Fairs & Festivals

Parade magic rekindles past for DeSoto queens


The faces. The adulation. The rapture. They all come back to Rachel Chestnut Harrison as another DeSoto Heritage Festival Parade nears, its ethereal spring magic returning her to the time she was DeSoto queen.

It was 1951.

“The newspaper clippings are disintegrating, but the memories haven’t,” said Harrison, 80, laughing softly. “The parade was much shorter then, but it was quite a big deal.”

Friends and neighbors from Wares Creek, where Harrison grew up, lined Manatee Avenue West near Virginia Drive.

So did students from nearby Ballard Elementary School where, she taught.

“They came to the parade and, next to getting married and having my family, it was so special,” Harrison said. “I never dreamed it would happen to me.”

It’s a sentiment familiar to other DeSoto queens past who have assembled to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the DeSoto Heritage Festival.

Princesses past will be on hand, too.

From among the eldest to among the youngest, they will ride in the grand parade once again.

It wasn’t long ago for Melissa Trippy, but the 2005-2006 DeSoto queen relished her big moment.

“I’d done the parade before when I was a baton twirler,” said the University of South Florida senior, 22. “But as queen it’s different, an amazing experience, one you never forget.”

Likewise for 1991-1992 DeSoto Queen Sherri Pearson Buete, a fourth-generation Manatee County resident.

“What I remember is being proud of my family and just seeing all of them that night,” said 37-year-old Buete, a Manatee High alum. “I felt like queen of Manatee.”

So did Veenie Bomar Goodson.

Seeing the multitudes along the parade route was a “Cinderella” moment, recalled the 1972-1973 DeSoto queen.

“It was all so surreal,” said the Palmetto native, 55. “Like a dream come true for any girl.”

Especially a girl from Palmetto.

Gail Courtney Roberts, who reigned in 1959-1960, was the first DeSoto queen from across the Manatee River.

“Back then Palmetto was the stepchild of Manatee County,” said the great-grandmother, 68. “So I was so proud to be a part of it. Everybody treated me with such respect — and here I was only 18.”

As was the custom, when Roberts rode in the parade she was actually the queen-elect and was crowned at the ball that night at the Bradenton Country Club.

The ball and coronation is now the Friday night before the parade.

Anyway, Roberts remembered being so blissful when she got home after the ball she spread the royal robe across her bed and slept under it.

“My mother thought I was crazy,” she said, laughing. “I said, ‘Why not? I’m a queen!’”

That resonated with Teresa Byrd Adams, the 1981-1982 DeSoto queen.

A 1980 Southeast High grad and mother of two, the Braden River Elementary teacher’s aide remembers what it was like to be DeSoto royalty.

“You could hear people calling your name — ‘Queen Teresa!’ ” said Adams, 46. “Just going down the parade route and being recognized, being acknowledged, it felt like you were on Cloud Nine.

“It was a moment we won’t ever have again.”

Wait until Saturday night.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fla. 34206 or email him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.