Unveiling 2023’s Rip Roarin' Rhody Royalty

Left: Siuslaw senior Gillian Norton is crowned Queen Rhododendra, a tradition that started with the first Rhododendron Festival in 1908. Middle: The 2023 Rhododendron Festival Queen Gillian Norton and King of the Coast Lucian Murphy, and their court. Right: Lucian Murphy was crowned King of the Coast for the 2023 Rhododendron Festival. Murphy is a senior at Siuslaw High School. Photos by Dan Haberly/danhaberlyphotography.com/

Norton crowned Queen Rhododendra, Murphy is King of the Coast

May 19, 2023 — A change of timing to a Rhododendron Festival tradition that dates back to the event’s earliest days did not seem to lessen the community’s excitement over the occasion as, on Saturday, May 12, a nearly packed house was on hand for the 2023 Rhododendron Court Coronation at the Florence Events Center.

The large crowd enjoyed a night of singing, dancing, archery and light-saber battles that ended with Siuslaw seniors Gilian Norton and Lucian Murphy being honorably bestowed with the titles of Queen Rhododendra and King of the Coast. They were chosen from a group of ten very talented Siuslaw and Mapleton seniors. 

Typically held during the week leading up to the festival, this year the Rhody Court Coronation was held five days before the next scheduled Rhododendron Festival event, the opening of Davis Shows Carnival May 18 at 3 p.m 

For the second consecutive year C.R.O.W.'s Melanie Heard was joined by KEZI’s Matt Templeman as co-masters of the ceremony for the event. They guided the crowd through the night's festivities and introduced all the important participants.

Besides Norton and Murphy, others competing for king and queen were, from Mapleton Calen Lewis and Tristan Stewart and from Siuslaw, Sunshine Armer, Michaela Buthchart, Mary Jo Fontenot, Alex Goss, Eryn Morgan and Ian Sissel.

The ten senior participants were judged using six different criterias — Participation, ambassadorship and button sales were determined before the event. On the day of the event the panel of judges also conducted a pre-coronation interview with the ten members of the senior court. Then, during the event, those same judges looked at coronation stage presence and coronation talent. 

The five judges were:

  • Allen Benavides, General Manager, Eugene Emeralds
  • Ryan Ceniga, West Lane County Commissioner
  • Roxy Ragozzino, Music theater actress and voice personality
  • Cindy Brent Wobbe, Former Florence First Citizen
  • Rachelle Krause-Campbell, Queen Rododendra 1979

All ten members of the Senior Court impressed the crowd and judges with their talents. Buthchart won the talent portion on the female side with a Celtic dance she choreographed herself and Sissel’s piano medley earned him the male talent award.  Other highlights included Norton’s lightsaber battle, Fontenot’s country line dance and Lewis’ heartfelt monologue about growing up in Mapleton. 

After the talent portion of the competition the Junior Court was introduced. They were Siuslaw 1st grader Savanna Scully, Mapleton 2nd grader Lincoln Moffett, homeschooled 3rd grader Emerie Decker, Siuslaw 4th grader Jasmine Quinn and Siuslaw 5th grader Abigail Mills. Each was asked a question about their experience as a Rhododendron Court Junior Princess. 

Next, each senior was escorted to center stage by an influential person in her life and asked a few impromptu questions by the judges. This portion helped the judges to score the Stage Presence criteria.

Next came a performance by C.R.O.W.’s Flight Dance Team while the judges compiled their scores. 

Last year’s queen Haylee Cole took her final bow as 2022 Queen Rhododendra. Joseph Smith, the 2022 King of the Coast, gave some words of encouragement via video. 

Next, Junior Princess Emerie Decker was announced as the top button seller on the Junior Court. 

Norton was announced as winner of the Ambassordship category for the girls and Sissel for the boys. 

Finally, the moment everyone in attendance was waiting for. Morgan was named runner-up on the girls side and Sissel on the boys before Norton was crowned 2023 Queen Rhododendra and Murphy King of the Coast.

Their reign starts immediately as the 116th Rhododendron Festival will be in full swing the weekend of May 19-21. Look for Queen Norton, King Murphy and the entire Junior and Senior Court on the Rhododendron Court Float during the Rhododendron Festival Grand Floral Parade that starts Sunday at noon. 

For a full schedule of events and more information on the 116th Rhododendron Festival go to florencechamber.com/event/2023rhodydays/.