There is no learning curve for the 2017 Rhododendron Festival when it comes to appreciating the importance of being Rhody royalty.
Queen Lauren Montgomery, Princess Taylor Tracer and Princess Sarah Smith all have royal blood – strong family connections to the festival that represents Jefferson County, and the Washington state flower.
Montgomery, a senior at Chimacum High School, first remembers riding in the Rhody Fest’s Grand Parade at age 5 or 6. She looks forward to being a role model and representing Jefferson County.
"It's a mix of disbelief and total and utter excitement," she said backstage after the March 4 coronation ceremony. "It's a really good feeling to know you did your best."
This is the first year that all three Rhody royalty candidates had direct Rhody royalty connections.
Montgomery, 17, has four siblings; sister Kellie was a Rhody princess in 2006. Her parents are Rick and Jacqueline Montgomery. Montgomery also has served in the Queen's Court.
Smith, 17, is a junior at Port Townsend High School. Her mother, Shawna Kay Smith, was Rhody queen in 1990 and her sister, Sam, was queen in 2015. Smith was also a Queen's Court member.
Tracer, 17 is also a junior at PTHS. Her mother, Jennifer (Wurtsmith) Taylor, was Rhody queen in 1992, and her younger brother Dylan was a Queen's Court prince in 2015. Her father is Brian Tracer.
The three girls knew each other prior to their Rhody journey and get along famously, which is good, considering the many hundreds of hours they will spend together over the next year.
Before the crowning moment, with the curtain drawn, the girls said, "We were like 'No matter what happens, we're the sisterhood of traveling crowns,'" Montgomery quipped.
"We all like each other," Tracer added. "It's going to be great."
Smith noted, "The stress is over and now the fun begins."
Special awards went to Tracer as Miss Congeniality (voted by her fellow candidates) and for selling the most Rhody booster pins ($1,510, well above the required minimum of $700).
Montgomery received a $100 Rhody Past Royalty scholarship for posting the highest interview score at the judges’ tea. Guest judges were Janette Force, Jon Muellner, Greg Brotherton, Brian Ellard and Karleen Neziri.
Royalty members who successfully complete their duties receive scholarships: $1,500 for the queen and $1,000 each for princesses.
The judging scorecard ranks candidates on the following: public speaking engagements (30 percent), judges’ interview (30 percent), coronation program performance (25 percent) and candidate training committee (15 percent).
At the coronation event, the four candidates presented a prepared speech, answered an impromptu question and presented a creative display. Tracer played the flute, accompanied by her father on ukulele. Smith presented a slide show and narrative of her experience as 4-H Cat Club member working at the Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary in St. Pauls, North Carolina. Montgomery presented a slideshow of a trip to Haiti, where she helped to build a church.
“Enchanted Rhody” is the theme of the 2017 Rhody Festival, which takes place May 17-20. The Rhody float – think Cinderella's carriage in Pacific Northwest green – debuts April 8 at the Daffodil Festival Parade in the Tacoma area.
The royalty's first appearance is at a fundraising dessert auction from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, March 18 at the Masonic Hall, 1338 Jefferson St., Port Townsend.
Junior royalty (first-graders) includes Amber Thompson of Quilcene Elementary; and Levi LaFollette and Hope Quinn of Grant Street Elementary; and Madelyn Apeland, Justus Tyrrell and Landon Bergen of Chimacum Creek Primary.
The Queen's Court (eighth-graders) is composed of Kaylee Krajewski and Mary Neville from Blue Heron School, and Charlotte Falge from the OCEAN program.
Tri-Area Senior Association royalty are Penny Dietz and Walter Russell. Port Townsend Senior Association royalty is Mary and David Crozier.
Farewells were presented by the outgoing royalty: Queen Fiona Shaffer and Princesses Kayla Calhoun and Eryn Reierson. The royalty shared funny and sweet memories of their 357-day reign. Shaffer noted how she "gained two sisters and a really big family" of Rhody boosters.
First Federal Savings & Loan sponsored the coronation program. Lisa's Jewelry was noted for its 26th year helping with jewelry. Mark McCready was master of ceremonies.
The Rhododendron Festival Association is an all-volunteer organization, and volunteers are always welcome. Sponsors are needed for the festival's weekly events. Learn how to get involved at
rhodyfestival.org. Parade-day volunteers specifically should email
Applications for the Rhody Grand Parade are due May 6 for the parade, which starts at 1 p.m., Saturday, May 20. Commercial entries (those that represent a business or corporation or any entry displaying or advertising a business or corporation) or political candidates running for office this year are required to pay a $100 fee. Check
Rhody Festival week is capped by the Jefferson Healthcare Rhody Run XXXIX on Sunday, May 21; register at