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Ogdensburg Pepsi wins national award at PepsiCo convention

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OGDENSBURG - Pepsi-Cola Ogdensburg Bottlers won national recognition Tuesday with the Donald M. Kendall Bottler of the Year Award at PepsiCo’s annual convention in Las Vegas, Nev.

It is recognition that seemed out of reach, said Bonita A. “Bonnie” Wright, the Ogdensburg company’s president and CEO. The company was one of three finalists nationwide for the honor.

“It was something that my father and we always thought we were too small for,” Mrs. Wright said Wednesday. “We are probably one of the smaller bottlers who have ever won the award.”

Mrs. Wright’s father, Richard E. Winter, started the Ogdensburg bottling plant in 1943. Mrs. Wright operates the company with her husband, Richard L., who is general manager. Their son, Scott M., is route supervisor and represents the third generation of the family in the business.

“Just to be nominated was amazing,” Mrs. Wright said. “I don’t even know if it’s sunk in yet.”

The Donald M. Kendall Bottler of the Year award honors bottlers in the United States and Canada for outstanding volume and per capita growth, retail and food service execution, customer service, quality standards, and community support. The award comes with a $5,000 grant, which will be given to the Ogdensburg Boys and Girls Club.

“No greater honor is bestowed within the Pepsi-Cola bottling system,” PepsiCo Americas Beverages Senior Vice President and Franchise Business Unit General Manager Mario Mercurio said in a news release. “In a challenging business environment, the Wright family and its team have risen above the competition with exceptional passion, commitment and capability to lead, partner and win as one Pepsi.”

“I’m still kind of in shock,” Scott Wright said Wednesday. “We’re one of the smaller bottlers, so it was a lot tougher to achieve it.”

A film crew in June shot a documentary about the business that was shown at the convention. Mrs. Wright said the documentary demonstrated how passionate her family and her employees are about their business.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house after they showed our film,” she said. “We told the whole story of what my father went through and how we continue his legacy. And now the entire Pepsi family knows what it’s all about.”

Mr. Winter first opened the bottling plant on Isabella Street and later moved to larger headquarters at Rensselaer and Lincoln avenues in the former Sayer Bakery building. The company opened its current location at 1001 Mansion Ave. in 1962.

Many of the years leading up to that point were lean ones for Mr. Winter, according to a 1961 editorial written by the late Franklin R. Little, former editor and publisher of the Ogdensburg Journal.

“Many months he [Mr. Winter] could not pay his rent, but the late Bert Sayer had faith in him and gave him time. He later bought the building on a long-term contract and Mr. Sayer often had to renew and extend his notes and wait for his interest. Mrs. Sayer told us last night Dick eventually paid every cent he owed with full interest despite the bad years and the many times he had to ask for extensions. Dick had shortages of sugar, of trucks, of gas, of tires, of help during the war years and long afterward. His bankers, accountants, lawyer told him several times he had better liquidate and quit, that he could never make that business pay. Dick believed in himself and stuck it out, working long hours that left little time for sleep and none for good times or recreation. He had tough competition, shortages, depression, bad times, inadequate financing and little credit — everything in the book was against him, but Dick stuck it out with cheerful determination.”

In addition to serving and heading multiple community groups, Mr. Winter helped establish the Ogdensburg Boys and Girls Club. A donation by Mr. Winter funded the Richard E. Winter Cancer Center at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center. He died in 2003.

“There is not one organization I can think of in Ogdensburg that has not benefited from the generosity of the Winter-Wright family and Ogdensburg Pepsi,” Mayor William D. Nelson said. “It’s not just Ogdensburg. How many athletic fields and gymnasiums across St. Lawrence County have a scoreboard donated by Pepsi? Look at how many events are sponsored by them. It started with Richard Winter and has gone right up through to Bonnie and Dick and their children. They’re just so deserving of this award.”

Scott Wright said if his grandfather were still alive he would be smiling.

“He would be unbelievably surprised and proud of his creation, for sure,” Mr. Wright said.

Pepsi-Cola Ogdensburg Bottlers employs 48 people. Mr. Wright and his mother both said winning the award would not have been possible without dedicated employees.

“Our people are just wonderful,” Mrs. Wright said. “They know what we stand for.”

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