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Peggy Atwood named grand marshal of 2011 Vikingland Band Festival

The Vikingland Band Festival committee has selected Margaret "Peggy" Atwood as grand marshal of the 2011 Vikingland Band Festival.

Atwood was selected for the honor because of her dedication to the School District 206 music department and her contributions to the community of Alexandria.

Atwood boasts a 35-year teaching career in Alexandria, where she served as a middle school orchestra teacher from 1975 through her retirement in 2010.

Committee chair Greg DeGier says Atwood is a perfect match for the honor.

"Peggy's career exemplifies a long-standing commitment to Alexandria, and she has enriched the lives of countless music students," he said.

As grand marshal, Atwood will lead the 27th annual Vikingland Band Festival parade beginning at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 26. The parade will feature 19 marching bands from across Minnesota, including Alexandria's Jefferson High School Marching Band, which serves as the host band.

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Peggy Atwood's parents believed strongly in music and required all six of their children to take music lessons while growing up in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Atwood started piano lessons in 2nd grade and started playing violin in 7th grade.

"Basically I made a deal with my parents," she said. "I wanted to quit piano. They agreed to let me quit if I took violin. I agreed."

The compromise worked out well, and the violin proved to be a good match for the young musician.

Atwood excelled with the encouragement of her parents and her violin teacher, who was also the orchestra director at Northern State University. She played in the public school orchestra, community symphony and other venues.

She wasn't sure what she wanted to do after high school, but things seemed to naturally move her in the direction of a career in K-12 music education.

She landed her first - and last - teaching job in Alexandria in 1975.

"I was very fortunate," she said. "I had never been to Alexandria."

Atwood taught at the junior high level, while also teaching some elementary classes and lessons at the high school.

The community and school district seemed to be a good fit for Atwood, who stayed at her job for 35 years.

"The district has been so supportive of music and the arts in Alexandria," she said. "That's the biggest plus of my career - that I was always supported."

One of the highlights of Atwood's career was the start of a summer music program in the early 1980s to introduce elementary students to the band and orchestra programs.

"The summer program is one of the things I am most proud of," she said. "It has been such a success. Literally thousands of kids have gone through that program."

Atwood retired in May 2010.

"It was the right time for me," she said. "My husband [Steve] had retired five years earlier and it felt like the right decision. I felt good about retiring - the program was strong with such a great group of students in it."

Since her retirement, Atwood has spent a lot of time with a new priority - her grandchild, now almost 1 year old, who lives in Cincinnati.

She's also done some substitute teaching, which she says she enjoys and hopes to do more of.

Atwood was notified in February that she had been chosen as this year's grand marshal.

"I was very surprised, and so honored," she said. "The festival is such a wonderful event."

Atwood's hopes for the future are that she is able to continue serving as an advocate for arts in the schools, and that the District 206 orchestra program continues to grow and have qualified staff members who work to "not just teach the subject, but teach the students."

"There are so many things about citizenship that go along with the arts," she said. "The fact that the school district has committed to supporting these programs through the years speaks very loudly of the strong support for arts in Alexandria."

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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