About an hour before the Keepataw Days Festival opened on Friday, Lemont native Wendy Peebles was zipping around the festival grounds on a golf cart, sporting a wireless headset.
Waving and shouting out greetings as she wound her way through the event site, Peebles checked on last-minute details with vendors, staff members, family members, security staff and police before the crowds were set to arrive at 6 p.m.
In person or via her headset, the enthusiastic volunteer fired off a barrage of questions. “Do you have all your tickets? What do you need? Do you need water? Are you all set?” Peebles asked.
After months of planning, endless meetings and phone calls with vendors, entertainers, donors and sponsors, the popular annual festival was ready to begin. And nobody could have been more excited about it than Wendy Peebles, Lemont Keepataw Days committee vice president – and newly named 2012 Keepataw Days Parade Grand Marshal.
According to Annette Jelinek, chairman of the Keepataw Days Parade, Peebles was a natural choice to serve as grand marshal, leading the parade through the town she has loved for a lifetime.
“Wendy has been extremely active in the Lemont community for many years and has touched a lot of lives by her involvement, compassion for people and genuine love for the town she lives in,” said Jelinek. “She truly exemplifies our parade theme, Celebrate Lemont (and) there is no greater cheerleader for Lemont than Wendy Peebles. For all her outstanding contributions, giving of herself endlessly, countless hours of volunteer work, lives touched and inspired, Wendy is truly deserving of this great honor.”
Mike Carey, president of the Keepataw Days Committee, said members of the committee recently surprised Peebles with the grand marshal designation.
“She has been deserving of this honor for years,” Carey said of his friend of more than two decades.
“I met Wendy about 20 years ago, when my son Rocky (now 27) was volunteering at the Jaycees’ haunted house,” Carey said. “We just really hit it off right from the start – and she has become like a sister to me – the twisted sister I never had,” he said with a laugh.
Carey said that over the years, Peebles and her husband of nearly 26 years, Steve, have played an integral part in helping to ensure that Keepataw Days remained a popular tradition in Lemont, whether through the Jaycees, or, beginning three years ago, through the non-profit Keepataw Days Committee.
Wendy (Wirth) and Steve Peebles are Lemont High School graduates (Classes of 1983 and 1982, respectively) who obviously love not only their community – but also, each other.
“We have a good, solid, life-long relationship and marriage,” Wendy said. “We’re best friends. We do everything together.”
And volunteering at Keepataw Days has become something the entire Peebles family does together now, too. At this year’s event, while Steve worked the finance booth, sons Tim, 21, who attends Knox College in Galesburg; and Ken, 17, a student at LHS, pitched in to help.
“Our kids grew up volunteering (at the festival) with us,” Wendy said. “It’s been fun. We share, we sweat, and if nothing blows up, it’s cool,” she said with a laugh. “Then we just wait around to see all the smiles. It’s really worth it when people thank you and say they love the fest.”
Peebles considers it a great honor to have been named this year’s Keepataw Days Parade Grand Marshal. But, she emphasized, plenty of teamwork is needed to pull the festival together each year.
“Keepataw Days is not just an effort on just my part, it’s a collaborative effort,” Peebles said.
“Seriously, neither Wendy nor I could do this without each other – and everybody on the committee,” Carey echoed.
But in the long run, are all the hours, hard work and worry worth it?
“You bet,” Peebles said. “I’m third generation Lemont, and I’d hate to see Keepataw days die. My grandparents have slides of me in the parade, walking in my Girl Scout uniform with the white gloves and patent-leather shoes … I just love it.
"I’d say I’m feverishly adamant about keeping this thing alive.”
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