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Rueckert has a lot on her (cheese) plate
Lois Kaster works at the Cheese Days Store in the basement of the Green County Courthouse Wednesday. Kaster has been volunteering at the store for the past few years. "It's fun to see the people," Kaster said. "I enjoy helping people and meeting new people." To order either of these photos, click here. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - After the end of Cheese Days 2014, Director Noreen Rueckert didn't have the luxury of taking a break.

Instead, she had only 730 days to plan the next festival.

As soon as one festival closes, Rueckert said, you have to analyze how well it succeeded.

"You have to figure out what worked and what didn't," Rueckert said. "How did adding something affect the festival?"

From there begins a two-year dance of planning committees and putting out fires.

"It's like a snowball rolling downhill - we just keep one step ahead of it," Rueckert said.

From arranging parking for the thousands of attendees, to composing advertising, to dealing with vendors, to planning the legendary parade, to managing lines, to accommodating special requests, to directing volunteers, Rueckert has a lot on her plate.

"Crises seem to come and go in waves," Rueckert said.

For example, when a tent was too low to accommodate the beer served within for the 2014 event, the festival was left one tent short and a lot of beer with nowhere to put it, and the rental service that owned the tent was already gone.

As Rueckert described it, the problem was solved with a few phone calls and collaboration between vendors.

"Move-in day is always chaos. It's like moving into college," Rueckert said. "But we have a lot of repeat attendees, so they usually help other people get set up."

So far, Rueckert said, nothing has gone irreparably awry during the six festivals she has overseen since 2003.

Rueckert isn't alone - she estimated this year's festival will have more than 600 volunteers and said she feels comfortable delegating tasks to them.

"Bringing in new volunteers and getting more people involved in putting this together - that's something I want to do this year," Rueckert said.

Even so, Rueckert still has to deal with the Sisyphean struggle of addressing attendees' complaints before the next festival.

"One of our most common complaints is that there are gaps in the parade," Rueckert said. This complaint is a challenge to address: "The order of the parade is carefully planned beforehand. And if you want one set of performers to stop and perform, that's going to back up the rest of the parade."

But the biggest complaint by far involves lines.

"People don't like lines," Rueckert said. "People want instant gratification these days."

In 2014, every booth had substantial lines, some of which snaked around the Square for hours, Rueckert said. Therefore, a huge amount of this year's preparations has been devoted to the colossal Tetris game of optimally arranging vendors and tents and lines within the limited space of the downtown festival grounds.

Rueckert said one of the solutions to the queue problem is to move food trucks to a dedicated street, ideally putting more food options close together and spreading out attendance. In addition, this year will see a dedicated water booth, so attendees won't be forced to wait in line just to get a drink.

With just more than one month before the opening of Cheese Days 2016, Rueckert also has to field last-minute requests from vendors and committees for different placement.

"It's getting to the point where we just have to say "no' to some of them," Rueckert said. "There's just not enough time."

Rueckert said she still needs to finalize this year's parade lineup, finish the festival's advertising and social media campaigns, print banners and volunteer T-shirts and make sure all of a hundred more details are up to snuff before opening day on Sept. 16.

And when it's all over and the dust settles on Cheese Days 2016, Rueckert will begin another 730 days of setting up the next one.