Rhody Court Committee brings together tradition, new ideas

115th annual Rhododendron Festival

April 2, 2022 — “The reason so many of us are involved is our past history with Rhody Court,” said Kim Erickson, event planner for the 2022 Rhododendron Court.

Twelve members of the Siuslaw community are part of the effort to bring this year’s Rhododendron Court — and the entire Florence Area Chamber of Commerce’s Rhododendron Festival — “Back in Bloom,” the theme for this year’s Rhody Days.

Representatives of the committee, sponsorship chairs Kay King and Jennifer Waggoner, Erickson, Tamara Cole as senior court communications chair and Jo Beaudreau from marketing, met to talk about their plans for the 15 members of the Rhododendron Court and their reasons for volunteering.

“Jennifer was Queen Rhododendra,” Erickson continued. “Vanessa (Buss) was both a Junior Princess and a Senior Princess, and her parents ran the event for many, many years. Jenna (Bartlett) has been involved in the committee for many years. Wendy (Krause) was runner up from Jennifer's year. And then I was a junior princess. 

“I think that that's why so many of us have decided that we want to do it — because we want to keep the Rhody Court going and keep it alive. Because of how much it meant to us and that it still means to us.”

For Waggoner, “I don't know that I've ever worked with such a neat group. Everyone takes a piece, and then the next day it's done.”

Beaudreau added, “It's a lot of like awesome back and forth, too. It is building each other up and making it better and bigger for everyone. We each have our specialties.”

The large committee means that the students get a lot of individual attention and even more opportunities to interact with the public.

Having so many committee members “helps build relationships with the kids. They all have different people that they call about different things,” Waggoner said.

For Beaudreau, “They all know we're here for them, too, which is important, especially now coming out of COVID. There’s a community of supporters behind them.”

The Junior Court consists of Siuslaw first-grade Princess Katelynn Riddle, second-grade Princess Myla Streck, third-grade Princess Chanel Chatham, fourth-grade Princess Giavanna Flosi and fifth-grade Princess Lily Lewis.

The Senior Court is made up of 10 seniors from Mapleton and Siuslaw high schools. Princess Alexia Clark, Princess Haylee Cole, Princess Alex Fuller, Princess Cameron Kentta and Princess Alizabeth Norton will be competing for the title of Queen Rhododendra at the Coronation in May. In addition, Prince Jason Garcia, Prince Chad Hughes, Prince Camp Lacouture, Prince Joseph Shepard and Prince James Smith will be competing for the title of King of the Coast.

“We are so lucky this year,” Erickson said. “I'm sure every year they say this, but we are so lucky. We have the most amazing group of kids that are very responsible. They want to be out and they want to be doing things. They're already pretty involved in the community.”

The Rhododendron Court Coronation will be held Thursday, May 19, at the Florence Events Center, 715 Quince St., and tickets are on sale now.

“For the Coronation itself, if people can't come in person, it's O.K., because we're livestreaming it,” Erickson said. “When tickets go on sale through the FEC, they'll have the option to buy a ticket to be ‘cheeks in the seats,’ or they'll have the option to buy the live stream. And so grandma or aunt and uncle on the East Coast can watch the coronation the same night.”

In the road leading up to the coronation, the members of the Junior and Senior Courts are visiting with local service organizations, such as the Florence Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, Soroptimist International and Siuslaw Tale Spinners Toastmasters, as well as some other fun field trips. In addition, members of the court will attend the May 2 Florence City Council meeting to receive the proclamation honoring 115 years of the Rhododendron Festival.

Some of the Senior Court events have been to meet with sponsors and learn about life after high school. This has included an etiquette dinner, shopping with Stitch & Sole and Word of Mouth Home Décor and a special lesson for the Senior Princes through Shervin’s Tire and Automotive.

According to King, “At Shervin’s, the boys had a hygiene lesson first. Just about deodorant, fingernails, things like that. And then they learned how to tie a tie. And then he taught them how to change a tire, charge a battery and other skills.”

Beaudreau said, “Those are all life lessons they'll carry with them forever. We said later, ‘We should have done that, too!’” 

“Our partnerships have gone beyond just the fun,” Waggoner said.

The Rhody Court Committee is using the five months the court members are preparing for the coronation to teach them about calling people on the phone, scheduling clothing alteration, writing thank you notes and interacting with people of all ages. It’s part of the goal to have the court be ambassadors both within the community and for the community as the seniors head off to life after high school.

A lot of the activities are possible due to the sponsorships from area businesses and community members.

“The sponsors are the jewels in our crown,” Erickson said. “That's why we've got the ruby, the diamond and emerald sponsor levels.”

Committee members Al Rojas and Beaudreau took drone footage of some of the sponsors, which will be played during the coronation. 

Sponsorships are paying for scholarships for the Senior Court and the coronation itself, along with some of the court’s community appearances, food for their events, marketing and design and a stipend toward their clothing.

The committee didn’t want finances to be a reason why any kid couldn’t participate in this year’s court.

For King, who attended Mapleton School District and was unable to be on the Rhody Court when she was in high school, “Not just for the community, but for people coming into town, having a court is important, and an important part of the chamber. It has really inspired a lot of businesses to come on board this year.”

In the past, individuals would sponsor just one of the court members.

Waggoner said, “We felt like we could do so much more, so that's where we broke it away from the individual court member sponsorships to a broader, corporate sponsorship as a whole. That has really allowed us the flexibility to raise so much more.”

Because of the interest in sponsorships, the committee has announced an additional scholarship for the seniors. Details on the amounts will be released closer to Rhody Days.

In addition, the Rhododendron Court will be working with Melissa and Tony Phillips to do a thank you tour to drop of sponsorship signs and say hello all the sponsors at the ruby level.

“They'll jump off the bus and go into business and thank them,” Waggoner said.

Some special sponsors are working directly on the Rhododendron Senior Court Float, like designer Brian Sandahl, Master Builder Dan Lofy and crew, materials from Copeland Lumber and Pro Lumber, R&R King Logging and members of the committee.

“We’re doing two wonderful floats, a junior float and the senior float,” Waggoner said.

The Royal Float Sponsor is PeaceHealth Peace Harbor. 

Waggoner said that Sandahl, a relatively new resident of Florence, said, “I'm really getting an idea of what it’s like to be part of a small town.”

One special part of the court is not only the community mentorship that happens, but the bonds built between the Junior and Senior Courts.

This year, the court has formed mentorship pods, where a Senior Princess, Senior Prince and a Junior Princess all work and attend events together. 

“The Junior Princess is actually getting mentorship from two people this way,” Erickson said. “We love our juniors, but definitely some of them have a lot of energy. Having two seniors helps.”

The Junior Princesses also don’t participate in all the events, since some of them are during the high school lunch period or require transportation.

“With our seniors, they can drive themselves or carpool together. But with the juniors, most of the parents are at work. And so we try to not do a lot of that,” Erickson said. “We've made it very clear to the kids, we do have a lot of events going on. We have more events this year than we've had in the past.”

All the court members are asked to consider their own schedules and transportation and keep in communication with the committee.

Some events will be fun for all the court — a tour of the Sea Lion Caves, the Rhody Mosey, many of the events during Rhody Days.

“I wanted to bring back a few traditions,” Waggoner said.

King continued, “The original rhododendron parades were on the water. So they're going to take a Coast Guard boat ride up the Siuslaw River on the Saturday of Rhody Weekend, and then getting off at the docks. Then they're going to walk up to the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum to look at all the memorabilia and have a meet and greet.”

The museum has the history of the Rhododendron Festival, which is often on display during the month of May.

Another nod to Rhody Days history will come in the form of buttons, specially designed to say, “I was Rhody Court Royalty.”

“People can write their year in and wear them that weekend,” Waggoner said.

The official 115th annual Rhododendron Festival buttons are currently for sale for $3 a button. Several of the button boxes go to individual Rhody Court members, but some go to the entire court. 

“Rhody buttons have already been flying off the shelves,” Erickson said.

People are encouraged to get involved with the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce’s Rhody Days, through vendor and parade applications, buying tickets for the carnival and more. For more information, visit florencechamber.com.

Rhododendron Court Committee 

Kay King — Sponsorship 

Jennifer Waggoner — Sponsorship 

Tamara Cole — Communications with Senior Court 

Jenna Bartlett — Team Administrator 

Wendy Krause — Coronation Director 

Jo Beaudreau — Marketing and Creative Design 

Kim Erickson — Event Planner 

Vanessa Buss – Senior Court Chaperone 

Sara Mann — Senior Court Chaperone 

Al Rojas — Senior Court Chaperone 

Wendy Huff – Junior Court Chaperone 

Crystal Osburn — Junior Court Chaperone 

Additional committee support has been from Meg Spencer, Will Yurman and Brian Sandahl.

Diamond Sponsors

Apex Helicopters

BJ's Ice Cream

Christina Voogd, Principal Broker, Berkshire Hathaway

Coast Road Construction

Florence Dental Clinic

Florence Motorsports

Jean Koning

Oregon Pacific Bank

Soroptimist International of Florence

Three Rivers Casino Resort

TR Hunter Real Estate

Royal Float Sponsor

PeaceHealth Peace Harbor 

Ruby Sponsors

Burch's Roofing

Coldwell Banker Coast Real Estate

Darlings Marina and RV Resort

Evergreen Concrete

Florence Heating and Sheet Metal

Rotary Club of Florence

Scott Ryland Plumbing

Sea Lion Caves

Shervin's Tire and Automotive

Siuslaw News

Stitch & Sole

Word of Mouth

Emerald Sponsors

Burn's Riverside Chapel

Coastal Fitness

Delta Gamma

Goodman's Floor Covering

John's Painting and Construction

Kitchen Klutter

Ray Wells, Inc.

Sue Gilday, State Farm Insurance

Torex ATV rentals