North Hudson is heating up for its annual Pepper Fest event Aug. 16-18. The board has announced the 2019 grand marshal and Good Neighbors.
Anita Stilwell typically spends the Saturday morning of Pepper Fest out of sight of the parade route, preparing the food for the people that will stream in after the parade ends. When she hears the buzzer closing the parade, she knows that food better be ready.
This year, though, she’ll be leading the parade as the 2019 Pepper Fest Grand Marshal.
Stilwell’s first thought after being named the grand marshal was of the food.
“I have to cook, who’s going to cook,’” she said.
She said she’s honored to be named. “My heart’s with this group,” she said.
Stilwell’s involvement with Pepper Fest started more than 20 years ago as part of the PTO at North Hudson Elementary.
She volunteered for the event on weekends, and had so much fun she started coordinating between the PTO and Pepper Fest in 1996.
“One naturally led to the other,” Stilwell said.
By 2001, she joined the Pepper Fest board. She found her place with the food, and has helped with that since.
“The thing that keeps bringing me back is the people,” Stilwell said.
Pepper Fest is run by a phenomenal group of people, she said, and all are committed to the community. They’re most proud of the connection to the community, not just in North Hudson but in the greater Hudson area, and all of the organizations they’re able to support.
The weekend before Pepper Fest, Stilwell will spend in the Hudson High School kitchen, preparing all the food for the event. She is joined each year by the royalty candidates and 20-25 others. They make the sauce, peppers and cook the meat.
“We’re getting so fast that it’s kind of scary,” she said.
She’s most proud of the quality of the sauce.
“We played with it and played with it and I think we finally hit a home run with the sauce,” she said.
The food offerings stick mainly to the traditional Italian fare, though Stilwell said you have to have a hot dog or corn dog once in a while, and cheese curds, too.
Stilwell’s family has become involved with the event as well. Her husband is always supportive, and her daughter who lives in Milwaukee tries to come up every year for Pepper Fest weekend. Her son is now on the Pepper Fest board, and her daughter-in-law is a former Pepper Fest Queen.
“We’ve got a family tradition going,” Stilwell said.
It’s family on family, she said as those she works with have come to feel like family as well. She can list off several people who have helped her over the years. There are Hattie Wagner and Margaret Butke, two of the main cooks in Pepper Fest history who Stilwell said are inspirations to her. There’s also Wally Gregerson, who would always help her anytime she couldn’t figure out the outdoor cooking equipment.
“It really is a community event,” Stilwell said.
She enjoys seeing how it is continuing on to the generation, in her own family and in the larger North Hudson community as well.
Teresa Iverson and Michelle Barr have always been close to Pepper Fest, literally.
They grew up in the house next door to Pepper Fest park, and their mom Jan Iverson always allowed the event to use her property, opening up her driveway for behind-the-scenes traffic and the back 40 for bingo.
“We’d walk out the front door and there we were,” Iverson said.
So it’s fitting that the two have been named this year’s Good Neighbors.
The title honors their mother, they both said, who died this year. Pepper Fest purchased her property this year. It will be used to expand the event, with a community center planned, and will be named after their mother.
“I feel really grateful that they thought of us for that,” Iverson said. “It means a lot after losing Mom and letting go of our family home.”
Barr said members of the board approached her about buying the property last year. Her mom was sick at the time, but lit up when she heard the idea.
“She said, ‘Oh, that’s really nice,’” Barr said.
The sisters remember when Pepper Fest first started, in a parking lot at that time. When it moved to the park their house became a hub for them and their friends to meet before heading over.
“We’d be over there at Pepper Fest for pretty much the whole weekend, visiting with friends,” Iverson said.
They remember one year when they woke up early after the weekend had passed to pick up garbage.
“I don’t know if I did that more than one year,” Iverson said.
“We were so not used to that,” Barr said.
Barr still lives in North Hudson. She’s looking forward to this year’s Pepper Fest, but will have to find a new spot to park now.
Though Iverson has traveled far from home, first teaching in Asia and now in Louisiana, she enjoys when she can find her way back to the event.
“I’m kind of glad that it’s working out this year for me,” she said. “I would really love to be a part of the parade.”
Barr is quick to answer what her favorite part of the weekend is — the hot dago. She also enjoys the live music and the parade.
“Of any of the parades that go on, that’s the best,” Barr said.
Iverson, like her sister, is a fan of the food. She loves the stuffed peppers and the ravioli, and all the other stuff, too.
“We kind of load up on all the food,” she said.
Then there’s the people. Iverson enjoys visiting with friends and neighbors.
“Folks that you’ve known your whole life, that you’ve gone to school with, that you grew up with, you go to Pepper Fest and you can visit with all these folks,” she said.
Pepper Fest always brings people together, Barr said. It’s a community staple, and she’s glad to see it’s continuing.
“Me and Teresa grew up with that,” she said. “And now my kids have grown up with it.”