Lebanon Strawberrians celebrating 50th anniversary this year

They’re everywhere, it seems, decked out in their snappy red blazers and that fancy limousine bearing smiling, waving Strawberry Court members.

They’re the Strawberrians, a group of more than 50 local businessmen and women who are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, thought to be the oldest civic group of its kind in Oregon.

“I think we’ve been very well accepted,” said retired city councilman Bob Elliott, who has been a member for about 20 years. “People notice the limo. We represent the city very well, I believe, at different parades in the area. It’s a great organization.”

The group was founded as the “Royal Order of the Golden Strawberry” or “Golden Strawberrians,” on June 7, 1969 by a group of local men including Kerwood Smith, owner of Lebanon Furniture, farmer Jim McDaniel and Queen Anne School Principal Earnie Caldwell.

“They wore yellow coats to start,” Elliott noted.

Board member Mary Blanshan said the gold coats didn’t last long, but former member Jerry McVein still owns one.

“I hope he’ll be on the float,” she said, referring to the group’s entry in this year’s Strawberry Festival Grand Parade. “He’s kind of an honorary member.”

Longtime members, who date back to near the start of the Strawberrians, include Dean Crittensen, Glenda Holland, John Jenkins, Al Barrios and Jim Rieke.

Blanshan, who’s lived in Lebanon since 1966, said the group adopted the red blazers after the Albany Woodpeckers dissolved. It also dropped “Order of the Golden” from its name, resorting to simply “The Strawberrians.”

In the late 1980s, the group began including women in its membership. Early members, in addition to Holland, were Joela Larsen, Joyce Thoma and Kate Connelly.”

The Strawberrians have had their own highs and lows over the past five decades, but they’ve persisted.

“They almost died a couple of times, but the guys in the community got together and kept them going,” Blanshan said.

Another setback, she said, was when then-President Steve Williamson died in May of 2016 while on a fishing trip in Canada. Williamson had recruited her and her husband to be part of the organization.

“He got me involved,” she said. “When Steve was killed, we got thrown into it. We kind of stepped into it sight-unseen. We had to learn what we were doing.”

The Strawberrians serve as escorts to the Strawberry Court, accompanying the princesses to parades and community events.

They also serve as ambassadors for Lebanon as a whole, showing up at community events year round and treating the B.U.L.B. students to a ride to breakfast in the limousine.

They also support court princesses with scholarships, for which they raise funds and make endowments, including one from Jim and Heather McDaniel that awards each princess a $500 scholarship in perpetuity.

The limo is a big part of the Strawberrians’ activity. Blanshan said her husband Dale is known as the “Car Czar” because he’s responsible for its care.

The 1994 Lincoln Town Car is the latest of several limousines the group has used to transport court members in parades. It was donated a few years ago by a local farmer, who prefers to remain anonymous, Blanshan said.

“He gave it to us. That was a shot in our arm. The other one was not safe. It was falling apart.”

Members draw straws to see who gets to sit on the limousine.

This year the group will also have a 40-foot float in the parade, carrying member and alumni, provided

Blanshan said the interaction with the court members, many of whom have become her personal friends, is rewarding.

“When you start seeing these girls come in, when they walk out the last time on stage, they’ve grown,” she said. “They’re absolutely adorable. It’s nice to see them grow.

“It’s a good experience for us. They become part of our family.”