan were what her mother used from the beginning. 

Moore expressed gratitude to Restoring Women’s Outreach for their help in making the hair and hats, saying, “Sobriety has been a big part of my life–I’ve been sober for seven years–and I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had the ladies from Restoring Women’s Outreach to help me make the hats and stuff the hair. These ladies have helped for several years, and I want them ladies to know how much I appreciate them and the work that they do for the community.”

After all the accessories are finished, the clothes are put onto the bales, then Nancy Moore’s husband Steve Moore stacks the hay and Ellen Fulmer paints on their cheerful smiling faces.

Each year Moore continues to sell gorgeous mums to businesses and individuals leading up to Oktoberfest. The mums and hay people help set the mood for the celebration.

Moore said, “I wanted to keep selling the mums in honor and memory of my mom.”

For Cox, the continuation of the hay people is “a tribute to Pat Clemmons. Oktoberfest was a very special thing to her. It was one of her projects, so we just try to honor her as best as we can.”

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Heather Mann

heather@cullmantribune.com