West Jefferson, OH –
The West Jefferson Ox Fest is a four-day festival over Labor Day weekend, with the main event, the Ox Roast happening all day Monday. This is the 68th year of the festival and is a very important event for the community of West Jefferson.
While the festival runs the entire Labor Day weekend, Saturday through Monday, with outside vendors, rides, and clubs with their booths, the keynote event takes place on Monday afternoon. 5,000 pounds of eye of round meat, which resembles the taste of both ox and roast beef, is cooked in an over 300-foot-long, four-foot-deep crevice and then served to the public on sandwiches.
The shipment of over 5,000 pounds of meat arrived at West Jefferson High School on Sunday, where members of the extended family who started the festival as well as a handful of volunteers begin prep work. The meat was taken out of the package, sliced, seasoned and re-wrapped individually in foil.
The pit where the meat cooks in is approximately four feet deep and 300 feet long. On the Sunday before the meat is cooked, wood is cooked in the pit for about 5 hours to form about two feet of coals for the meat to sit on.
“All profit goes back into the West Jefferson community. We keep just enough money to keep the festival going for the next year, and the rest goes back into the community.” Says Derek Campbell, who’s been helping run the festival for over 30 years.
There is a very strong sense of family in this festival, everybody taking part in preparation for the event is either closely related to the original families who began the festival or have been volunteering because they enjoy giving back to their community. “Once you get pulled in, you’re stuck.” Says Campbell.
“If you’ve ever lived in West Jeff and moved away, if you come back to town chances are it’s either for a reunion or for the Ox Roast.” Says Joe Denes, who’s father helped originally started the event. This is the first year Denes is running the festival without the help of his father, who passed away in January of this year.
U.S. Representative, Steve Stivers (OH-15), was there as part an effort to campaign for his re-election bid. Stivers has held this seat since 2011, but has been taking part of this event by helping build the sandwiches and interact with customers since 2008 when he first ran for the seat.
“It helps make me part of the community, which I think is really important for any campaign to be authentic and part of the community … Events like this help me connect with real people.” Stivers said.