Just like the White House welcoming Queen Elizabeth II, the Astoria Regatta Association rolled out the red carpet for Portland's Rose Festival Court Monday.
The purpose of the catered luncheon in the Maritime Museum's Kern Room was much the same - strengthening a relationship between two entities with much in common and a long history: This is the year the Rose Festival celebrates its centennial, while the Astoria Regatta turns 113.
The 14 Rose Festival princesses and their entourage were transported to the luncheon from Portland on their king-size bus, escorted the last few miles into town by police and fire vehicles. As they entered the museum, a long receiving line greeted them. Headed by Astoria Regatta Festival President Mike Sorkki and First Lady Julie Sorkki, the reception included the Astoria Regatta Ambassadors, the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival Court, Clatsop County Rodeo Court, Miss Clatsop County and Miss Clatsop Outstanding Teen, the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce "ambassadors," and an array of volunteers whose efforts, past and present, make the various festivals possible.
Having run the gauntlet, it was on to the Kern Room next. Guided by place cards, and entertained by the Astoria High School Orchestra Sextet, the 100-plus guests found their seats at the numbered tables, which were covered rather formally with white table cloths. The luncheon featured salads, seafood sandwiches and strawberry shortcake.
"It's been 20 years since we had a function like this," Regatta President Sorkki told the gathering of teenage royalty, their chaperones, local government officials and members of the several festival associations. Noting that the Regatta and the Rose Festival have always had a close relationship, Sorkki praised the court members and their accomplishments. "They're the best of the best," he said.
Naturally, the mood was festive. There were introductions all around, and performances and presentations by the Rose Festival Court members and the Regatta Ambassadors.
"I love luncheons like this because I get to meet people from everywhere," said Regatta Queen Stacy Law. "I think it's awesome to see other courts and festivals and to start a tradition back up again," agreed Rose Festival Princess Margaret Drew, seated next to Law.
Princess Natalie Stringer was glad the court made the trip to Astoria and was looking forward to the sightseeing scheduled after lunch. "I think it's important to make a connection between the different communities and recognize how blessed we are to be in Oregon," Stringer said.
The princesses took a ride on the Astoria Riverfront Trolley and a trip uphill to the Column before heading to Seaside, and then to Cannon Beach to spend the night. They were to head to Tillamook and points south, including a stop at Spirit Mountain Casino, before returning to Portland.
Charlene Larsen, chairwoman of the Astoria Regatta Association, played a big role in organizing Monday's function. She said the Regatta made a big change seven years ago. It was out with the Court, in with the Ambassadors.
"In 2000, we decided to expand the royalty and include boys and girls, so then the name was changed to ambassadors and we recruited the royalty from the five area high schools. Some years there's more boys, some years there's less, but it all depends on the interest of the kids," Larsen said.
Being a Regatta Ambassador is a valuable experience for young people, said Eric Paulson, a businessman who twice served as vice president of the Regatta Association and has also been Regatta Admiral. He said they learn public speaking skills and gain a new perspective as they travel to festivals throughout the Northwest.
"It really helps them in their future as far as just a growing process, and we've had some of our Regatta people who have really excelled in their future lives," Paulson said. "It's a wonderful opportunity for the court, and because it is the oldest festival west of the Rockies, it's important that it keeps going."
But Paulson said it takes a lot of time and effort, more time than he could spare from his business.
"It's not just the festival, but you're involved all year long, organizing parades and going to parades, and the festival itself. It's a huge responsibility. One of the reasons I never took the presidency is I couldn't travel to all the other festivals every weekend," Paulson said. "But the good part about the Regatta is it's still going on. There are people willing to make the commitment."
That kind of commitment by Regatta volunteers turns them into ambassadors for the city and often translates into economic benefits, including more tourism, said Sorkki, the Regatta Association's president.
"I don't know if we can put a count on how many people we bring in a year, but I know it's a big number," he said.