Strawberry Princess Diana Neilson

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Diana Marie Neilson, 18, is the daughter of retired military veterans Gordon and Darlene Neilson. Her siblings include Madeline, Graham, Gregory and Matthew.
She was born in Arizona, but spent most of her life in Jacksonville, N.C., where her family lived on a Marine Corps base. Neilson was 15 when they moved to Lebanon.
“Moving when you’re 15 is definitely a little bit hard because you have your friend base established and you have your life kind of mapped out – well, as mapped out as much as a 15-year-old could think,” Neilson said.
But it got better, “especially because Lebanon is just so welcoming,” she said.
She does, however, miss having a Chic-fil-A nearby.
Her parents had lived in Lebanon before she was born. In fact, her brother Gregory was born here while their dad was working as a military recruiter in the city.
“My mom and dad always said, ‘We’re going to go back to Lebanon because that’s where we want to live after we retire.’ It took about 15 years to get back, but they finally did it,” she said.
Though being home-schooled her entire life, Neilson didn’t have trouble building a new network of friends. She met people at church and by playing for the soccer team at Lebanon High School.
“I have been a die-hard soccer junkie since I was about 4 years old,” she said.
She played the sport with her family, and joined “multiple” club teams, including one in Albany. She also did cross-country for a few years.
As a home schooler, Neilson didn’t have some of the opportunities public school students have. But she participated in team policy debate in Sweet Home, and took photography classes through Linn-Benton Community College.
She also participated in church activities and volunteered at the veteran’s home.
“I’m grateful we live in a town where we have the VA home, and they take such amazing care of our veterans,” she said.
With parents who served in the military, she takes pride in the fact, and finds she wants to help veterans.
“Sometimes they’re not forgotten about, but they’re definitely overlooked, so it’s just something I’d like to commit more time to,” she said.
Though there are three Marine Corps bases in the “gigantic and bustling and crazy all the time” city of Jacksonville, she finds the smaller community of Lebanon is more patriotic, and it’s easier to meet people she’d want to be friends with, she said.
Neilson plans on attending Linn-Benton Community College to complete the diagnostic imaging program. After she gets her x-ray certifications, she might move on to sonography.
“I always thought it would be really cool to be a sonographer and show moms their little tiny babies,” she said.
There are a lot of reasons why Neilson wanted to be a Strawberry Princess, she said. She had friends who were on the court last year, and she saw how happy they were to be a part of it.
At that point, she didn’t know much about what it entailed, so she researched and asked around.
“I found out everything that it stood for, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s definitely something I would like to do.’”
She realized a lot of little girls look up to the princesses and aspire to be like them, she said. Neilson wanted to be one of those who could inspire the younger generation.
She also liked how being on the court put the princesses in a position to represent Lebanon and be out in the community more, she said.
“You get to look pretty, but it’s more than just looking pretty. You’re showing them who you are. You’re opening yourself up to the entire town. You’re becoming more vulnerable, I guess,” Neilson said.
For her, that means showing both girls and boys that they have to be true to who they are and that they should do the things they want to do, she said.
“It’s really important to show people that you can do almost anything you want to do,” she said.