Feb. 3—In January 1968, the first human heart transplant was performed, opposition to the war in Vietnam was growing across the nation and the North Vietnamese launched the decisive Tet Offensive.
History was being made in Pottsville, too.
On Jan. 27 of that year, 24 young women participated in the first Greater Pottsville Winter Carnival Pageant in the Necho Allen Hotel.
Though they could not have known it, the white-gowned contestants were starting a tradition as they were escorted into the Henry Clay Room by uniformed ROTC cadets from the Penn State Schuylkill campus.
Tonight, 55 years later, the mantle will be passed to another group of young women as the Greater Pottsville Winter Carnival pageant returns after a two-year hiatus due largely to the pandemic.
The Snowdrop and Snowflake princesses and Queen of Snows pageants will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday in the Pottsville Area High School auditorium. Following the pageants, a Royal Ball will be held from 8 to 11 p.m. in St. Nicholas Catering Hall, Minersville.
Two women who participated in the first pageant — Louise Noga Wachter and Carole Kutz Lee — shared memories of that eventful time.
Basking in the glow of royalty, even if for only a few precious moments, left an indelible imprint on their lives.
Wachter, the first Queen of Snows, recalls the excitement that surrounded the inaugural pageant.
"As we descended the hotel's grand staircase, people were everywhere," she said. "Some were even standing on the tables."
The Pottsville Republican estimated an overflow crowd of 1,000 attended the Coronation Ball in the hotel.
"The entire event was conducted with all the pageantry of a royal ceremony, from the crown bearer, Robert P. Davis Jr., to the man who commanded the scene from the regal throne, Winter Carnival King Bill Landry," the Republican reported.
The ball capped a series of winter-themed events that included ski jumps, ski races and "ski dances a sno-sno" at Sharp Mountain Ski Lodge. The Pottsville Community Players performed "Barefoot In The Park," and thousands lined Centre Street for a 3-hour parade on Jan. 20.
The Parade Spectacular of Living Color featured 20 bands, 20 floats and 20 princesses, as well as Miss Pennsylvania, a carnival brochure boasted.
Pageant princesses rode on floats arranged for by their sponsors.
Lee, who was sponsored by the Sharp Mountain Ski Club, wore a silver lame jacket sewn by her mother, Eva Kutz, of Schuylkill Haven, and sparkling white boots.
Mrs. Kutz also made her daughter's gown, a sleeveless A-line sheath, for the pageant.
"The pageant was like a fairy tale," recalled Lee, then a 20-year-old lab technician who'd graduated from Schuylkill Haven High School three years earlier.
She'd been quiet in high school, Lee said, and having to model in fashion shows, stand before judges and answer questions turned out to be confidence builders.
"The pageant brought me out of my shell," confided Lee, who has been involved in the pageant ever since and is currently in charge of the Snowdrops.
Queen of Snows contestants were interviewed on WPPA Radio and appeared on stage at the Capitol Theater with comedian Frank Fontaine, then a headliner. Known professionally as "Crazy Guggenheim," his television appearances included the Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason and Ed Sullivan shows.
The Capitol show was dedicated to big band leaders Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Schuylkill County natives. Their mother, Theresa Dorsey, was in the audience.
One of her most vivid memories, Wachter said, was presenting Mrs. Dorsey with a bouquet of red roses.
Mrs. Dorsey, who Wachter described as a gentle and humble woman, died six months later at age 93 in Mar Lin.
Wachter was sponsored by the Grace Shop, a fashionable women's clothing store at Centre and Norwegian streets. In the pageant, she wore a luxurious peau de soie silk gown with a jeweled bodice, courtesy of the Grace Shop.
Her mother, Julia Noga, a garment worker, had been listening to the pageant on the radio at the Mechanicsville fire company. When it was announced that she had been crowned queen, Wachter said, someone went to the fire company and brought her mother to the Necho Allen.
"My mom was over the moon," she recalled.
At the time, Wachter said, she was teaching first grade in the Yorkville elementary school in Pottsville. When she returned to school, her students gave her a reception fit for a queen.
"Seeing the joy on the kids' faces is one of my most precious memories," said Wachter, a retired college professor and principal of Blue Mountain Elementary School East.
Runner-up in the pageant was Kathleen Pedriani, of Port Carbon, sponsored by Mirawal Corp.
Finalists, in the order in which they were ranked, and their sponsors were:
Nancy Schlitzer, Pottsville Lions; Linda Wertz, Pomeroy's; Irene Bernosky, WPPA; Carole Kutz, Schuylkill Countaineers Ski Club; Francine Gaultiere, Yuengling Brewery.
All of the pageant participants, Lee recalled, were treated to a French weekend at the Chalfonte Haddon Hall Hotel on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.
The pageant was held at the Necho Allen Hotel for only one year. In 1969, it moved to Pottsville High School's auditorium.
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