Sisterhood Saturday: Queens from seven decades join to celebrate pageant’s 75th anniversary

By on July 6, 2016

There was enough royalty at Lititz Springs Park on July 2 to make the rest of us feel like… commoners.

It was indeed an uncommon celebration on Saturday evening when nearly 40 former Queen of the Candles recipients were on hand for the 75th Queen of the Candles pageant.

They spanned the 75 years of the Fourth of July tradition, ranging from 1950 through the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s. The newest queen, Samantha Shields, was crowned for 2016.

Not only was Shields crowned by the 2015 queen Reagan Conrad, but the queen from 1950, Ginny Lou Ranck Ludwig, helped bestow the honors.

Most of the former queens admitted that it is was a special sisterhood among the women who had once fulfilled the dreams of many little girls in Lititz. A few said that they had always wished maybe they would be queen. Most didn’t think it would happen.

“I was completely surprised when I found out,” said Joan Klopp Clair, who was queen in 1959. “I had no idea. My family knew before I did.”

Clair recalled that her aunt Anna Adams worked at the Lititz Post Office. Back then notification came by postcard. When Adams saw the postcard about her niece, she quickly called her parents to tell them something special was in the mail. Clair was the last to know.

Joan Reist Gibbel, the queen from 1954, was very surprised too. She felt honored that her classmates from Lititz High School had chosen her. Everyone on the court were the best of friends and July 4, 1954 was a special evening for all of them.

Gibbel got an even better surprise 28 years later, when her daughter Mary Beth Gibbel Bertrando followed in her mother’s footsteps and was named as Queen of the Candles for 1982.

“I was happier for her than had been when I was a teenager,” said Gibbel. “It was wonderful.”

The fond memories of the special holiday right after high school made being Queen of the Candles a landmark time in the lives of the former queens. Many were off to college, careers, jobs and marriages. It was one last evening to celebrate with friends.

“I remember the dress I wore. It was a turquoise halter dress, that was the style in the ‘70s,” said Kathleen Garner Schoenberger, who was queen in 1974.

Rufina Eckman Ebersol made her own dress in 1977, when she was Queen of the Candles. She looked stunning in her light blue gown, just one of her many talents in art and decorating.

Earlier in the pageant history, the Queen of the Candles all wore a white organdy dress with a ruffled off-the-shoulder sleeve, now very stylish. The dresses were made by the Lititz High School home economics teacher Margaret Hower. Hower also made the dresses for the Queen of the Candles court, in soft pastels, like pale pink, mint green and sky blue. The queen’s dress was white, almost like a bride, with a long train and a wreath of flowers in her hair.

“It was quite an event,” recalled Audrey Risser Cochran, queen from 1953. “All very grand, you did feel like royalty, at least for that one evening.”

Based on tradition, which began in 1942 with the crowning of Polly Moyer Keenan, a trumpet announced the procession. The girls dressed at the at the Boy Scout cabin on the hill above the springs. With the fanfare, the procession began, heralds led the way for the approaching queen and her court as they moved along the path from the cabin to the Paul E. Beck Memorial Band Shell.

The procession of the court was followed by more than 100 men and boys illuminating 10,000 candles throughout the park, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first candle illumination held in 1843.

The former queens before 1970 shared stories about finding out by post or ahead of time at school. On the the Fourth of July, they already knew that they would be Queen of the Candles.

“Oh yes, I already knew I was queen,” said Daphne Shaeffer Treat, who was queen in 1968.

By 1970, the tradition had changed a bit. The naming of the new queen on the Fourth of July was a surprise for that night. By then, the girls were also buying their own dresses, and they were not necessarily white dresses. The court of 12 girls was named in advance, but the queen was not named until the pageant, as the crowd waited in anticipation.

“I think it created more suspense,” said Donna Steffy Enck, queen for 1970. “I was very surprised. I had no idea.”

Ida Mae Reiff High, queen for 1971, was also caught unaware when they called her name at the pageant. She was crowned by her predecessor, Enck. High still remembers her very patriotic gown, in red, white and blue. Two years later, in 1973, Kathy Eckert Wanenchak was named queen in the park. It was a surprise for her too.

“I never imagined they would call my name,” said Wanenchak. “It was quite a night.”

Many of the former queens remembered exactly who crowned them and what they were wearing that night.

“I wore a peach dress with puffy sleeves. Puffy sleeves were in that year,” said Amy Fyock Stehn of 1991, who was crowned by Jill Musser Starliper of 1990.

Even the newest queens were thrilled to meet the queens of years gone by. Greta Weidemoyer of 2013 and Roxannah Hunter of 2003 mingled with Danielle Keim of 2011 and Mikaela Soto Watkins of 2008. They got to meet Ludwig (1950), Sue Minnich Weaver (1963), Linnea Minnich Hershey (1964), Cheryl Martin Tennis (1978), and all the other former queens who gathered right before the 2016 Queen of the Candles.

The younger girls from Pulse Dance put on a show for the former queens, honoring them with decades in music, from the ‘40s swing to ‘50s jitterbug. The ‘60s were marked with a lively dance number featuring three Tina Turners, while the ‘70s was a disco inferno, the ‘80s celebrated Michael Jackson, and the ‘90s and 2000s featured white-wigged Lady Gagas and other performers.

“We are like a sisterhood,” said Gibbel. A sisterhood of queens, that is.

The members of the 2016 Queen of the Candles Court included Samantha Shields as queen, Valentina Fernandez, Natalie Rhoads, Katelyn Hipple, Suzana Whiting, Lindsey Lefever, Samantha Springer, Hannah Weidman, Madison Miller, Alexandra LeVasseur, Samantha Machin, Abigael Weit, Cara Piehl as flower girl, and Isaac Afutiti as ring bearer.

Laura Knowles is a local freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Record Express. She can be reached at

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