Dresses, accessories from past courts are attraction in downtown windows

By Sarah Brown

Lebanon Local

For 109 years, the Lebanon Strawberry Festival included a princess court and queen, and the different dresses worn by court members reflected each year’s times and fashion.

Thanks to Jami Cate, former 2005 princess, and her band of merry helpers, Strawberry Festival fans get to see many of those dresses on display every year, including some of the tiaras and scepters.

In fact, the exhibit grows every year, and this year Cate expects to have 57 senior court dresses dating back to 1929, and eight junior court dresses.

“The most exciting thing that is new this year is a 1929 dress being donated by the family of Queen Leneve (Maxwell) Davenport,” Cate said. “It’s wonderful to be filling in these older decades that are so much rarer to come by.”

They were also gifted a 1938 and 1947 dress this year, and the growth of the display means they had to expand into other storefronts to fit them all.

Thanks to the Strawberry Festival Association’s efforts to expand the Queen dress exhibit each year, the display now resides across town at the following locations: Linn-Benton Community College, the old JC Penney’s building, Habitat ReStore, Linn County Arts Guild, and Curls & Pearls.

Cate won’t deny the exhibit is a daunting project for her and her helpers, and has wondered at times whether all the hard work is worth the effort, but each year as she unpacks the dresses and visits former court members, she remembers how fun and incredible those ladies and dresses are, she said.

Then she gets to witness the community’s response to all her hard work. She sees people gawking at the dresses as they walk downtown, and she overhears them talking about which fashion styles were their favorites, she said.

“They like to look at the dresses of the era of their grandparent, or parent, or themselves. Sometimes history can seem boring, but when it’s history of a tradition that is still happening after 109 years and is represented in something as universally interesting as fashion, it just seems to come to life in a way that no other historical display does,” Cate said.

When Cate was a child, her mother, Ginger (Coakley) Cate, took her to see former court dresses on display in the old JC Penney’s building, including the one she wore as Queen in 1980.

“There was probably only a handful of dresses, but it really resonated with me,” Cate said.

The display didn’t continue as a yearly tradition until Cate took on the project. As she became more involved with planning the coronation over the past several years, she began thinking about what she could do to add more depth and significance to the event, she said.

At the same time, she’d been making contact with many of the former court members and realizing what an incredible group of women they are, she said.

“I thought, ‘What better way to honor their legacy with our festival than to display their history?’”

Her first dress display started with 17 dresses in 2012. The following year, they had 28 dresses.

“It truly has been an incredible project to be a part of, and is fun to hear a growing interest each year in Strawberry Festival’s history and our Junior Court, and see that spark the interest in things like bringing back our Junior Court this year for the first time since 1983,” she said.

Photo by Sarah Brown
DRESSES worn by past princesses and collected by Jami Cate are on display in downtown windows.