Photo property of Lori Knollman Schibley, used with permission // Union is a tiny county, but many contestants wanted to wear the crown of Miss Union County 1976 at the public contest, above. This was in the 4-H building back then, which was always full for this annual event. Lori, in yellow at the center of the runway, became queen moments after this photo was taken.
I don’t know how it is in other counties, but in the second smallest one in Indiana, Union, the 4-H fair queen pageant was a big deal in my growing-up years.
Many little girls dreamed of wearing the crown--then spending a week in a showring distributing ribbons to those who showed the top lambs, pigs, cattle, goats, cats, dogs, and horses.
The 1960s and ‘70s, when I came of age, were big years for national queen pageants on TV. On pageant night for Miss America, Miss USA, or Miss Universe, Mom and I watched every moment, cheering first for our state’s candidate, and then when she went out of the picture, we rooted for the young woman we liked the best, or whose state was nearest to ours.
Pageant night inside our own 4-H building was best of all, though, because we might have a girl from our own 4-H club participating, and of course we had to cheer for her. Or we knew the girls some other way such as through church or in one queen’s case, Kim Kaufman, she was our swim instructor that summer.
One year our own club’s Jeanette Cox took the crown! Another, Beth Barnhizer participated from our club. She sang "Blowin' in the Wind" for the talent category. I even got to go "back stage" with her sister Sue before she went "on." Aw yes, brushes with greatness!
Another year I watched one of the contestants, Chris Logue, go directly from wearing the formal she had made in the fashion review, to the queen contest that immediately followed. She won!
That was probably the night I decided, as an elementary schooler, that one day I would sew my own formal and if the stars lined up right—I would wear the gown to both my prom, and in the big show (the queen contest).
Finally, my opportunity came to participate as a contestant. I represented my club, and my best friend, Cheryl, was sponsored by another organization.
A few nights ago, the queen from that year, 1976, Lori Knollman Schibley, posted a photo of herself and her court after her crowning as a throwback photo in honor of the 4-H fair week. But she provided a second photo. The picture stunned me.
It was of all 16 girls who competed in that year’s contest. I'm in that photo in my homemade 4-H /prom/queen contest dress! I could hardly believe it!
My mother wasn’t much of a picture taker. The rare photos she snapped were on our farm in the back yard or pony lot. In nearly all of them, I’m holding a cat, fish, or riding a pony. The summer flower beds were usually (always) the background.
But here I am, on a stage in a formal in a 4-H queen contest. I simply never imagined that evidence existed that this happened.
I reached out to Lori and she graciously told me I could use the photo however I wished. (Thank you, Lori!)
It’s particularly interesting that of all years (46) that have passed since that photo was taken, it showed up on my Facebook feed this year--the same year that my memoir, There’s a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go, was published.
That dress (I’ll tell you which one I am at the end) and the light blue one I made the previous fair year, were toted around with me all over creation for 44 years! They were never once worn again following either the fair or the prom.
Besides the night of this photo, I slipped into that dress one other time, months later for the prom. After that, this dress, and the one I made the year before, were hung in closets, then folded into plastic bins, finally demoted to the attic.
I kept them with the notion that a daughter would want to wear them for dress-up play. No daughters. Then I kept them thinking that a granddaughter would like them for the same reason. No granddaughters; not yet, anyway.
When I cleaned out the attic in the 2020 covid spring, reality hit that no little girls would want these, and off they went to that great ballroom in the sky …
This particular dress got a blue ribbon for the dress revue and also in the construction judging, and it was selected for the Indiana State Fair. I had the privilege of seeing it on display at the state fair, and to my surprise and delight, it got a blue ribbon at that level. WHY I never thought of photographing it there that day, I’ll never know, either.
I guess nowadays, when we take photos of everything, and many versions of any particular image, on our cellphones, it’s hard to believe we didn’t take more in the old days.
A mere two years and three months after this photo was taken, I put on a wedding dress and got married. I no longer have that dress, either, but I have the man I wore it for. God willing, we’ll be celebrating our 44th wedding anniversary this fall.
In fact, the shoes I wore in that fair photo were worn at our wedding.
Do you know which one I am? I’m in the green floral, between the girls in yellow gowns.
Could I name all the girls in this photo? I can name many on my own, but not all. I sure never thought, never dreamed, that this picture existed. But I’m grateful to see it.
In the community programs I present about cleaning out and paring down, I talk a lot about the memories and meanings behind objects saved in our families.
I often ask how many still have their prom dresses. A surprising number do. One lady of age 79 said that she does not, but her close friend does.
“She wants to be buried in it,” she explains.
When the time comes, I hope that someone sends the woman a corsage.