After 25 years as the Azalea Court Scholarship Pageant Director, Alice Farmer is finally calling it quits.
But if she can’t find a replacement, it could spell the end of the Azalea Festival Court as Brookings knows it.
The Azalea Court has been a tradition in town for eight decades — only missing a few summers during World War II. But like so many other popular events, organizers are getting older, Farmer said. Families are busy with work and volunteers are increasingly hard to come by.
“I’ve been trying to step away for the past two or three years,” Farmer said, “and I’m having trouble finding a replacement. I’ve reached out to as many people as I can, but they’ve all declined.”
Many have offered to assist, but the job needs someone to oversee the entire operation, she said. She noted, too, that the process — the court selection, speech and poise classes, the attendance at luncheons and other duties — doesn’t have to be the same as it has in the past.
“It’s changed over all these many years,” Farmer said, who has been coordinating the court since she was 20, culminating in seeing her own daughter, Abby, selected as queen last year.
In the beginning, Farmer said, the court and queen were selected via an essay.
“Then I heard, for a number of years, it was selected by the student body,” she said. “Then at some point, it was selected by the faculty. For the past 30 years, it’s been selected through a pageant.”
First a committee of five or six people is formed, which in turn interviews and selects the court chosen from candidates nominated by the seniors at Brookings-Harbor High School.
Training typically begins in January, when the girls learn public speaking and etiquette — “We do need to be graceful and know how to present ourselves in the community,” Farmer said — before they make presentations to various social organizations throughout town.
Throughout the spring, the young women secure sponsorships — each must garner a minimum of $1,000 — that goes toward the purchase of the matching outfits they wear during their time on the court and the remainder of which is divvied up as scholarships.
In May, the girls prepare for the scholarship pageant, with a street attire and evening gown competitions, followed by a talent presentation. They are then judged by people, many of whom don’t live in the area, but who Farmer has trained over the years. That group selects the Azalea Festival Queen, who with her entourage of princesses, reigns over the Azalea Festival Weekend at the end of May.
“It is a process, and it is a fair amount of work,” Farmer added. “They practice every week, we help them with their speech, they have to order all the outfits, coordinate with sponsorships, photography and all their appearances during the Azalea Fest Weekend.
“It’s been a tradition for all these many years,” she continued. “I’m very concerned it’s not going to happen, and once it doesn’t happen, it’s so much harder to get it going again.”
Even last year, the event was scaled down some, with the student body and faculty selecting the court and eliminating the pageant, Farmer said. But that makes it lose an element of honor and prestige.
She has a binder filled with outlines of duties, timelines and procedures by which she has directed the progression of the court, and is willing to hand all that information over to a successor.
“But if someone takes it over, they don’t have to do it this way,” Farmer said. “They can turn it into whatever they want to turn into. Over the 80 years, it’s changed.”
Farmer said she’d help whomever wants to take the job over, particularly as the process is already a tad behind schedule.
“We can’t make up the time we’ve lost,” she said. “I know a way to do that. It’s all OK still, but this needs to happen very quickly.”
The event, through all its transmogrifications, remains steadfast in the community.
“Every year the girls look forward to this,” Farmer said. “If it doesn’t happen, Azalea Fest will go on without a court and queen making appearances; that would be fairly tragic. But any court and queen is better than no court and queen.”
And pageants, except perhaps at the national level, remain strong in rural America.
“They’re not a thing of the past,” Farmer said. “People love the Azalea Court and the pageant. It’s standing-room-only where we do the pageant. The interest is still there. The problem is — and maybe it’s a cultural of societal thing — we are in dire straits getting parent volunteers.
“People get tired, people get old, parents are burned out, they’re not engaged; it’s tough for parents,” Farmer said. “The Azalea Court is no different. It’s too bad. We don’t want to see it go away; it’s been a tradition, but no one wants the responsibility. That’s the sad part. It’s such a valuable tradition for our community, a great experience for the young ladies, and it provides a scholarship they otherwise might not have.”
Anyone interested is encouraged to call Farmer at 541-661.2570 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .