St. Mary’s honors past farm queens, Miss FBs
CALIFORNIA, Md. — They may not call them “farm queens” anymore, but the directors from the St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau treated their past Farm Queens and Miss County Farm Bureaus like royalty at a recent luncheon.
“We wanted to recognize and thank all of our former farm queens for their service to Farm Bureau and try to encourage the ones who weren’t members to rejoin and to reengage them as members,” said Jamie Raley, past president of the St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau.
Twenty-three women gathered for a luncheon on March 23 at the Elk’s Lodge.
Among them was Marion Pilkerton Mills, the 1955 St. Mary’s County Farm Queen and most senior of those in attendance.
She was joined by her three sisters Marie Pilkerton Garner (1958), Louise Pilkerton Jones (1963 and 1964) and Kathleen Pilkerton Davis (1966), who shared the Farm Queen title.
There were several sets of sisters and mother daughter Farm Queen pairs in the room.
The women shared their stories and experiences. A common theme was that farming taught them valuable skills and made them lifelong friendships.
Mary Bowles Van Ryswick, the 1992 St. Mary’s County Farm Queen said the program changed her life.
“That’s where I met my husband,” Van Ryswick said. “He asked me to dance and I said yes. Now I’m the mother of the new Farm Queen. Thank you for helping me create this life.”
Van Ryswick’s daughter, Sara Van Ryswick, a sophomore at Leonardtown High School, is a former Junior Miss St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau and the current Miss St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau. She will compete at the Maryland State Fair this August in the Miss Maryland Agriculture contest.
The contest has evolved over the years and the name was changed from the Maryland Farm Queen to Miss Maryland Agriculture in 2002.
The St. Mary’s County contest dates back to 1946, which is the same year that the Maryland State Fair reopened after a three-year suspension when the fairgrounds were being used by the U.S. Army during World War II.
The St. Mary’s County Farm Queen that year, Edith Russell Bilchark was also crowned the Maryland Farm Queen in 1946.
Two other women from St. Mary’s County, Crystal Hayden Myslinski (1983) and Gabrielle Cory (2013) have since followed in Bilchark’s footsteps to take home the state’s top honor.
“Back then, it was something to aspire to and all you got was a fancy crown, a sash and a box of roses” said Marbeth Raley, the 1976 Charles County Farm Queen and past chair of the Miss St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau program.
Today, the young women compete for thousands of dollars in scholarships.
“We love this program and work so hard to get these young ladies ready for leadership roles,” said Chris Catterton, chair of the Maryland Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee.
“We teach them important skills like how to write a resume and thank you notes, public speaking, and give them hands-on farm experiences,” Catterton said, noting that this year’s Miss Maryland Agriculture will win up to $14,000 in scholarship money for continuing education.
Cory, 2013 Miss St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau and 2013 Miss Maryland Agriculture said the contest helped her become the person she is today.
“It was a truly amazing experience,” she said. “I was a junior in high school and one of the youngest competitors. I never had the intent of winning.
“That was one of the wonderful things that came out of it.”
The scholarship money helped Cory pay for her education at the University of Maryland where she majored in Agriculture Science and Technology.
She said she hopes to teach agriculture education at the high school level.
But not all of the women wanted to stay in agriculture.
Frances “Frannie” Thompson, 1957 St. Mary’s County Farm Queen, said she couldn’t wait to get away from her family’s tobacco farm.
“I swore I would never marry a farmer,” she said. “And it was my job to make biscuits; I had to make them twice a day. So when I got married, I told my husband I would never make him biscuits.”
Catherine Davis Fowler, 1956 St. Mary’s County Farm Queen, said the memory of the state fair contest has haunted her for decades.
It was down to her and one other young woman in the competition and the judge asked if the ladies had made the dresses they were wearing.
“Of course I’d made my own gowns and I had some at home but I didn’t think to bring one, so I answered no. The other girl of course said yes,” Fowler said.
And then the final question the judge asked was what the ladies liked to do for fun.
“She said to cook and I said to waterski. I didn’t win,” said Fowler. “I’ve gone over that moment a million times in my mind. What was I thinking?”
Fowler wore her 1957 sash to the event and thanked the St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau for hosting the luncheon.
“It makes me feel young again,” she said.
Sallie Springer Studds, 1980 St. Mary’s County Farm Queen, traveled from Florida to attend the event. She works at the Kennedy Space Center and manages funds that run the center’s environmental programs among others.
“Being on the farm, knowing hard work, has helped me get to where I am today,” she said.
Brian Thomas, Sr., the president of the St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau thanked past president Raley for his vision and leadership in organizing the event and thanked the women for attending.
“I am so proud to be here and excited to do this,” Thomas said. “We talked about the good times and that’s what I remember too.
“But development in this county is coming in hard and its coming in strong. Without our voice it’s going to keep coming.”
Thomas said that there is a vibrant youth group active in St. Mary’s County agriculture and he hoped that the people at the luncheon would help harness that enthusiasm through involvement in the Farm Bureau.
All of the women were presented with the St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau Ambassador award and a special pin to recognize their leadership in representing agriculture and commitment to St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau.
Jamie Raley reminded the women who were there that their Farm Bureau membership was important, even if they weren’t still actively farming.
With the change in the relationship between Maryland Farm Bureau and Nationwide Insurance, Raley cautioned that St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau could lose as much as two-thirds of its membership in coming years due to non-renewing associate members.
“Every one of you has told your story today and it was wonderful,” Raley said. “I hope that you will continue to tell your stories of what you were and continue to be.”
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