Lebanon’s longest-lived monarch one of royal line

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Strawberry preserves must run in Ruth (Schackman) Lenox’s blood.
The 1941 Strawberry Festival Queen, who turns 100 on June 7, reigns as Lebanon’s oldest living monarch. What’s more, she came into this world as the 1923 event kicked off, and celebrated her 18th birthday as Queen during the 1941 festivities.
Royal genes seem to run in Lenox’s family. Her older sister, Bertha Schackman, was crowned queen in 1930, and youngest sister, Betty (Schackman) Adams, served as a princess in 1950. Her niece, Becky (Lanning) Holscher, was a princess in 1960, as was her own daughter, Karla Lenox, in 1977.
“Somebody asked, ‘Why are so many from your family in the court?’ and I said, ‘There were too many of us,’” Lenox quipped.
She stays close with her family, relying on Adams to help preserve its Strawberry Festival souvenirs.

BETTY (SHACKMAN) ADAMS, Lenox’s sister, was a Strawberry Princess in 1950.

“She was the joy of the neighborhood because they didn’t have any small children (around) at that time,” Lenox said of Adams’ childhood. “Everybody would make a big fuss over her.”
Back in Lenox’s day, students voted on the festival court, with only a single princess from each surrounding area. When Lenox vied for queen, she faced Markie Weatherford (Albany), Jean Garrett (Brownsville), Geraldine Shafer (Halsey), Ellen Sorenson (Harrisburg), Lillian Weeder (Scio), Louise Windom (Shedd), Barbara Lindsey (Sweet Home) and Katherine Hargan (Tangent).
At the time, the queen was announced in May and crowned when the festival began in June. Before making a final decision during a ball at the American Legion hall (currently the upstairs room at the former Wells Fargo building downtown), judges grilled the court with questions such as, “What do you plan to do for a career?,” “What is your favorite sport?,” “Do you like pink lemonade?,” and “Have you ever had two dates at the same time?”

GOV. CHARLES SPRAGUE places a tiara on Ruth Lenox’s head during the 1941 coronation ceremony. (photo courtesy of Ruth Lenox)

Then-Oregon Gov. Charles Sprague held the honor of crowning Lenox during the coronation at the Lebanon High School auditorium. The 1941 court wore white blouses with navy blue skirts for parades and appearances. As queen, Lenox was attired in a white gown with embroidered flowers on sheer fabric, a dress designed by classmate Daren Pierce and made by local seamstress Bertha Boots.
Lenox may likely be the queen with the longest reign because World War II shut the festival down between 1942 and 1945.
“Because of all the crowds,” Adams explained. “They didn’t want crowds where the Japanese maybe could bomb, or whatever.”
According to news articles at the time, the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce canceled the festivals for additional reasons, including the conservation of vehicular tires (which were in short supply) and keeping the workforce productive by not asking people to surrender two workdays to attend.
Lenox’ parents, Earl and Creszentia Schackmann, moved to Lebanon from Illinois in 1912, and Creszentia attended nearly every festival since.

CRESZENTIA SHACKMANN, left, sits with Betty Adams during the 1979 Strawberry Festival. (photo provided by Ruth Lenox)

“She never missed a Strawberry Festival parade except when Ruth was born and until 1985, and then she had a stroke,” Adams said. “Our mother just dearly loved the Strawberry Festival. (My husband’s) drug store was on the corner of Main and Grant, so she had a perfect place to sit.”
The Schackman kids grew up on a farm in the McDowell Creek area, raising cattle and sheep and “whatever thing on earth” until 1937, Lenox said. That’s when they moved into town and settled at Sherman Street near the Spencer Cannery and the Lebanon Lumber Mill, where her father worked.
Lenox earned money picking “every berry on this earth” until she secured a job at Gilson’s Hardware, which allowed her to make her first big purchase.
“I was a horse person all my life, ever since I was little enough to crawl into the manger and watch them eat,” she explained. “When I got my first job in town, I bought a horse (whom Lenox called Laddie). My dad came home, and he saw this horse tied up to the clothesline and said, ‘What is this?’ I said, ‘It’s a horse, dad.’”
She later settled into a job working for doctors, which she continued to do well into her 70s. She married Wesley Lenox in 1953, gave birth to two daughters, and now has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

1941 STRAWBERRY QUEEN Ruth Lenox cuts into Lebanon’s “World’s Largest Strawberry Shortcake” as part of her royal duties on June 7, 1941. It was also her 18th birthday. (photo courtesy of Ruth Lenox)

Her father-in-law, Joe Lenox, along with Murry Vaughan, fashioned from a crosscut saw blade the original 6-foot knife used to cut the Strawberry Festival’s first “World’s Largest Strawberry Shortcake” in 1931. Three different giant knives have been over the years, because they tended to disappear.
Lenox has watched Lebanon grow and evolve over the last 10 decades and had only the following to say about that: “Oh my gosh. I don’t even recognize it when I go downtown. I would not even hardly recognize it. All the stores have changed.”
But what has stayed the same are the festival’s 114-year-old traditions.
“I think it’s wonderful to keep those traditions going,” she said. “It brings visitors to the city.”
She also appreciates stories and memories written down and passed on to future generations, and tries to encourage more people to do the same.
“I think it’s wonderful to see people writing in their handwriting for members of the family,” she said. “Some people don’t think it’s important.”

RUTH LENOX FLIPS THROUGH her scrapbook containing news articles and photos from her time on the Strawberry Court.

Though closing in on 100, Lenox maintains a sharp memory and stays nearly as independent as she can — a trait she’s carried all her life.
She worked until she was about 80 years old and stayed on her farm until her mid-90s. She can even boast her original teeth.
“That’s kind of unbelievable,” Lenox said about the latter. “We didn’t have any care for them. We didn’t have fillings or pulls or fluoride.”
While that may be a questionable recommendation for having great teeth, Adams can say that her sister’s secret to a long life is hard work and thorough enjoyment of being on the farm with her animals and horses.
“She was always just a hard-working lady,” Adams said.


THE STRAWBERRY CORONATION was a grand affair in 1941 at the high school auditorium. (photo courtesy of Ruth Lenox)