PLANT CITY — Jessi Rae Varnum claimed a spot in local history Saturday when she was crowned Florida Strawberry Festival queen.
Her mother, Kay Newsome Varnum, was crowned queen in 1985. Only once before in the pageant’s more than 80-year history has a mother and daughter won the prestigious title.
Varnum, an 18-year-old Durant High senior, called it a “dream come true,” moments after she was crowned.
“It’s such an honor. I’ve dreamed of this my whole life,” she said.
Her mother was elated.
“God has blessed us so much with Jessi Rae who is such a sweet, gentle person,” Kay Varnum said.
Jessi’s grandfather, Joe Newsome, a strawberry festival board member for about 30 years, said he feels blessed too.
“She’s a fine Christian young lady, a good student and very humble. I’m very, very proud of her,” he said.
Newsome’s oldest daughter, Dee Newsome Parker, was first maid in 1983 and another of his granddaughters, Calli Jo Parker, was first maid in 2012.
The only other mother-daughter festival queen winners were Ruth Shuman Brown and Beckie Brown Klein, who won in 1954 and 1987, respectively.
Varnum, a 5-foot-7-inch brunette with green eyes, said she looks forward to being a role model to others now that she holds the title.
The queen represents the festival and, to an extent, the farmers who produce most of the nation’s winter strawberries on 9,000 acres in the Plant City area. Among other duties, the queen and her court help introduce headline acts and preside over festival competitions.
Varnum, whose father is Scott Varnum, was chosen from a field of 20 contestants.
Lindsey English was chosen first maid and court members included Macaley Barrow, Kallee Cook and Caitlyn Kent.
The festival will be Feb. 27-March 9.