Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series about The Puyallup Valley's famed Daffodil Festival.
Here they go again.
This week marks the start of a new season for the Puyallup Valley Daffodil Festival. There are princesses to crown; a coronation to plan; and, next spring, a parade to celebrate the majestic yellow flowers synonymous with Pierce County.
The festival started in 1933 as a tribute to the Puyallup Valley Flower industry and has grown to be one of the largest festivals and parades in the nation. The Grand Floral Parade held every April travels through Tacoma, Puyallup, Sumner and Orting. The Daffodil Queen and her court are the festival’s official ambassadors–as well as ambassadors to Pierce County.
It’s a big responsibility, and not just for the princesses. It takes a lot of work to keep this 80-year-old tradition going–and evolving.
The princess selections at 24 high schools across Pierce County started Wednesday at Puyallup High School and will conclude on Nov. 27 at Chief Leschi High School. White River will select its princess on Thursday; Bonney Lake on Nov. 5; and Sumner on Nov. 7. All selections begin at 7 p.m. at the schools.
“I’m really excited,” said 2013 Daffodil Festival President Brad Stevens. “It looks like we’re going to have a great court, and we’ve got a lot of good things planned. I’m super excited about the direction the festival is going and the way we’re going to be able to serve our community.”
A lasting impression
During each selection, the school’s 2012 princess will take her final bow in famed yellow dress and tiara. It means so much to the girls that they are willing to fly home from colleges on the east side of the mountains–or in other states.
“It’s a bittersweet time,” said Steve James, the Daffodil Festival’s executive director and official photographer. “You have to say goodbye to the girls who you have spent all year with, but you get a fresh crop of girls who are excited.
“You know what they’re in store for–but they have no idea.”
When winter rolls around, the real work begins. The 24 girls will officially become princesses at the Promenade in February, and the queen will be crowned in March.
And then there are the regular visits to the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA; the trips to Pierce County Libraries to read to children; the Santa Parades; the annual Princess Tea and so much more. The 2012 court collectively did 200 appearances or activities and participated in 25 parades, including one last weekend in Leavenworth and one this weekend at Issaquah’s Salmon Days.
“We’re going all the time,” said 2012 Festival President Susan Maguire, who has been a Daffodilian since 1997. “But that is the thing we do–try to put the word out not only about the Daffodil Festival and our parades, but about Pierce County and the great things we have going on in Pierce County.”
So why would a teenage girl be drawn to such a role, especially during the stress of senior year and over the summer as she prepares to head off to college?
“It is a lot of hard work, but it’s rewarding,” said Stevens, a 10-year Daffodilian. “The direction is going more and more toward the community service aspect. You heard (2012 Stadium Princess Savannah Fry) tonight. She didn’t want to give it up. She put in a lot of hours and did a lot of things, but she felt rewarded.”
No ordinary princesses
James said the royal court being named official ambassadors to Pierce County in 2012 has brought legitimacy to the festival. Since taking on the added responsibility, the festival boosted the court's public appearances from 40 a few years ago to more than 200. And nearly all of those activities involved the region's littlest residents.
But it wasn't that long ago that children thought the girls were simply dressed up as Disney princesses--Belle, to be specific, given the yellow dresses.
“It has taken two years to rebrand it and reeducate people about what the Daffodil Festival is about,” said James, who has been in his role for about 18 months. “We do the same things we did before, but now there’s an added component of community service.
“Children know who they are now.”
James said that the 2012 court did an appearance at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in conjunction with the Tacoma Public Library. They were there with the costumed characters–but the little kids were far more dazzled by the princesses.
“I could hear kids running up saying, ‘Mommy, Mommy, it’s Daffodil Princesses!’" he said. “They were approaching the girls before the costumed characters. Two years ago, that would not have happened.”
"All about the kids"
Those involved with the Daffodil Festival agree that the best part is being part of the girls’ journey as they flourish as princesses, as leaders and as people.
“I enjoy working with the girls and seeing the way they grow,” said Stevens, whose wife and daughter were both Daffodil Princesses. “We are able to help them develop as future leaders.”
“I’m all about the kids and giving them opportunities,” she said. “And we keep evolving. We believe very strongly that the Daffodil Festival is service–giving back to the community.”
James said he considers the princesses to be “full-time ambassadors and part-time huggers.”
“They’re such role models to kids,” he said, adding that the notion that the Daffodil Festival is a pageant couldn’t be farther from the truth. “Pageants have their purpose ... but what these girls do is far different. I always say to them, ‘If what you do defines who you are, make sure what you’re doing is what you want to be known for.’
“These girls are community servants and leaders ... They’re out there, loving our kids, and being role models and examples."
Coming later Friday: A look at the Daffodil Festival's princess selection.