Photo by Don Nelson

Princess Katie Labanauskas, left, and Queen Isabel Salas visited Little Star Montessori School last week.

’49er Days queen and princess take community role to heart

By Ashley Lodato

The 2018 Winthrop ’49er Days junior royalty members may be sitting demurely in a carriage during the parade on Saturday (May 12), but make no mistake — these girls are no prim wallflowers; an internal fire burns bright within them.

Princess Katie Labanauskas and Queen Isabel Salas are no strangers to the public eye, thanks to the passions that drive their involvement in school and community life.

Katie has been an outstanding athlete since she could walk and can be seen, according to the season, on the volleyball and basketball courts, the softball field or at the swimming pool.

Isabel has risen to local prominence through the founding of HOPES (Helping Our Peers End Suicide), a suicide awareness and prevention group.

It’s these achievements and ambitions that made them impressive choices to represent Winthrop in its signature festival weekend. The young women are local examples of grit, determination and an appreciation of what this community represents.

Photo by Don Nelson

The junior royalty also enjoyed visiting with some of the residents Jamie’s Place.

Isabel moved to the Methow Valley with her mother and siblings when she was in fourth grade. She remembers living elsewhere and is almost fierce when she talks about her love of the Methow Valley community. “It means a lot to me to represent this valley,” she says. “This community [embraced] my family when we moved here. I love this place. I want to come back and raise a family here eventually.”

Katie feels a similar pride for the Methow Valley community. Although she was born in Omak and raised in the Methow surrounded by an extensive network of family, she doesn’t take valley life for granted. She knows what a special place she has grown up in and is honored to represent it during ’49er Days, as she has seen so many friends and relatives do before her.

Plans after graduation

Both Liberty Bell High School seniors are poised to take flight after graduation in June, to continue their education. Isabel will attend Eastern Washington University to study social work, while Katie will focus on either mechanics or criminal justice at Wenatchee Valley College.

For Isabel in particular, matriculating at Eastern will be a noteworthy achievement. As the first in her family to graduate from high school and to attend college, Isabel is a shining example of what can be accomplished through hard work, perseverance, and the support of family and community.

The honor of serving as ’49er Days queen, as well as the achievements of graduating and pursuing higher education, are significant not only for Isabel herself, but for her three younger siblings, for whom she considers herself a role model. “I want to show my siblings that you can do anything and be anything,” she says. “I want to inspire them.”

Katie’s involvement in community life is similarly rooted in family. A lifelong horsewoman like so many of her kin, for years she has participated in the Ride to Rendezvous with various relatives. This year she’ll be cooking, serving and washing up after meals, as well as watering and feeding the horses twice a day and helping to saddle horses, then riding her own horse to the next campsite to begin setting up tents. All this, in the five days leading up to the ’49er Days celebration.

Whirlwind of activity

Although the ’49er Days time commitment for junior royalty is relatively short in terms of reign, it’s fairly intense, says chaperone and Winthrop business owner Erin White, who has taken over chaperoning duties from Linda Wilson. On a recent weekday, they had already spent the morning at Little Star Montessori School and Jamie’s Place in their royalty attire, then changed into everyday wear to serve lunch at Methow Valley Elementary School. They have also attended a Winthrop Chamber of Commerce meeting, visited the Methow Valley Farmer’s Market in Twisp and stopped in at local businesses.

The ’49er Days weekend will be a whirlwind, beginning with the coronation on Friday night (May 11, 7 p.m. at the Winthrop Barn) and continuing through the parade on Saturday (May 12, 11 a.m).

The queen and princess have had to adapt to the trials and tribulations of navigating a modern world in a vintage ball gown. It’s really hard fitting through doors, they say. As for driving — they have to bunch up their skirts and put them off to the side.

“The little kids like to peek under our dresses,” adds Isabel. “The dresses are so poofy from the crinolines and hoop skirts — they wonder what’s under there.” The answer? Sneakers for Katie, and cowboy boots for Isabel, echoing the practical sartorial tastes of generations of junior royalty before them.

About those dresses

Continuing a longstanding tradition, the junior royalty selected their own dress patterns and fabric. “I gave them guidelines regarding the era and the style,” says White, “and then they picked their patterns online.” Cyndy Oliver, owner of 3 Bears Café and Quilts, helped the girls select fabric, and then official ’49er Days dressmaker Donna Martin (who at 80-plus  years old says she keeps trying to hand her duties off to the next generation) took over.

“She didn’t even use an actual single pattern,” says White of Martin. “She has made these types of dresses so many times [since 1978, when her daughter Kelly was the queen]; she just pulls the pattern for the sleeves from here, the bodice from there, and the skirt from somewhere else. She pulls all these pieces together into the whole dress.”

Martin learned to sew on a treadle machine at 5 years old, and has been making clothing ever since, including most of the junior royalty and several of the grand lady dresses for the past 12 to 15 years.

Although the process of being selected to serve as junior royalty is demanding, consisting of interviews in front of a panel, both Isabel and Katie acknowledged that they enjoyed the challenge.

Both girls offer strong encouragement to other high school students to follow in their footsteps. Don’t be afraid, they advise, repeating a mantra that has likely served both of them well throughout their lives in their pursuit of personal achievements: “An experience like this really shows your character.”


For more on this year’s ’49er days festivities, check out these related stories:

2018 ’49er Days Schedule of Events

Take a ‘Wild Ride’ in the Old West at ’49er Days in Winthrop

’49er Days logistics: getting there, getting around

’49er Grand Marshal & Lady put down roots in the Methow