’49er Days Queen KanDee – Princess Emily are steeped in Methow tradition
By Ashley Lodato
For Winthrop ’49er Days junior royalty members KanDee Sims and Emily Paul, the seeds were sown at a young age. Princess Emily Paul was born in Wenatchee and raised in the Methow Valley; Queen KanDee Sims was born in Auburn and moved to the Methow Valley at age 3. Both remember attending ’49er Days parades throughout their childhoods.
“I would always do Ride to Rendezvous and the ’49er Days parade,” says Paul, whose grandfather and great-uncle, Claude and Carl Miller (who is this year’s ’49er Days Grand Marshal), are some of the most prominent horsemen in the valley. “I’d always get to ride in the parade and help with the horses,” she says.
Sims is no horsewoman, but was frequently in the parade as well. “I rode on the J.A. Wright [septic services] float,” she laughs, “and threw Tootsie Rolls out to the other kids.”
Sims’ sister, KayDee, was a princess two years ago, and Sims recalls seeing how much fun it looked. “I remember seeing her get dressed and go out to all these events,” Sims says. “She just really seemed to be having a good time.”
Paul didn’t have a royal older sister in whose footsteps to follow, but apparently a photo exists of Paul and a cousin sitting in her grandfather’s buggy, with a caption reading “Future ’49er Days Royalty,” so in some ways the die was cast years ago.
It was these childhood memories, plus a desire to represent the community they love, that convinced the two young women to apply to be ’49er Days junior royalty this year.
Since the ’49er Days junior royalty appointment, life has been a bit of a whirlwind. First, dresses needed to be made. ’49er Days dressmaker Donna Martin took the girls to 3 Bears Café and Quilts, where owner Cyndy Oliver helped them pick out fabric.
“We knew we wanted red,” says Sims, “but there were so many choices! Cyndy just kept pulling out bolts of fabric and piling them up. We kept returning to this same piece of fabric, though,” she says, gesturing at the red and black plaid broadcloth of the bodice and skirt. Picking out the contrasting fabric of the ruffles on the front of the dress was a bit easier, she says.
Over the next couple of weeks there were fittings at Martin’s house, and then eventually the dresses were complete, with petticoats and hoop skirts providing the traditional shape of a pioneer woman’s dress.
Martin has been making ’49er Days outfits for princesses, queens and grand ladies on and off since 1978, when her daughter Kelly was queen. 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 12-15 years. Martin refers to one special dress, which was found by her mother—Della Northcott, Grand Lady 1972—in an uncle’s house in the 1940s. The black lace dress is assumed to be more than 100 years old, and has been worn by several generations of ’49er Days royalty.
An appreciation for history
Wearing formal western finery has given the junior royalty a new appreciation for their homesteading predecessors. “All we have to do in the dresses is walk and drive,” says Sims, acknowledging how difficult it must have been to complete the typical pioneer housewife’s chores in hoop skirts and petticoats.
“When we drive we have to gather up the dress and pile it on the passenger seat,” says Paul. “Also, when you walk you sort of have to kick the hoop out in front of you so you don’t step on it.”
Sims conjures up an incongruous image, as she describes a near fall. “I was already in the dress and I had my softball bag over my shoulder,” she says, “and then I stepped on the front of the hoop and almost went down.” Just one of many reasons that pioneer women did not play softball (although both Sims and Paul are members of the Liberty Bell High School softball team).
Still, the dresses are beautiful, and navigating the day in a hoop skirt is a small price to pay for the experience of being a ’49er Days royal, the young women say. “The other day we had lunch at the Senior Center,” says Paul, “and it was really nice to sit and talk with all the people there.”
Sims adds, “With Highway 20 closed in two places, we’re wondering if crowds will be lighter at the parade this year than in previous years, so we told the Senior Center residents that we really need them to come to the parade this year!”
As we talked, Jennifer Dugay (then Mendro, ’49er Days Queen 1985), stopped by to say hi. Past ’49er Days VIPs like Duguay are always invited back to ’49er Days festivities, conferring a sense of the event’s long history. Junior royalty chaperone Linda Wilson notes that for ’49er Days’ 75th anniversary in 2020, organizers are hoping to have a “royalty round-up.” So take note you past princesses and queens, you bygone grand marshals and ladies.
Wilson, who is in her fourth year of chaperoning, accompanies the royalty on their public visits, but stays in the background, letting the young women circulate. “These gals are people persons,” she says. “They’re both so outgoing and friendly. They just sparkle.”
Of Wilson, the junior royalty say “She keeps us organized and prepares us for our visits.” They add, “She also trained us to walk without falling over.”
Public visits include opportunities such as attending a Winthrop Chamber of Commerce meeting and having lunch with elementary school students. Says Sims, “My biggest reward for this experience was walking into the elementary school, and there was a line of kids waiting to go into lunch. When they saw us they gasped.”
The kids are really fun to be around, say the royalty, because they ask interesting questions. “They want to know if we are real princesses,” says Paul. (Yes, real ’49er Days princesses.) “They want to know if our crowns are real,” she adds. (Yes, they are real ’49er Days crowns, which the royalty get to keep after their reign, unlike the hoop skirts.)
Oddly enough, the students also want to know what kind of shoes the princesses were wearing, possibly wondering about glass slippers. Paul sheepishly lifts her hoopskirt to display her feet, clad only in white athletic socks. “Yes, well ….” Paul trails off, and we all laugh.
The queen and princess may only be juniors in high school, but both already have pretty clear directions they want to take in their professional lives. Paul wants to go into pediatric nursing, while Sims intends to become a surgical technician. They’re focused on their studies, Paul at Liberty Bell and Sims through Running Start. For now, however, they’re just thinking of the week ahead — more public luncheons, some time with Ride to Rendezvous, their coronation on Friday night (May 12, 7 p.m. at the Winthrop Barn), and the parade on Saturday (May 13).
At Methow Valley Elementary School, Sims and Paul circulate comfortably through the elementary school lunchroom, sitting at tables with starry-eyed girls and bashful boys. They seem to be engaging the students in a genuine manner, answering questions about being royalty, yes, but also talking to the younger kids about other topic — the rodeo, the warm weather. They are classic examples of down-to-earth and self-possessed Methow Valley kids.
Says Wilson, looking around at all the students — and it’s clear that she’s talking about both the royalty and the younger kids — “Aren’t we the luckiest people in the world to get to be around these kinds of kids?”