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.
I’m approaching six months after the release of my memoir about cleaning house, There’s a Clydesdale in the Attic: Reflections on Keeping and Letting Go (available on amazon.com, and from me).
I continue to spend a good amount of time crafting programs for a variety of speaking engagements throughout the region. By the end of summer, I will have had, good Lord willing, more than 25 opportunities to share observations about downsizing and organizing heirlooms, as well as stories behind them.
At many of the events, we get the treat of listening to attendees share about their heirlooms in a "show-and-tell” activity.
But for a couple weeks this month, I’ve had the chance to take a break from writing and road hopping to turning my attention from organizing and downsizing attic goods to the paper trail in our living-space archives.
Once, someone who worked at the Indiana Historical Society explained to me that the IHS is where historical papers are archived,” and the Indiana State Museum as “where objects are archived.”
With July's 90-plus degree temperatures in the Hoosier land (and much warmer than that inside attics), I’m spending no time there. My attention has turned to the paper goods in our living quarters, such as this 1898 large certificate belonging to my late grandfather, Roscoe Jobe.
Or this adorable Liberty Little League baseball team photo from 1957 of my late brother, Tim, second from right, and his team.
I am the archivist (not an official title but it’s more legit-sounding than sentimental hoarder) of family photos and papers in both Brian’s and my families on various sides. Some of the pictures and documents date back to 1830.
What does one do with all that? I mostly keep it tucked in a variety of woven baskets which are stacked out of the way in our study. I have taken an “I’ll deal with all that later” approach.
Problem is, I put off figuring out who some of the black-gowned ladies are in those photos for so long that there is no one living who could identify them.
My immediate family’s albums are full and stand in bottom rows of bookcases. I’m thinking of covering them with linen fabric in a neutral shade.
I figured out long ago that even if I live another 30 years, there are not enough days, nor a desire to take apart the yellowed pages and begin again with fresh scrapbooks or albums. But these are the photos that depict the ordinary and special events in our family, dating throughout my lifetime thus far.
Other keepsakes of a paper nature are scattered here and there but should be rounded up and stored together.
Finally, I hit upon an idea! I found black acid-free 12x12-inch storage boxes at Hobby Lobby. I plan to fill and label these boxes with things that tell complete stories. Below, left, a box is devoted to articles and other paper keepsakes from my years as a reporter and editor in Attica. The one on the right is filled with keepsakes from covering a presidential inauguration and the women's march in D.C.
I’m looking for a manageable approach to archiving all this stuff for our own enjoyment and accessibility, but also, maybe, hopefully, we’ll see, for a way for our kids and other family members to see the value in all (or some) of it.
I store my notes from a dozen years in Bible Study Fellowship in these binders in the top of my closet. Last year they switched to spiral-bound notes so I don't have a colorful, cool binder for those. The notebooks at right are notes from the lectures.
This is a project that will take ever-so-long to finish. But as I work on it, I enjoy seeing it all myself. Will it result in another book about heirloom organization? I don’t see that. But I will include some of what I’m doing now in future programs.
By the way, if you’re reading this and are interested in a program for your social or service organization, library, senior or community center, or a more informal one for your book club, let me know. We share some laughs, and take a trip or two down memory lane. We have a good time.
Indiana author and newspaper columnist Donna Cronk can be reached via email at email@example.com. Friend her on Facebook on her author page, Donna Cronk.
WHEN YOU WRITE A BOOK, I promise that you have no idea beforehand who, what, when, and where you will meet up with unexpected friends, new opportunities, and all kinds of other things, besides.
The bulk of Brian's career was spent in Fishers, so it comes as a surprise that he had NOTHING to do with me landing wonderful gigs with all three books at Fishers United Methodist Church.
The latest of the three happened on Tuesday night when around 20 readers in the church book club showed up to talk about the book and show heirlooms.
I loved every moment of the evening, and I am grateful to several who made it possible.
First, to Mary of New Castle who told her friend Rita about the book and Rita invited me to the Creek Readers Book Club.
There I met Rita, who is responsible for me meeting Kay, and the book club members at Fishers UMC.
Since then, both those book clubs have featured my two additional books.
I'm grateful to them for bringing keepsakes to talk about and I think maybe some even picked up some good tips about WHAT to do with family china and silverware that the family doesn't want (what about an artisan who can transform it, or Replacements Limited?).
Also, one man talked about spending $400 on a clock repair that didn't last, and he then took matters into his own "hands" by purchasing a $20 modern clock kit and installing it into the heritage clock. Presto! It worked!
Some chapters that folks told me they particularly enjoyed were ones about saving boxes, getting rid of spices, corralling pens and toting around prom dresses! Yes, I am not the only one who saved her 4-H prom dresses.
So did Kim, the group's coordinator:
THANK YOU ALL FOR A GREAT EVENING. I sure do appreciate your interest in this and in all my books.
I'm enjoying three weeks before my next stop on the author journey. I plan to catch up on some things around the house, entertain some overnight guests, and just chill out and gear up for being the luncheon speaker for the annual Henry County Senior Center summer picnic; Writer Chicks the next day; and then I'm blessed to have been chosen to speak at the 63rd annual Rural Urban Dinner in Hagerstown.
Happy Independence Day weekend to you all. Blessings, peace, and have a wonderful summer.
P.S. Kim's prom dress is no worse for wear a few years down the road.