Fourteen First Ladies of Kilgore gathered Wednesday afternoon to celebrate this year’s First Lady before the 2018 selection is announced in April.
First Lady of Kilgore 2016 Lavada Thomas hosted the Valentine’s luncheon for 2017 First Lady Peggy Bowne. The annual tradition is the final act for the previous year’s First Lady.
“I find myself wondering again how I came to be in a room with y’all,” Thomas said. “I told one of my kids I think they ran out of nominees. I’ve been privileged to watch what a lot of you have done through all these years, and you are amazing and what you’re still doing. You’ve lent many happy hours to make our Kilgore a better place to live.”
Thomas noted she has known some of the 13 other first ladies in the room for a long time, while others she has more recently met.
“We’re so delighted that we could be a part of Peggy’s luncheon today,” she said.
Following the Valentine’s-themed meal Wednesday, the 14 first ladies present shared memories of their year as First Lady of Kilgore and their selection.
“Sometime this year I’ve all of a sudden thought about it and thinking, ‘That’s not real,’” Bowne said. “You get a feeling it’s not real, and I think the most wonderful thing about it is for the rest of your life you’re going to be one of the first ladies. It kind of give you cold chills. It’s not just for a year.”
Some of the women told stories about how they were contacted by one of the committee members as a ruse to make sure they were at home. Bowne joked she did not remember them calling to ask if she would be home or to expect anyone. She just remembers the selection committee of Beta Sigma Phi showing up to surprise her with the news she was the 2017 First Lady of Kilgore, she said.
The secrecy of the First Lady of Kilgore was once so enticing that people would follow the committee to try to find out the identify of that year’s selection.
When Ellen Watson was named the First Lady of Kilgore in 1954, the process was a little different with the surprise of her selection coming Tuesday night before the dinner Friday. She and Mary Lee Bennett, her mother for the evening, hid in a closet before Watson was officially presented in the ceremony at the Flame Restaurant at East Texas Regional Airport.
“Oh it was beautiful… You had to wear your hats to the dinner, and I had a Mamie Eisenhower hat,” she said. “Oh boy! I was thrilled to death. That was my Easter hat… It was thrilling, very thrilling.”
Before being named a first lady in 1954, Watson was a speaker at the first First Lady of Kilgore presentation in 1948, honoring Olga Lapin.
This year’s First Lady of Kilgore presentation is scheduled for April 20, but in continuing with tradition, her identity will be kept a secret until the moment she is brought on stage.