Back on Track: Lompoc Flower Festival Queen Contest Returns 2 Years After COVID | Local News
Five local teenagers are working overtime to mobilize community support as they each compete for the title of Queen of the Flower Festival in the annual Lompoc pageant last held in 2020, at the start of the COVID crisis.
McKenna Bohard, Syndey Brooks, Brooklynn Culliver, Brianna Garcia and Mercedes Oropeza are campaigning with little time left before the contest ends on April 24.
This year’s theme, “Our Essential Workers Rock,” will give each contestant the opportunity to share with the judges how COVID has personally affected their lives and to recognize special essential workers among their friends and family.
The prized crown, which has remained with 2020 contest winner Tayla Valencia since the pandemic began, will find a new home when honorary judges call a new winner in the final judging round scheduled for Sunday, April 24. The queen’s crown, donated by the community several years ago, is made of molten silver.
As the pageant officially returns, each contestant has been tasked with raising $2,000 to cover expenses covered by the Queen’s Division of the Festival of Flowers – i.e. clothing, props, photography, flowers – within two months, three months less than a typical Flower Festival season.
Because of this, Sue Beltrand, the president of the Queen division – or “queen mom” – admitted that “it has been a difficult road” to get back on track.
“It’s definitely been one of the toughest years,” she said.
However, despite the countless challenges caused by the pandemic, the 69th annual festival will return to Ryon Memorial Park from May 6-8, when the new queen will also take to the festival stage.
Due to a lack of carnival businesses available to book in June, when the Flower Festival traditionally takes place, the association has been forced to combine the annual Spring Arts and Flower Festivals in May this year, which was the earliest available date.
The move caused some confusion in the community and affected overall fundraising efforts, Beltrand said.
Since the contest started in late February instead of early January, and the festival was moved from June to May, fundraising efforts were condensed from a typical five-month campaign to just two months. It also impacted fundraising for the Queen Division’s large group – a large community dinner – which is traditionally hosted by the Flower Festival Association and attended by all contestants. The event was canceled this year due to a lack of time and funds, according to Beltrand.
The annual Flower Festival parade was also canceled due to money. Beltrand explained that the parade each year — which shuts down Highway 246, attracts outside talent and gives the new queen a big moment on her float — costs the association an average of $45,000, an amount that ‘she couldn’t assume this year.
“The queen candidates have missed so much and they certainly haven’t had the full Queen of the Festival of Flowers experience,” she said. “It makes me very sad, but we’re making the most of it.”
Because this year required “a lot of obstacles” and jumping through hoops “just to make a comeback,” Beltrand said she hopes the community will support the local tradition.
“And next year we’ll be back on track,” she added. “We already have our dates on the calendar with Parks and Rec.”
Lisa André covers lifestyle and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record, editions of the Santa Maria Times.