By Ann McCreary
Grateful to call the Methow Valley home, this year’s ’49er Days junior royalty say they welcome the opportunity to give back to their community by participating in the annual celebration of the valley’s history and culture.
The committee that selects the junior royalty hadn’t intended to choose four young people, but after talking with this year’s four applicants, committee members were so impressed with their enthusiasm they couldn’t consider eliminating any of them, said Linda Wilson, who organizes the junior royalty portion of ’49er Days.
“There is genuine excitement from these kids,” Wilson said. “They are so happy and grateful to live in the Methow Valley. When we were doing our interviews I turned to the other interviewers and said, ‘Doesn’t this make you proud to be an adult in this community?’”
The junior royalty are official greeters during the ’49er Days Celebration, riding in the parade on Saturday and participating in a variety of activities, dressed in Western costumes made for the event.
McKenna Barnes of Twisp, named junior royalty queen, said she wanted to get involved because “it would be a great way to give back to the community.”
Barnes, a Liberty Bell High School senior, knows what it’s like to give to her community. She helps teach ice skating lessons, is on the board of the nonprofit Methow Valley Riding Unlimited, has volunteered for a variety of community fundraisers, and works in the concessions booth at high school basketball games.
Serving as queen for the ’49er Days Celebration will be a “memorable experience,” Barnes said. It will also be “interesting and fun to get to know some of the different generations better,” she said.
A dedicated horsewoman, Barnes has worked with horses her entire life. “I ride both English and Western and compete in three-day events,” she said. She has helped condition horses for the Ride to Rendezvous, the four-day cross-country ride that culminates Friday (May 6) when riders and wagons stream into Winthrop.
Chase Vander Yacht of Twisp serves as king of the junior royalty. It’s an opportunity “to become involved in the culture of the parade and this community as a whole,” Vander Yacht said.
“My dad Ron was greatly connected to what I see as the dying heritage of this valley and I feel as though after his passing, I myself have moved away from this heritage,” Vander Yacht said. “I see this as a great opportunity to rediscover my roots while simultaneously doing a service to the community.”
Riding in the parade also gives him a chance to fulfill a personal wish, he said. “I always looked up to all the cowboys in the parade, and I would love to be one, even temporarily,” Vander Yacht said.
The Liberty Bell senior plays basketball and soccer, and enjoys backpacking and outdoor activities in general. He is interested in learning new languages and enjoys interacting with people.
He helped organize AAU basketball tournaments and has served as a counselor at the Methow Valley River Camp for the past three summers.
Mollie Houser of Carlton is a princess in this year’s court. “I love spending and giving time with the community,” she said.
She said she was inspired to apply for the ’49er Days royalty by her brother Mitchell, “who has done a lot of stuff with the community. I think it would be a really great experience to do all the stuff he has done.”
A Liberty Bell senior, Houser is a cheerleader and enjoys volleyball, track, ice skating, paddleboarding and caring for farm animals.
Her community service includes working on lighting at theatric productions, keeping statistics at basketball games, working concessions at games and helping at the elementary school.
She describes herself as a “valley girl” who likes little kids.
The youngest member of the royalty, Courtney Smith of Twisp, is a junior this year. She said she looks forward to being part of an event that has been a tradition throughout her life.
“I have gone to the parade every year since I was little and I have always wanted to be in the parade,” Smith said.
Her very public role as royalty will also help her grow as a person, she said.
“I am shy, so being royalty would help me to step out of my comfort zone. A couple of years ago my sister was queen. Seeing how much fun she had and all of the people she got to meet really inspired me to try out,” Smith said.
Smith enjoys riding horses, cheerleading, youth group, and writing poetry and music.
She has worked for The Cove and provided yard work for elderly people in the community.
The girls are wearing Western style dresses based on a design they found by searching the Internet. Donna Martin of Winthrop, who has sewn the youth royalty dresses for many years, once again created the costumes this year.