Young women hoping to become the 2014 Cherry Blossom Festival queen might reap lasting rewards from their crowning achievement.
Scholarships totalling $4,000 will be awarded to the winner and four princesses. The queen will receive a $2,000 scholarship to the school of her choice, and each princess will be awarded a $500 scholarship.
This is the first time to have monetary scholarships, said Connie Thuente, retired festival pageant coordinator. Thats how Neva (Langley) Fickling got to be Miss America because she, like many college students, needed all the scholarship money she could get.
Bill Fickling III said his late mothers life was significantly altered by the opportunities she had at Wesleyan College to hone the talent she fostered growing up playing the piano in church.
Although her parents did well later in life, they were not wealthy and struggled quite a bit back then, Fickling said. Coming to Wesleyan just changed her whole life and opened up opportunities she would never have been exposed to.
Local attorney and Bibb Board of Education member Lester Miller, who has sponsored the pageant for 10 years, thinks the scholarships and requirement that contestants have a least a 3.0 grade point average are a great idea.
I think it gives incentive, and a lot of girls are in desperate need of scholarships, Miller said.
Although the Cherry Blossom pageant has vacillated in age ranges in recent years, it is returning to the tradition of only including high school seniors. Grade point averages must be certified by a school guidance counselor on the application.
The 2011 Cherry Blossom Senior Queen Jan Thiese is the new coordinator for all the festivals pageants.
She had no idea how much she would enjoy her reign and involvement with the festival.
I was not ready to give it up, Thiese said. I was very honored and excited to be offered that job.
Last year, she and her husband, Alan, had great fun chauffeuring the queen and princesses to their events.
You really form a bond when that year is up, she said. You really hate to move on.
Thiese hopes to reunite with former royalty at this years Lester M. Miller Queen and Princess Pageant Nov. 16 at the Grand Opera House.
Queens, princesses, senior queens, senior princesses and Little Mr. and Miss Cherry Blossom from years past are invited to come, dressed in pink with their sashes and crowns.
Wed like to have as many as we can get, Thiese said.
The former members of the royal court are asked to be at the Grand Opera House shortly after 5 p.m. to welcome guests to the pageant, which begins at 6 p.m.
High school seniors pageant applications are available at www.cherryblossom.com and must be returned by noon on Oct. 18.
The Senior Queen and Princess Pageant is open to women 55 years and older, who must be of good moral character and not have been convicted of any crime. A community panel will select the winners, who will be crowned during the high school pageant on Nov. 16.
The ChiChesters Sweet Beginnings Little Mr. and Miss Cherry Blossom Pageant is open to boys and girls aged 4 to 6. That pageant will be held at 11 a.m. Nov. 2, but the location has yet to be finalized.
Application deadline for seniors and youngsters is noon Oct. 11.
Entry fees and other information can be found at the festivals website.
Thiese knows firsthand the thrill of representing the festival.
For me, to get that crown was very exciting, she said. Its almost a feeling you cant describe to be in front of all those people. I loved being out and about and being an ambassador for Macon and the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Thiese and the other former royalty will don their sashes and crowns again at the Grand Opera House Nov. 16.
To make this years pageant really sparkle, the festival is breaking with pageant tradition by allowing everyone to wear their crowns and tiaras, she said.
What would be more exciting than walking into the Grand Opera House and seeing all those people in crowns sparkling all over the lobby?
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.