Rhododendron Festival’s theme a rip-roaring departure

PORT TOWNSEND — When Cecily Ellis and Kayla Reynolds climb aboard the 2009 Rhododendron Festival float, ready to head down Lawrence Street in the Grand Parade, they won’t be wearing ballgowns and tiaras.

They will be donning black jeans and pink leather jackets and sitting atop Harley-Davidson motorcycles, ready to ride.

Cecily and Kayla are the two candidates for queen of the 2009 Rhododendron Festival, the theme of which is “Wild Rhodies.”

A combination of the fact that wild rhododendrons are the state flower and another familiar sight on Peninsula back roads — motorcycles — the theme is the festival’s way of walking on the wild side.

“We’re going outside the box,” said Stacy Richards, festival president.

On Sunday, the festival pins that Richards and past president Christy Green designed, a flower-decked motorcycle with Mt. Ranier in the background, made their debut at the Rhododendron Festival Royalty Candidates Tea.

Held at Twigs tearoom, the annual tea also introduced the two candidates for festival queen: Cecily Ellis, 16, of Quilcene, and Kayla Reynolds, 17, of Port Townsend.

One of the girls will be chosen queen and one princess at the coronation ceremony March 7 at 5 p.m. at Chimacum High School, coronation director Christy Spencer said.

Cecily, the daughter of John and Sheri Ellis, has lived in Quilcene since 2003. A Running Start student who commutes to Olympic Community College, she is majoring in drama and has already appeared in several local productions.

“I think it is a great opportunity to become a leader in the community,” Cecily said of why she is running for Rhododendron queen, “and I think the public speaking and meeting people will help me in my career as an actress.”

Kayla, the daughter of Jim and Robin Reynolds, is a junior at Port Townsend High School. A Port Townsend resident since she was 6 months old, Kayla is president of both the PTHS junior class and the Future Business Leaders of America.

“I’ve wanted to do it since I was a little girl,” Kayla said of being Rhody queen. “I’ve known a lot of girls who were past royalty.”

Kayla, who plans to major in business and own her own business, said the scholarship will help with college expenses.

A cheerleader since fifth grade, she also choreographs cheerleading routines and will be dancing for the talent part of the competition.

Sunday’s tea, sponsored by Twigs, was also attended by 2008 festival queen Rachael Wiles and princesses Camille Hardiman and Sheina Vogt.

The three shared highlights and harrowing moments of their reign, during which they rode the fairy-tale-themed festival float, “Happy Ever After” in 11 parades throughout the Northwest.

The best — the night-time parade in Portland, Ore., and the parade in Wenatchee, they said.

Harrowing moments included riding in a downpour in the Quilcene parade and hearing a flood warning announced while riding the float down a parade route in Issaquah.

“Be prepared to be soaking wet or burning up,” Hardiman advised the candidates.

Richards and Green said they came up with the “Wild Rhodies” idea last year while buying materials for the 2008 festival float in downtown Port Townsend.

Kicking around the “wild rhododendrons” theme idea, they saw a line of Harley-Davidsons parked on Water Street and thought “What can we do with that?” Green said.

“Then we started laughing,” she said.

Their husbands, Ed Green and Larry Richards, suggested using a Harley-Davidson model that looks like mini-choppers on the float, Richards said. So they are buying two of the bikes, which after the 2009 parade season is over will be taken off the float and raffled, Richards said.

Richards said they will return to a more traditional mode in 2010, the festival’s 75th anniversary.

“We’ll be bringing the ballgowns back out,” she said.

Jennifer Jackson can be reached at jjackson@olypen.com.

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