PORT TOWNSEND — For Christy Spencer, the 70th annual Rhododendron Festival has special meaning.
She and her Rhododendron Festival co-president, Shawna Smith, are part of the festival’s long line of royalty alumni — Spencer a princess in 1987 and Smith the 1999 event’s queen. Both are Port Townsend High School graduates.
“I am one of the people that really really looks forward to the Rhody Fest each year,” said Spencer.
“I enjoy the parade. I enjoy the events, and working with the royalty.
“So for me it’s a way to give back to the community.”
The festival, dedicated to the official state flower that blooms into spectacular colors this time of year, kicks off this weekend in its usual grand style with and arts and crafts fair this Saturday and Sunday at Jefferson County Memorial Athletic Field downtown.
Buildup to the big parade
The festival, with the theme, “A Touch of Elegance,” leads up to the May 21 Rhody Festival Grand Parade, in which Spencer says there are more than 100 entries this year.
The parade, which winds its way through Port Townsend’s downtown and uptown districts, is hosted by this year’s Rhody Fest royalty, Queen Magdalena Quintana and Princesses Sarah Lake and Alisha Blake.
The royalty receive scholarship funds and make appearances at festivals and parades around the state in the coming year.
The parade kicks off at 1 p.m. May 21 and includes high school marching bands from all over the North Olympic Peninsula and state.
The coming week’s events include this year’s royalty placing their handprints at Haller Fountain downtown at 3 p.m. Monday, and a Centennial Rhododendron Garden opening at 4 p.m. Monday at Fort Worden State Park.
At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Royalty Trike Races for children ages 1-6 rolls downtown.
The carnival opens Thursday at 3 p.m. at Memorial Field, and the Pet Parade is set for 4 p.m. at Van Buren and Lawrence streets uptown.
Friday includes the Rhododendron Flower Show at 3 p.m. At Fort Worden Chapel and the Kiddies Parade at 3:30 p.m. on Monroe Street near the skate Park.
Another major event at 6 p.m. Friday are the Bed Races, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
The Rhododendron Festival dates back to 1935 when Port Townsend businessman Clive Buttermere persuaded the Hearst Metronome News organization to film the rhododendrons in bloom in Jefferson County.
In anticipation of the filming, the community organized a queen’s competition, providing young women to be photographed with the flowers.
Members of the community voted for their favorite girl by shopping at participating merchants with dollars spent being equal to votes cast.
Myrtle Olsen was voted the first queen and appeared in Hearst’s “short subject” films.
The American Legion decided to make the event annual, with the first Rhododendron Festival taking place in 1936.The Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce took over the festival in the ’50s, and the festival became a nonprofit corporation, not affiliated with any specific group, in the 1980s.