81st year: Swiss

March 24, 2002

celebrate their roots

in the unlikeliest

of settings.


Staff Writer

HOLTVILLE — The nation that gave the world those intriguing bank accounts, the art of yodeling and cheese with holes in it was at it again Saturday.

The Imperial Valley Swiss Club held its 81st annual Schwingfest at the clubhouse just west of Holtville, and an estimated 250 people, Swiss and non-Swiss alike, came to experience Swiss culture in the unlikely setting of the Californian desert.


"I never liked the cold in Switzerland — that's why I'm here," said a gently smiling Emil Lehmann, who hails from just outside Bern, Switzerland.

Lehmann, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1951, now lives in the San Diego area and had driven from Lemon Grove on Saturday to indulge in a little nostalgia for all things Swiss, except "the weather," he insisted.

He had plenty in which to immerse himself; there was traditional folk music and food and there was the stone toss competition where contestants vie to throw heavy rocks (weighing 75 to 85 pounds) the greatest distance. Last year's winner of the stone toss managed an impressive toss of almost 16 feet.

Heidi Schaffner of Holtville, decked out in traditional Swiss garb, was busy helping serve lunch and said the most popular dish was Swiss macaroni and cheese. It came as no surprise when Schaffner confided that one of the main ingredients was, you guessed it, Swiss cheese.

For those who wanted to take a little bit of Switzerland home with them, there was an eye-catching stall selling everything from those ubiquitous Swiss cow bells to arguably one of the Swiss people's best inventions, the Swiss Army knife.

And there were T-shirts for sale that might have been designed with Swiss transplant Lehmann in mind. The wording on the T-shirts said "It's cool to be Swiss and live in California!"

Then there was the activity where Saturday's festivity takes its name from — the wrestling, or "schwing"-ing as it is called in its native land.

Lehmann, watching the wrestling contest with his brother, still had his mind on the subject of weather.

"When I first came to America I lived in Connecticut — and the weather was worse there than in Switzerland," he said dolefully. "That's why I moved to California."

Clearly a devotee of things Swiss, Lehmann is a member of the Swiss Club in San Diego and says he sings with the folk singing group there.

Asked if he could yodel, he grinned and said, "No, that's why I'm in the singing group."

If you didn't manage to catch the festivities Saturday there's still time tonight. The Swiss Club will be staging a Sunday dance starting at 7:30 p.m. at the club at 1585 E. Worthington Road, Holtville.

If you want still more, warm-weather enthusiast Lehmann says the Swiss Club of San Diego holds its annual Swiss Independence Day celebration the first weekend of August.

You can visit the group's Web site at:

>>Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or

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