“Enchanted Rhody” is the theme of the 2017 Rhododendron Festival, but that theme could have been “legacy,” because for the first time in festival history, every royalty candidate has historical connections.
Three candidates for Rhody royalty were introduced Jan. 22, and one is to be crowned queen on March 4, with the other two serving as princesses.
All are in familiar territory, with experience either in the Queen's Court, or because their mothers were all Rhody royalty.
“This is the first time they’ve all had royal ties,” said Christie Hensley, past Rhody fest board president and a coronation program coordinator.
The royalty candidates are Lauren Montgomery of Chimacum, and Sara Smith and Taylor Tracer of Port Townsend.
Sara Smith, 16, 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.
Taylor 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 (middle school) prince in 2015. Her father is Brian Tracer.
Lauren Montgomery, 17 and a senior at Chimacum High School, has three siblings; sister Kellie was a Rhody princess in 2006. Her parents are Rick and Jacqueline Montgomery.
Montgomery and Smith served together on the Queen’s Court in 2013, and duties included two out-of-town parades.
BEING 'ROLE MODEL'
Smith’s first memory of Rhody is when she was about 5 and was watching candidates practice their coronation dance routine. “Me and my sister learned the dance,” she said.
“It means a lot,” Smith said of being a Rhody fest candidate. “It means responsibility, maturity, being a role model and having fun. I want to have fun.”
Tracer was 4 when she and her brother were in the Kiddie Parade, dressed as elephants and tossing peanuts to the crowd.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” Tracer said of being a Rhody royalty candidate. “It’s been a dream to represent my community as queen or princess, and be a role model.”
Montgomery remembers that when she was 5 or 6, her mother drove a decorated van in the Rhody Grand Parade. Her mom stopped along the parade route and waved Lauren to come climb aboard. “I jumped in the van and got to throw candy. I felt like a queen. It was awesome.”
Like her two fellow contestants, Montgomery sees Rhody as an opportunity to represent her home county.
“I want to be the role model for my nieces as they looked up to their mother,” she said.
The royalty coronation program is 6 p.m., March 4 at Chimacum High School auditorium. The program is earlier than normal in March this year so the court and support crew can be ready for the Daffodil Festival Parade April 8 in the Tacoma area.
With only three candidates, no one is to be eliminated at coronation. The girls agree that it’s better to know that the bond they form on the campaign trail can continue through the entire parade and festival season.
“It doesn’t change how we prepare," Montgomery said. "I am excited that no one will be left out."
Each candidate had to bring in $800 in sponsorships and is required to sell $700 worth of booster pins. Look for candidate “pin boards” at businesses starting this week.
"The candidates all exceeded their sponsorships," said Brandi Hamon, Rhody board vice president who was a royalty candidate in 1992. "They are wonderful candidates with a lot of family support and dedication to the festival."
Royalty members who successfully complete their duties receive scholarships: $1,500 for the queen, $1,000 each for princesses.
The royalty and guests were introduced at the Ann Starrett Mansion, where owners Edel and Bob Sokol hosted their first candidate introduction in 1976.
Looking ahead, Rhody needs businesses, clubs or even individuals to sponsor the weekly events.
The Rhododendron Festival Association is a nonprofit organization that supports Jefferson County’s oldest community festival, named for Washington’s state flower. Volunteers are always welcome; sponsors are needed for the festival's weekly events. Learn how to get involved at
The 2017 Rhododendron Festival takes place May 17-20 (the grand parade is May 20), and is followed by the Jefferson Healthcare Rhody Run XXXIX on Sunday, May 21 (see