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All in the family for Pepper Fest's Good Neighbors

The Sparstads were selected as this year’s Pepper Fest Good Neighbors. Pictured are (front row, from left) Steve and Dianne, and back row, Brian, Sarah Paul and Matthew. Rebecca Mariscal / RiverTown Multimedia

For the Sparstads, Pepper Fest has always been a family affair.

Just a few days before North Hudson's annual summer celebration, the six of them — Dianne and Steve, and the four kids Brian, Sarah, Matthew and Paul — spread across their kitchen, taking spots at the counter and dinner table. Their separate voices filling the house with memories from Pepper Fest's past.

There's the set up each year, making sure the food is ready at 5 p.m. on Friday, regardless of work schedules or oven troubles. There's the dirty dishes that need to be hauled from the festival grounds to a sink to clean them. There's cutting the bread, carrying meatballs from roasters set up in the basement, spilling sauce all over shoes, running home for breaks and sodas, and the clean up late into the night on Sunday. And there's the one common favorite - watching The Dweebs.

This year they'll have a new memory to look back on — being named the Good Neighbors.

The Sparstads were surprised by the honor.

"I didn't see it coming," Dianne said.

"Why us?" was Steve's reaction.

Their years of volunteering was the reason, according to Pepper Fest Board Chair Tim Zais.

"The strength of our community are those people that volunteer and give their time back," Zais said. "The family of Steve and Dianne Sparstad is a prime example of a family that gives."

The Sparstads' involvement in the festival started in 2003 with mom Dianne. As president of the North Hudson Elementary PTO at the time, she was the liaison for Pepper Fest, gathering volunteers and helping with the food preparation.

And when mom volunteered, the kids did too.

"They all have had to volunteer, they've had to work," Dianne said.

Dianne ended up taking over the main food both at the festival, with the help of Steve and all of the kids. Mom said they've always been there to fill in whatever roles necessary, and they're quick to point out the times she's saved the day and made everything work.

"We all kind of have our end of Pepper Fest," Dianne said.

Dianne stepped back from running the food preparation last year, though she still helped, and still took on enough responsibility to have a walkie-talkie.

"If I didn't age, I would still be doing it," Dianne said.

Volunteering at the festival seems like a given for the long-time North Hudson residents.

"It was North Hudson, it was community," Dianne said. "I love Pepper Fest, I love volunteering down there."

They're there every year anyways, Brian said, so they might as well help out.

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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