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55th year of pageantry Saturday evening

When the first Screven County Livestock Festival queen was crowned in 1953, she rode a horse.
“It was very simple then,” said Jerry Smith Gentry, who was 13 when she won the title. “We rode a horse, dressed in Western wear. There was no talent, no evening wear, no interviews.”
She still has the crown – actually a necklace that was wired upside down to look like a crown -- and rodeo flag. She sat on a platform at the rodeo and didn’t do much else as queen. She was in Italy when the second pageant was held a year later and her sister stood in for her and crowned the next queen.
“I was the queen. That was it,” she said. She went on to be a wife and mother and has three children and three grandchildren and lives in Clarks Hill, S.C.
By the time her daughter, Huldah Gentry Beckton, won the pageant in 1984, it was more of a beauty pageant. “She knew how to ride (a horse) but that wasn’t part of the competition,” Gentry said.
When Pamma Williams Cope was crowned in 1963, she also rode a horse. “Everyone had to ride a horse,” she said. “That was part of the fun.”
That year, part of the competition was a game of musical chairs, only with horses. Contestants rode horses around a number of boxes. When the music stopped, the girls would scramble down from their horses and climb up on the boxes. Each round, one box would be removed. The last girl standing on a box would win the contest.
“It wasn’t a beauty pageant at all,” Cope said. “Who wins is who rides the best – who looks good and has a pretty outfit.”
As queen, Cope led the Screven County Livestock Festival parade, riding on a horse. Cope said she also rode a horse in parades for nearby festivals including the watermelon festival in Estill, S.C., and the Claxton Rattlesnake Roundup.
“It’s a nice memory that I’ll keep forever,” said Cope, who lives in Statesboro and has three children and three grandchildren. “It was wonderful. It was a big thing back then.”
By the time Kristan Strickland Smoak became queen in 1999, it was more of a beauty pageant. Smoak did a comedy sketch as her talent.
“I don’t know much about cows, pigs, goats,” she said. “I was really kind of scared of them to be honest with you.” But she became more comfortable during her reign as she gave awards at livestock shows.
“I liked it,” she said of the overall experience of being queen. “To be famous for a while was kind of cool.” These days she is a secretary at First United Methodist Church in Sylvania and has two children.
Being a Screven County Livestock Festival queen is a lifelong honor. All the former queens have their names printed in the pageant program and in the newspaper each year. They’re given free tickets to the pageants and those who attend are asked to stand and be recognized.
“Once you’re a queen, you’re always a queen,” said Dale Reddick, director of this year’s pageant.