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Who Diane Eckert; Hodag Country Festival
What Grande dame of Country Fest dies
When January 8, 2008
Where Rhinelander, WI

The grande dame of the Hodag Country Festival has died.

Hildebrand-Russ Funeral Home confirmed Monday that festival organizer Diane Eckert died Jan. 6 in Tijuana, Mexico.

Along with her husband Bernie, Eckert co-founded the annual country music festival which has become a summer tradition in the Northwoods.

According to Daily News archives, Bernie and the former Diane Grosskreutz were married in 1956, about four years after Bernie started a building demolition business in Chicago.

In 1959, the Eckerts relocated the demolition business to the Northwoods and built the Motel Diane on Highway 8, east of Rhinelander.

In 1965, Bernie and Diane purchased the former Mike Burkhart potato farm in Pine Lake, which became the location of the Hodag Country Festival and the Oneida County Fair.

The first Hodag Country Festival was held Aug. 4-6, 1978 and featured such stars as Freddy Fender and Jana Jae. For the first two years the festival was operated by the Eckerts and two other promoters, Ernie Feight and Ted Tschannen.

Tschannen left the operation after about two years. Feight and his wife, Josephine, stayed with the festival until 1994. Feight sold his shares to the four Eckert children and the festival became an Eckert family business.

Bernie Eckert died April 28, 2002. Since that time Diane Eckert and her children have organized the festival.

The festival, which draws tens of thousands of visitors every year, celebrated its 30th anniversary this last July.

“We never dreamed the festival would grow so well and so big,” Bernie Eckert told the Daily News in 1995.

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Contact Heather Schaefer
The Daily News


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