My hometown's love for the Harvest of Harmony Parade.
2006 notes the 60th anniversary of Harvest of Harmony Queen Competition.
By Ron W. Sack
My hometown of St. Paul has fond memories of the Harvest of Harmony parade in Grand Island.
For our high school, it all began on October 20, 1938, when it was one of the eight original bands to kick off the first parade. Grand Island, St. Paul, Ravenna, Gibbon, Scotia, Central City, North Loup, and Broken Bow, along with the Omaha Colored Band, participated that year.
Back then, the parade was called the Central Nebraska Music Festival. In 1946 the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce held a contest to rename the festival, and "Harvest of Harmony" was selected as the winner.
1946 saw several other changes as well. It was decided the date of the parade would now be the first Saturday after the full (harvest) moon in October and the first Harvest of Harmony queen, Delorice France of Gothenburg, was crowned. Other queen candidates that year and their respective high schools included Donna Bell Johnston, Central City; Frances Owen, Arnold; Kathleen Livermore, Burwell; Ramona Sundberg, Polk; Arlis Beedle, Scotia; Carol Houtved, Minden; Patricia Holtorf, St. Paul; and Marilyn Keels, Grand Island.
Queen candidates were selected by members of the high school band, of which they were also a member. Later on, Grand Island's candidates from the three high schools would serve as hostesses to the candidates from the other high schools.
In 1947, the identity of the Harvest of Harmony queen was to be revealed at an evening parade in which the Burlington Route Band led more than 200 boys in a march of giant balloon figures.
Over the years, no high school has come close to St. Paul's record of queen titleholders--eight overall winners with four in just a single decade. St. Paul girls donned the tiara a staggering four times in the 1950s--1952, 1956, 1958, and 1959. My aunt, Kay Schwenk Scarborough, was one of them.
Maren Larson was the first Miss St. Paul to win the title. She won in 1952. One of her attendants that year was Norma Fiebig of Ravenna and the other was Sharon Kay Ritchie of Grand Island Senior High, who became Miss America a few years later.
Then St. Paul would make history, winning it three of the next four years. Something so special for the town, I wanted to interview these three women about their stories.
Former Miss St. Paul and 1956 Harvest of Harmony queen, Linda Oakeson Dobry, remembers the excitement of the parade quite well. After graduating from St. Paul High in 1957, she went to the University of Nebraska Lincoln and then graduated with a degree in medical technology from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She married Dr. Charles Dobry, also a St. Paul graduate, who became a Professor of Radiology at UNMC. They had two children, Lisa and Scott. Linda still comes back to visit family and friends in St. Paul and Grand Island.
"It was an amazing honor just to be chosen to represent St. Paul and my band," recalled Linda. "I remember it being a very windy day, and especially warm to be wearing a hat and gloves, as we did in those days.
"Then to hear them call my name as ‘Queen,' was quite a thrill for a young teenage girl! They drape you with a long cape, place a tiara on your head, and present you with some beautiful pearls. My fellow band members were screaming with joy. Then you leave the field and take a place of honor on the reviewing stand. I was totally surprised as young people came up and wanted my autograph! I couldn't imagine that! It's a wonderful memory that has lasted a lifetime."
Rose Ann Shaughnessy Kehoe, former Miss St. Paul and 1958 Harvest of Harmony queen, graduated from St. Paul High in 1959 and Duschene College. After graduation, she worked at the Mayo Clinic and later moved back to Omaha and then to San Francisco, where she met her husband, Richard. They now reside in Bellingham, Washington. Rose Ann and Richard have two children, Patrick and Winnie.
"Being named Harvest of Harmony queen was a great experience," remembered Rose Ann. "They treated all of the queen candidates to lunch at the Yancy Hotel...white linens and all. That was such a wonderful hotel. They also interviewed us on Grand Island's radio station, KMMJ.
"That Saturday evening after I was crowned, my father and mother took our entire family out to eat at St. Paul's Legion Club. I've never forgotten those wonderful memories."
Kay Schwenk Scarborough, former Miss St. Paul and 1959 Harvest of Harmony queen, graduated from St. Paul High in 1960 and attended Kearney State College. She married St. Paul native Bill Scarborough. The couple made Omaha their home and had four children--Kelly, Scott, Susan, and R.J. Early in her career, Kay taught in the St. Paul area and now works for Methodist Hospital in Omaha.
She has many special memories about the Harvest of Harmony, but one of her fondest is when she went shopping in Grand Island with her mother, Clara, to select the outfit she would wear when named Harvest of Harmony queen.
"That time with my mother remains so dear to me," she said. "Grand Island treated us so well. It was an honor being named queen."
After winning the crown, Rose Ann's mother, Louise Shaughnessy, called Kay's mother, Clara Schwenk, and congratulated her on Kay winning the title.
St. Paul was beaming with excitement.
In 1959, headlines in area newspapers stated "For the second consecutive year, Miss St. Paul has been chosen queen of the Harvest of Harmony."
An article in the Grand Island Independent went on to add, "Throngs of milling people began lining the streets long before parade time while children crunching caramel apples swiftly darted in and out searching for a curb seat.
"Melodramatic suspense filled the air as young and old alike peered eastward hoping to catch a glimpse of the color guard and to hear the first roll on the drum. ‘Here it comes' shouted eager youngsters as local law enforcement officers cleared the way.
"Lovely and graceful young queen hopefuls perched atop spotless convertibles smiled and waved at onlookers nearly causing many a young man to lose his latitude and longitude and come descending upon the pavement from his station in the parade."
During the 1950s and 60s, headlines in the Grand Island Independent introducing the queen candidates from the various high schools read:
"Long Live the Queen."
and "She might be one of these."
As the excitement for the queen pageant grew, so did the number of candidates. Eight candidates in 1946 grew to over 50 in the later years. Recently the number of candidates has been in the mid-40s.
Other queens from St. Paul High followed--Sarah Reynolds in 1975, Lori Jepson in 1980, Tamara Weitzel in 1992, and Alysia Wardyn in 2001.
21 bands performed in the 1948 parade; 64 in 1967; and 130 in 1996, which is in the Guinness Book of World Records. Floats and civic groups have become a part of the parade over the years, but the focus still centers on the sound of the high school bands and the beauty of the queen candidates riding in the convertibles.
Islanders know how to throw out the welcome mat. They always open up their hearts to small towns like St. Paul and make the parade watchers, high school bands, parade participants, and queen candidates feel welcome. It's that great spirit of community that Grand Island has always been known for.
We from St. Paul continue to look forward to the first Saturday after the full harvest moon in October, and always will.
Special thanks to Jan Sack, Kay Scarborough, Linda Dobry, Rose Ann Kehoe, Pete Letheby, St. Paul High School, and the Grand Island Independent.
Ron W. Sack, a senior art director in Lincoln, grew up in St. Paul and has volunteered much time to preserving the history of central Nebraska, especially in Howard County.
He co-wrote the award-winning book, Entering Howard County, with Marion Bahensky.
Donning a new tiara and holding a bouquet of roses, Linda Lou Oakeson of St. Paul proudly wears the title of Miss Harvest of Harmony in 1956. She was the daughter of Paul and Miriam Oakeson. Photograph Courtesy of Linda Oakeson Dobry.
50 years ago, Miss St. Paul, Linda Lou Oakeson, was crowned Miss Harvest of Harmony at Grand Island's Memorial Stadium in 1956. She is shown second from the left. Others in the photograph are Joan Arp, Sumner; Jackie Johnson, the hostess from Grand Island; and Marilyn Nelson, Big Springs. Photograph Courtesy of Linda Oakeson Dobry.
Rose Ann Shaughnessy of St. Paul was crowned Harvest of Harmony Queen in 1958 at Memorial Stadium in Grand Island. She was the daughter of Cy and Louise Shaughnessy. Photograph courtesy of Jan Sack.
St. Paul's Karen Kay Schwenk made it three Harvest of Harmony Queens in four years for St. Paul in 1959. She is the daughter of Albert and Clara Schwenk. Photograph courtesy of Kay Schwenk Scarborough.
Karen Kay Schwenk of St. Paul wears the traditional Harvest of Harmony tiara and cape after being named queen in 1959. Photograph courtesy of Kay Schwenk Scarborough.
Queen candidates were a main part of the Harvest of Harmony Parade and rode in convertibles through downtown Grand Island. Shown above is St. Paul's candidate for 1959, Karen Kay Schwenk. She would go on to win the queen title that year. Photograph courtesy of Kay Schwenk Scarborough.