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A Grand Day: Long-time journalists are 2011 Pepper Fest Parade grand marshals

Margaret Ontl and Jay Griggs will serve as grand marshals for the Pepper Fest parade scheduled for 11 a.m. Aug. 20. The annual North Hudson festival runs Aug. 19-21. The celebration honors the community's Italian heritage and includes a carnival, parade, queen coronation and a wide variety of food and contests. Photo by Jon Echternacht

Margaret Ontl and her husband Jay Griggs will be on unfamiliar territory at the North Hudson Pepper Fest parade this year.

The couple has been selected as grand marshals for the Pepper Fest Aug. 19-21 and will be the subject of news and photographs.

Margaret, currently a reporter and photographer for the Hudson Star-Observer, and Jay, long-time newspaperman and former editor/publisher of the HSO, have largely been on the other side of the camera or story, not the subject.

"I think I have taken photos of all but one Pepper Fest queen coronation since I moved to the area in 1987," said Ontl.

The selection of a couple to serve as grand marshal is generally acknowledged as a recognition of their service to the community and area.

Ontl says the public service recognition goes to Jay. "I was just a tag along," she said.

Griggs, as the local newspaper publisher, was up to his elbows in community projects up to and beyond the time he sold his interests in the paper in 1995 to run for the state senate in 1996.

"I always like it here at the Pepper Fest," said Griggs. "It's a great celebration." He said his visits to the festival have been enjoyable, even the time his granddaughters took him on the tilt-a-whirl and he got sick from the experience.

Griggs served on the board of the economic development corporations of Hudson and St. Croix County, organized and served on the three-member board of the St. Croix Business Park and, with Alan Burchill, helped start the St. Croix Valley YMCA.

He also helped organize the Hudson Community Fund, serving as its president from 2008-2010, and is currently beginning his 10th year on the board. An active board member of the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center for 15 years, he has held all offices, including president, and continues to serve currently raising funds to build a nature center facility on the property. Other civic endeavors include serving on the boards of the Hudson Hospital Foundation and Chambers of Commerce in Hudson, River Falls and Ellsworth.

"I'm flattered for the honor (Grand Marshal)," said Griggs. "It's nice to be recognized."

"I was surprised to be selected," said Ontl.

However, Ontl will not be surprised by the Italian fare at the fest's food booths. "I'm half Italian so I love all the food. I'll try to pace myself," she said.

She vowed to take a taste of everything during the fest and top the meals off with pizzelles, a traditional Italian anise flavored cookie, her favorite for dessert.

"She loves all Italian food, including all the hot food," said Griggs

Ontl was working for the Red Wing newspaper as a photographer when she met Griggs. "We met when I took a picture of him fueling his airplane," she said.

That chance meeting ultimately led to the second marriage for both and the move to Hudson. "I never planned to work for him," Ontl said.

Grigg's has had a love of flying for a long time and earned commercial pilot and instrument licenses over the years.

After his unsuccessful run for a state senate seat, he bought the aviation fuel business at the New Richmond airport and began working as a commercial pilot for area companies.

"Now I fly mostly for Gagnon, Inc., and serve as airport manager for the city of Amery," he said.

Griggs, 63, was born in Iowa and grew up in Rochester, Minn. He earned a bachelor's degree from what was then Bemidji (Minn.) State University. He worked as a reporter and editor for the Bemidji newspaper as a student and after graduation moved to the International Falls newspaper after a change in ownership at Bemidji.

After earning a master's degree in newspaper management at Oregon, he bought the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth in 1978.

He formed a partnership with Red Wing Publishing Co., and moved to River Falls in 1984 and bought the River Falls Journal. In 1987 he moved to Hudson after the partnership bought the Star-Observer.

Ontl, 59, is a native of Walworth in extreme southeastern Wisconsin. She earned a bachelor's degree in 1974 from St. Norbert College in De Pere, the home of the Green Bay Packers' training camp. She said one of her student jobs was handing out the linens and towels to the players during camp.

Ontl started as a part-time photographer at the Red Wing paper and went to full-time status in 1988.

The couple is looking for a suitable convertible to ride in the parade and toying with the idea of a vintage Volkswagen convertible, if it will carry the load.