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Pepper Fest Grand Marshals

Rita Nichols, left, and her sister Becky Lyskett together have nearly 50 years of volunteering with the North Hudson Pepper Fest. They are being honored as this year’s Grand Marshals.

The Lyksett name is familiar in North Hudson. The family has had a residence less than a block from the Pepper Fest Park and the village hall for a century.

Becky Lyksett and Rita Nichols, the daughters of Marcella who was Pepper Fest Good Neighbor in 1995, and Roger Lyskett, are being honored as the 2013 Pepper Fest Grand Marshals.

There are three sisters, each one seven years apart: Rita, Becky and Lisa. After a combined nearly 50 years of volunteering for Pepper Fest, Rita and Becky retired not only from Pepper Fest but from work as well. The sisters both worked at Thomson Reuters (formerly West Publishing). Rita retired as a senior publishing specialist in primary law (an analyst) after 32 ½ years with the company. Becky retired after almost 36 years. She was also an analyst in secondary law. They retired less than a month apart and took a six week road trip to celebrate in early 2012.

Becky served as the Pepper Fest Royal Coordinator for 23 years from 1987 to 2011. From minutes after the court is crowned she was in charge of parade bookings, appearances, making sure the float was okay and being a liaison between royal family members and between court members. Alternating between smoothing “feathers” if needed and offering consolation when snafus happened.

“We did not grow up in Hudson,” said Becky. “And when I moved here I still worked in the Cities so getting involved with Pepper Fest was a way to connect.”

“Our family has been here for 100 years,” said Rita. “Grandfather built the house next door. It was a prefab ordered out of the Sears catalog.” Once the family grew too large for the tiny house, they built the house where both Rita and Becky now live.

“Part of the reason we got involved was because of Mom,” said Lyksett, who first job with Pepper Fest was to find workers for the gates. “They handed me a list of three couples to call and they were either divorced or not available so I turned to mom, dad and my sisters to help fill the spaces. Since then Lyksett has cooked, organized the parade, served on the board of directors, for several of those years as vice president and, of course, served as the royal coordinator.

Nichols was also on the Pepper Fest board of directors as the secretary and the vice president. Her biggest commitment was serving as the candidate coordinator for 19 years from 1993 to 2011 (took a leave) and retired in 2012.

You might be wondering was that entails. It starts two to three months before Pepper Fest, with a call for candidates.

“We always advertised for a month before we had to have the final list of candidates,” said Nichols, who over the 19 years has met nearly every type of personality in the candidates. “You see some and you watch them as they go through the activities for the candidates and they have this grace about them. It is hard to explain. They are all good kids but some you can just pick out. They don’t always end up on the court but many of them did.”

“Our philosophy was that we wanted to create memories for the candidates and we wanted them to get to know each other,” said Nichols. “Some of the girls would start out doing this for their mom, and after going through the candidate process, they discovered they really wanted to serve on the court.”

The sisters both agree Pepper Fest is a successful organization.

“When we are in other communities everybody wants to know how we run Pepper Fest and make it a success,” said Lyksett. “You take pride in our reputation. They know us everywhere and that is a huge compliment to Pepper Fest. When you work behind the scenes in any organization you wonder yourself how is it going to get done.

“All the people you meet is one thing that I will cherish about Pepper Fest,” said Lyksett.

“You are making a difference in some people’s lives,” said Nichols. “Plus it earns money for the community. They keep a small amount as seed money for the next year but the rest goes back to the community.”

Through Pepper Fest both Nichols and Lyksett were introduced to Winter Carnival, which first teamed up with Pepper Fest in 1998. They now both work with Winter Carnival as regional ambassadors, in charge of the visiting royalty. The sister team coordinates four days of activities complete with hotel stays for 90 to 100 girls that come over to participate in the various events.

“If you can make somebody smile that makes your whole day,” said Lyksett. “I would rather give my time than drop a dollar.”

“To be involved and make a difference in other people’s lives,” said Rita, who has two children and five grandchildren.

Both sisters have other activities filling their lives. Nichols has volunteered at her church, United Methodist, for 33 years with their youth education and participated in activities ranging from teaching Sunday school to leading work camps to Appalachia.

“That’s my extra world,” said Nichols, who was diagnosed with uterine cancer in July of 2012. After, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation she is in remission and goes back every two to three months for a check-up.

Saturday, the sisters will be honored in the parade as their mother was in 1995.

“When mom was the Pepper Fest Good Neighbor I was driving the car,” said Lyksett. “As people kept shouting congratulations along the parade route she kept asking how all these people know my name. It was of course because there was a sign on the side of the car.

When the sisters travel that route this Saturday, no doubt, the crowds will do the same for them.