Daffodil Parade rings in spring despite stormy skies

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If there is anyone who can make a sunny day out of a stormy one, it’s the 2018 Daffodil Festival Royal Court. 

On Saturday, April 7, the 85th Daffodil Festival Grand Floral Parade wound its way through the four Pierce County cities of Tacoma, Puyallup, Sumner, and Orting. The event boasted bloom-bedecked floats, military groups, local dignitaries and more, all in accordance with the theme “Traditions in Bloom” chosen by 2018 Daffodil Festival President Tim Smith. 

A little drizzle couldn’t dampen the spirits of Princess Ashley Smith from Wilson High School. “We expected rain, and we weren’t disappointed, but I was excited about the experience, rain or shine.

Being a Daffodil Princess, and riding on the float as a Princess, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said, “and I knew it would be a day I’d remember no matter what happened.” 

For Princess Angelina Dillon, from Chief Leschi High School, the anticipation was almost difficult to process, regardless of the weather. “I was really excited,” she said. “At first, I didn’t think that it was actually happening. I only realized it was true when I looked outside the hotel window that morning.” 

Princess Leanna Esquivel, from Mt. Tahoma High School, couldn’t have been more ready for the event to get started. “I was overly excited about the parade!” she said. “I don’t think there’s a limit to how excited I should have been, but if there were, I would have broken the scale.” 

The daffodils of Pierce County first became a community symbol in the 1920s, when the dying hops industry of the Puyallup Valley made room for rows of the bright yellow flowers. The parade itself has been one of the many ways locals choose to ring in springtime since 1934, when Tacoma photographer Lee Merrill suggested that the numerous flowers from the leftover bumper crops be used to decorate cars, bicycles and riding units in a springtime celebration. The idea took root and, besides the wartime years of 1943, 1944, and 1945, the parade has been a community fixture ever since. 

Unsurprisingly, this means many Pierce County residents have their own memories of the Parade and Festival growing up, and that includes the Royal Court. 

Princess Brianna Olson, from Fife High School, remembers watching the floats as a child, and has some pretty fond memories of one group, in particular. “I remember I was always so excited to see the Princesses ride by.” 

The Daffodil Festival chose their Queen for the 2018 festival year on March 31 at the Rialto Theater in downtown Tacoma. Queen Allie Brooks, from Lincoln High School, was selected from among her 22 peers, to serve as figurehead of the esteemed Royal Court, made up of high-achieving senior ladies from participating local high schools. 

The newly minted royal was ready for the big day, with a special person in mind. “I was most excited to see my grandmother in the crowd, because she had just recently recovered from surgery,” said Queen Allie. “She wanted to come to the parade, and when I saw her in Tacoma, I couldn’t help but be overjoyed!” 

Queen Allie wasn’t the only one who had a family member make an appearance. 

In fact, at first Princess Leanna wasn’t sure whom she’d see along the way. “I was a bit gloomy at the thought my parents wouldn’t be there,” she said. “My mom works Saturdays, and my dad doesn’t do anything unless my mom does it with him, so I concluded that they wouldn’t be there.” 

That is, until she saw them both cheering along the parade route. “I saw my entire family in Tacoma there to support me, and I started tearing up. I really can’t express how happy I was to see them there.” 

Princess Brianna enjoyed her parade experience, not just because of who came to see her, but because of who she got to see in the parade, too. “I was most excited to see my family come out and support me, since they’ve always been there for me. I also saw my school’s cheer team and my town float, which was exciting.” 

For Princess Angelina, the Parade itself was a family affair. “My brother was in the parade with the Puyallup Tribe’s float as a Puyallup nation junior warrior. My sister and little cousin were also in the parade with their 4-H club. My cousin was riding a pony, and my sister was walking with a donkey.” 

Princess Ashley’s favorite people to spot from the float weren’t just the festival’s smallest fans, but those who came to celebrate with them, too. “I was most excited to see families in the crowd,” she said. “It’s rewarding to see the little ones get so excited to see us, but it’s my favorite thing to see their whole family engaged as well, keeping their family involved in this beautiful community tradition.” 

Besides local high school marching bands, military units, and car clubs, the parade also played host to numerous other festivals from around the Pacific Northwest, from Seattle’s Seafair Festival, to Port Townshend’s Rhododendron Festival, to the New Westminster Hyack Festival from Canada. 

While the Royal Court will tell you that there’s no place like Pierce County, the Grand Floral Parade is not the last event that the Royal Court will participate in during their reign. You can find them traveling in the summer, visiting these other Pacific Northwest festival groups, fulfilling their role as Official Ambassadors of Pierce County, a title they have proudly carried since 2012. 

That makes for one jam-packed summer for these busy high school seniors who, in addition to their regular regal duties, also juggle school, extracurriculars, and the excitement of their high school career coming to a close. 

“Juggling so many things at once has been a growing experience,” said Queen Allie. “Having to learn how to go and talk with many of my teachers, coaches, and club advisors… but they all give me the same amount of support, and grace.” 

“It’s been a very busy time, managing everything I do,” says Princess Rachel Schmit from Foss High School. “I’m very active in my school and community, alongside being a Daffodil Princess. I’ve had to cancel a lot of time I would usually spend with my friends, but they all understand, and are supportive about the entire experience.” 

In fact, she’s been spending so much time celebrating the season with the Royal Court that she hasn’t had much time to celebrate herself. “I actually am having a belated birthday party, because my birthday just happens to be in the middle of all my Daffodil appearances!” 

For some, like Princess Micaela Nomakchteinsky, from Puyallup High School, the pressure is fairly manageable. “Handling school and Daffodil is not too bad, especially when you have a set plan in place, make sure to do your homework early, and talk to your teachers about your schedule beforehand.” 

Princess Micaela is ready for the still-busy months ahead. “I’m excited for the upcoming parades, events, and getting to spend more time with everyone in the big yellow family.” 

Princess Kira Korsmo, from Lakes High School, knew that her school had her back, no matter what. “Fortunately, Lakes is very, very supportive of the Daffodil program,” she said. “It’s been difficult, of course, and there have been some days where I map out my week and struggle heavily to find spare time, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world! One day, I’ll look back and the stress will be gone,” she said, “and all I will feel is warmth, love, and some nostalgia.” 

Like Princess Micaela, Princess Kira is ready for the challenges still ahead. In fact, it’s difficult for Princess Kira to pin down just one thing she’s most excited about. “I’m excited for the conversations, relationships, play time… and anything else that big, yellow dress leads me to!”

In the meantime, the Princesses are keeping themselves busy with plenty of other appearances in the area, including visits to Pierce County libraries, playing with children at local Boys and Girls Clubs, and interacting with their numerous other partnerships, such as Emergency Food Network, Frank Tobey Jones, and more. 

If you weren’t able to catch the Royal Court in the Grand Floral Parade, you can see them in action this upcoming April 14 at 10 a.m., as they help lead the Junior Parade in Tacoma’s North End Proctor District. This walking parade is specifically geared towards children, and features local elementary and middle school groups, as well as costumes, pets, and other non-motorized floats. 

If walking isn’t so much your style, what about floats that, well, float? The Daffodil Marine Parade happens the following Sunday, April 15 at the Tacoma Yacht Club, where the Daffodil Royalty take to the water, alongside dozens of other decorated yachts and other marine vessels. While the event is hosted by the TYC, there are plenty of landside places to enjoy the display before it reaches its end along the Thea Foss Waterway. 

Information on these, as well as other upcoming Festival events, can be found at www.thedaffodilfestival.org. 

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