Homecomers seeks former queens for 100th anniversary

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It's a daunting task, but Homecomers organizers are trying to invite every living Homecomers queen to this year's festival.

Homecomers will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year. The festival runs from July 22 to 26.

The queen competition has been around since 1935, although no contests were held for several years during the late 1930s and most of the 1940s. Ruby Johnson-Conrad won the first competition; Julie Mothershead of Benton, Mo., won the contest last year. Winners have usually come from the region's small towns. Only one queen, Laura Beck Lauinger, has won the contest twice. She did so in 1998 and 1999.

For many women in Southeast Missouri, being a Homecomers queen was a character-building experience.

Claueda Moran Barks, Homecomers queen of 1958, was selected to represent her hometown of Oran when she was 16 years old. Her dress was coffee-colored with gold netting or overlay. She wore elbow-length gloves, open-toed high-heeled sandals and gold earrings to accentuate the dress. She said being selected to represent Oran was an honor, but her expectations of winning were not high.

"Becoming queen was something I never dreamed of happening," Barks said.

She said she remembers how big the event was. "I could see people all the way back to the First Baptist Church." Barks said. "People lined the streets."

Winning the event, Barks said, opened up new experiences for her and added to her self-confidence.

"It made me aware that there was more out there than my little town," she said. "I met some wonderful people. Also I moved to Jackson, and it has been my hometown ever since."

While many people criticize pageants as placing too much emphasis on beauty, Barks said she did not feel that she won on beauty alone.

"I always felt that I won it because of my personality. I liked people and tried to treat others the way I wanted to be treated," she said.

Barks credits her parents for training her in ladylike etiquette. Her father said that when a young lady dressed up she should wear makeup and behave in a ladylike manner. Barks recalls practicing walking while balancing a book on her head.

Martha Harmon Joiner, Homecomers queen of 1962, comes from a line of Homecomers queens. Her mother, Lillian Boehne Harmon, won the title in 1941, and Joiner's cousin, Susan Wilson Solovic won in 1974. A few years ago, Joiner and her mother spoke to a Girl Scout troop about the importance of inner beauty.

On the way home from winning the pageant, Lillian impressed upon her daughter that she had not won the contest because of her appearance.

"The reason you won the contest is because of your personality, not because of your beauty," Lillian said.

For more information about the Homecomers queen celebration, contact Linda Penzel at 243-7222 or Marybeth Williams at 243-8131.

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