By Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
AND THE WINNER IS – The 41st edition of the Durand Railroad Days festival kicked off Friday, March 11 with the crowning of this year’s royalty. Shown here after receiving their crowns are: (front, from left) Princess Jenna Wilburn and Prince Joseph Earegood; along with (back, from left) Queen Sophie Pawloski and Attendant Carly Gross. (Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
The 2016 Railroad Days royalty was announced during a special crowning ceremony Friday, March 11 at Durand Union Station in front a packed house in the upstairs ballroom. Last year’s queen, attendant, prince, and princess were all on hand to crown this year’s ambassadors in advance of the Railroad Days celebration that will take place May 12 through 15.
The prince and princess contests were decided by a community vote, as each candidate placed a voting jar in a local business for residents to deposit money into. Each penny counted as one vote, with the proceeds generated by the prince candidates to benefit Railroad Days activities, and the proceeds from the princesses to benefit the charitable efforts of the Durand Lionesses. Conrad Towing sponsored the prince contest and the Durand Lioness Club sponsored the princess contest.
Eight-year-old Robert Kerr student Joseph Earegood was selected as the prince, narrowly edging out seven-year-old Daniel Casemore, a student at Bertha Neal Elementary. Earegood was sponsored by Riverside Market and Casemore was sponsored by The Lodges of Durand.
Jenna Wilburn, an eight-year-old Robert Kerr student, emerged from a crowded field of nine princess contestants to claim the 2016 crown. She is the daughter of Andrew and Stacy Wilburn of Lennon, and she was sponsored by Coffield Oil-Marathon of Durand. The nine princess contestants raised an impressive $5,200 that the Durand Lioness Club will give back to the community.
Sophie Pawloski, a 17-year-old Durand High School senior, was named queen, and Carla Gross, a 16-year-old sophomore at Durand High School, was named attendant. All four queen candidates boasted impressive resumes, but Pawloski and Gross may have distinguished themselves with their speeches. Pawloski was sponsored by Shaw’s Pharmacy, and Gross was sponsored by Papa Joe’s. The contestants were judged by Janet Amidon, Jan Brownson, Tonya Conrad, Ted Hamilton, Sue Hatherill, Kay Olson, Pastor Steve Wood, and Railroad Person of the Year Neil Randall.
While the queen candidates normally get most of the spotlight during the crowning ceremony, outgoing prince Elijah Mogg kind of stole the show with his farewell address. He and his mother, Jolin, had been rehearsing his speech for weeks, and he was prepared to tell the 2016 prince to have as much fun as he did during his year as prince. Instead, the Robert Kerr student surprised his mother and delighted the crowd by ad-libbing a bit and telling Earegood to “watch out for all the girls.” Jolin assured the Independent that the young ladies’ man came up with the line all by himself, and both the outgoing queen, Tatianna Fraley, and attendant, Harper Gross, confirmed Elijah’s status as a smooth talker during their tandem farewell address.