Autumn Leaf Festival parade to feature 64 years of ‘royalty’

Lindsey Mays – Staff Writer

As part of the 150th anniversary celebration of Clarion University, the annual Autumn Leaf Festival parade will encompass royalty in a vast number.

What does this mean? All former crowned kings and queens of the university have been invited back for the celebration.

Emily Weaver, assistant director of alumni engagement is very excited about this event. She has actively been working to bring as many kings and queens back to Clarion for this celebration.

When asked where the idea came from, Weaver stated, “I originally came up with the idea to have the past kings and queens come back for homecoming and ALF as a way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Clarion University. I thought it would be a fun idea and a special year for such a reunion.”

Clarion University has had a homecoming football game for many years, but it was not until 1949 that the first homecoming queen was crowned.

The first crowned queen was Lois (George) Richards, she has since passed away. Since this first crowning, there have been 93 different kings and queens crowned at homecoming.

Homecoming became a very prominent event throughout the 1950’s and included a parade and floats, as well as a dance and other events.

This event became so popular that in 1953, the Clarion Area Chamber of Business and Industry decided to plan a festival around it. This festival was named  the Autumn Leaf Festival, and has always coordinated around the university’s homecoming.

How many royalty are coming back? There will be 27 of the kings and queens in the parade. There will be two floats for the kings and queens, as well as a car with the 1953 queen– she is the oldest living queen!

Ruth Neiger Lines, the oldest living homecoming queen, graduated from Clarion State Teachers College in 1954. Lines was crowned queen at the 1953 homecoming, which was the first year of the Autumn Leaf Festival. She can be seen in the parade this year riding in her own special car with her family.

Emily Weaver spoke with Lines about her memories as queen:  “When I asked Ruth to talk about her memories as Queen, she stated that she had never wanted or expected to be the homecoming queen.  She was always more of a shy, quiet person who didn’t like the “limelight.”  However, her friend finally convinced her to go to the meeting in which ladies could sign up for the homecoming queen competition.  Because she was sure she wouldn’t win, Ruth decided to go to bed early the night of the announcement for queen. Her friend woke her early the next morning to tell her the news – Ruth was selected as the 1953 homecoming queen! As queen, she wore a crown made of flowers in her hair – something she remembers vividly. She is planning on wearing a floral piece in her hair for the upcoming parade, made specially by a florist friend.”

Also returning is the 1967 Queen, Dana Casoli Castagna, celebrating her 50th anniversary of being crowned homecoming queen. Castagna is looking forward to returning to Clarion, and recalled that the year of her crowning was also the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Clarion State College. Two current employees at Clarion University, Merrilyn Dunlap and Brian Hoover, will also be in the parade as the 1993 homecoming queen and the 1994 homecoming king, respectively.

Last year’s homecoming king and queen, Cory French and Audrianna DeLacour are returning for the parade as well.

The 64th annual Autumn Leaf Festival runs through Sunday Oct. 8. “The Tournament of Leaves Parade” will be on Saturday Oct. 7 at 12 p.m. where all of the royalty can be seen.

The homecoming football game will follow the parade at 2 p.m., where the Clarion Golden Eagles will take on the Seton Hill Griffins.

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