If you have ever attended a Dairy Festival event in Hopkins County, Texas, you were probably impressed by large-scale productions and mass participation by the county’s population, for these are among it’s hallmarks. In 2018, the Dairy Festival tradition is 59 years old, originally created to celebrate the dairy industry’s local economic impact. The 25-member Board of Directors works year-round to produce the annual Dairy Month extravaganza each June, but at least part of it’s success may be credited to personal care and hands-on effort by talented, devoted individuals. It’s time to profile two of these individuals, Lynda Hager and Patricia Chase. Over the years, they have worked alongside dozens of other Festival volunteers . Between them, these two women bring a tenure of 85 years!
Lynda Mosley Hager was born in Hopkins County, was the daughter of a dairying family and became involved in the fledgling festival in 1964 as a young adult. However, her first brush with recognition came during high school when she was selected as the “Dairy Queen” for that year’s annual Dairy cattle show. She never forgets that today’s Dairy Festival was developed from those original cattle shows by dairy farmers. The first time that she volunteered to help with the Festival was when she was in the Mother’s Culture Club. Back then, the Festival sought participation from the active service clubs, and in turn these would nominate young ladies they knew as candidates. There might be up to a dozen candidates and sometimes more!. Club members would construct a parade float in keeping with a theme, and floats were required from the Festival’s beginning, except for the very first year, 1959, when the young ladies rode on convertibles. Queen candidates usually helped out, and often there was intense secrecy between the clubs as to their candidate’s float design! Lynda’s niece Judy Rawson represented the Mother’s Culture Club in the 1964 parade and Pageant. Lynda recalls the float Mother’s Club built for Judy that year. “We used a flat bed trailer, not one of the traditional cotton trailers the Festival provided. The flat bed was lower to the ground, and that allowed us to build an elevated platform on the back six feet higher than the trailer floor. The float’s theme was ‘Ireland’. The rectangular shape of the trailer was transformed into an amazing three-leaf clover shape. Judy was placed standing next to a large milk pail, mounted on a post, which was pouring a plastic painted stream of milk into a “pot of gold”. Chicken wire was used to cover the sides of the clover shape and white paper napkins were stuffed into the wire to produce a fluffy effect”. Linda muses that back then, crews worked with primitive materials and themes. For example, this floats’s floor was covered with hay, with the hay spray-painted green. This particular entry did not have a live calf on it, but back then, most floats did carry a live calf onboard, and many used the cardboard milk cartons to construct props like barns and windmills. Lynda knows that the task of building a winning float can be daunting. And you might wonder, how can the weeks-long task of designing and constructing a float can be of lasting importance to these dairy debutantes? Lynda knows that it’s actually a training tool. “Today’s Dairy Festival Queen candidates design and build their own floats. This involves creative thinking, teamwork, resourcefulness and determination. Pulling in the talents of parents and grandparents, neighbors and friends has produced more than just a float for the contestants. It’s produced lasting friendships, a lot of pride and great memories”. At one time, the Kiwanis Club was especially renowned for their gorgeous, elaborate floats. Today, as service club memberships have declined, only a few clubs (Jr. Waverly, Dial Study Club and Mother’s Culture Club) are still involved, with most floats being sponsored by local business and industry.
Lynda is married to Bill Hager and they have two children. She has been a Festival volunteer for 53 consecutive years and board member for most of that time. Currently Treasurer of the Hopkins County Dairy Festival, she’s worn many hats, but her heart is still with the parade floats. From the 1966 Festival, she recalls a very detailed float with a Rapunzel theme. “Carla Brice was the candidate, and she rode about 15 feet above the street in a giant 3-color ice cream cone, with her yellow hair braid streaming down”. One of the creative volunteers invented a massive (and heavy!) plait of yarn, making Carla’s float extra-impressive. Many entries have featured heads that nod, arms that wave and other fascinating moving features. Indeed, every Festival has produced awe-inspiring floats illustrating themes such as Dolls in Dairyland, Pirates of the Cow-ribbean, Moo-sic Land USA, Red White and Moo, and Cow-A-Bunga.
Traditionally, designated themes set the mood for the parade entries and the stage decor for Pageant night. Once upon a time, the Pageant was truly an almost-royal coronation. Before moving into the Civic Center auditorium, the Pageant was held on the football field or in the rodeo arena. where pulling up at a platform, the candidate would dismount the float and then be seated with the other candidates.
Typically, June weather is parade-perfect in Hopkins County, but Lynda recalls one year in which rains actually ruined the meticulously-prepared floats. The entries that year were so impressive with elaborate frames stuffed with several colors of tissue paper, but they became a sad sight after a drenching en route to the Parade site! Another memory-making parade involved the landing of a helicopter in Buford Park treacherously close to the floats staged there prior to the start of the parade. One gorgeous float was completely covered with sheets of cotton batting loosely attached to the chicken wire frame. Needless to say, the wind rush from the helicopter totally denuded the float! Not to be outdone, volunteers quickly collected and re-attached the cotton, and the float entered the parade on schedule! And speaking of extravagant float entries, as a candidate Miss Chancellor rode atop an airplane float built to scale by her dad, and pulled by a number of white-uniformed young men along the entire parade route!
Today’s Dairy Festival Queen’s float carries on a royal tradition. Brought out of storage, it is spruced up for each new year. The reigning Queen sits atop a throne, waving to admiring crowds for her final time upon her float pulled by a dealership-new pickup truck.. Lynda recalls, “Prior to 1972, the Queen’s float had an elevated stage with a decorated canopy under which the Queen stood. That year, the late Gene Chancellor, a former pharmacist, designed the pattern that is still used today, with the Queen seated on a throne atop an elevated platform. Her position is one of the highest in the parade! The float carrying 1972 Queen Gina Chancellor was blue and silver, constructed by a crew of volunteers including Sydnie Burgin, Carolyn Keys Stewart and Susie Chancellor. In recent years, it was re-worked in gold and white.
In it’s almost 60 year history, the Dairy Festival Parade has consistently set a high standard for it’s contestants in talent, creativity and quality! It was this signature standard of quality that attracted Patricia Chase to the Dairy Festival volunteer pool. She recollects that as a newcomer watching a Dairy Festival parade, she was deeply impressed by this small town which had become her new home. Drawn by the proud farming heritage of Hopkins County, Patricia and her husband Pat Chase moved to a farm in 1984, making it their home to work in and raise their daughters. She got right into the community, first teaching in the SSISD and later employed by Region 8 Service Center, as well as teaching the Teen girls Sunday School class at FBC. One day while grocery shopping, she overheard two women talking about the Miss Sulphur Springs Pageant needing additional board members. Before leaving the store, she approached one of them to say she might like to volunteer. Bringing modeling and pageant experience, Patricia made an able coach and adviser for dozens of Miss Sulphur Springs hopefuls from all over the region, many of whom had competed in pageants since childhood and entertained dreams of advancing to the Miss Texas Pageant. Fast forward a couple of years when Patricia attended her first Dairy Festival Queen’s Pageant. So impressed was she by the pride and polish of the field of 17-year-olds that she indicated her interest in joining the Festival. That was about 30 years ago, and now, with a career total of over 250 teen girls, most without prior experience in modeling, she has found her niche instilling confidence, poise and presentation in their first appearance in a formal setting.
What does Patricia strive to teach the Dairy Festival contestants? She explains, “In group and one-on-one sessions, I tutor them in speaking clearly and confidently, in how to shake hands, smile and meet sponsors and judges eye to eye, how to stand up straight and proud, and how to walk out on a stage to be admired and photographed. The basic training incorporates a code of polite behavior and helps facilitate their ‘coming out’ or debut into society as an adult.” A collection of thank-you notes and letters from former Queen’s contestants are among the treasures of her life here in Hopkins County. Patricia’s ongoing involvement as a Dairy Festival board member is a point of pride, and has allowed her to use her talents for the benefit of others.
When you attend the 2018 Queen’s Coronation, the culmination of several weeks of work by the contestants, you will be seated in the newly remodeled SSISD Auditorium in the Regional Civic Center for a spectacular pageant. Rehearsals are also held on the roomy stage so the girls can get the feel of the size and depth of the venue. Patricia recalled the “hot years” when the initial rehearsals were held without the convenience of stage lighting or air conditioning. Committee members brought floor lamps and fans to help keep everyone comfortable during practice. Additionally, individual sessions were scheduled so that Patricia could spend up to two hours with each girl on the modeling portion of her competition. After having studied a practice sheet, with Patricia’s help each contestant would practice standing correctly and would perfect “the walk”. Then, on Pageant night, while the Emcee introduces her, this 5-minute evening gown walk might seem much longer! Keeping her head erect and shoulders back, hips over knees, and stepping out confidently in high heels, she would move unhurriedly to one side of the stage, then cross to the other side, letting her smiling gaze sweep the audience using the venue’s lighted exit signs to measure the scope of her gaze. She would then advance down the runway to a composed stop with her confident gaze upon the judges, execute a practiced 4-point turn, then make her way to an assigned position on the stage where she would remain until all the presentations were completed. Patricia reminds her charges that an added feature on pageant night will be the appearance onstage of the “Little Kids”. Girls are coached to keep their poise but be watchful for the sometimes unpredictable enthusiasm of these little ones, ages 3-6, who will share the stage with them!
Patricia gets a little emotional talking about the impact this personal training can mean to a young lady stepping into adulthood. “I believe that the Festival’s high standard of beauty and ceremony is a bonus to every girl who aspires to wear the crown”. Reflecting on the entire Festival experience, she feels it truly is the opportunity of a lifetime, for besides learning interview skills, stage walking and correct posture, learning to take a talent performance from “okay” to “great!” and gaining confidence in public speaking and conveying their goals and accomplishments to adults, the girls receive much more. The fun of float building and cow milking, assisting with hot air ballooning, bonding with family and friends and making lifetime memories are built into the benefits package,
Both Lynda and Patricia treasure their experiences in planning the massive 50th anniversary Festival in 2009, and plan to continue their involvement into and beyond the 60th anniversary in 2019. They feel it represents a perfect partnership between our community and it’s young women.. The Festival’s well-earned tradition of success shows that, like milk, there’s something good here in Hopkins County that’s worth sharing!