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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Queen, court busy during Florida Strawberry Festival

PLANT CITY — Jessi Rae Varnum will be a familiar sight during the Florida Strawberry Festival.

The reigning strawberry festival queen traditionally plays many roles during the annual celebration of King Strawberry.

Varnum and court members including First Maid Lindsey English, Macaley Barrow, Kallee Cook and Caitlyn Kent will make five or six appearances a day during the festival’s run.

Their duties include introducing many of the headline acts, helping with livestock auctions and presiding over some festival contests, said Sandee Sytsma, who coordinates the schedules for the queen and court and escorts them to public appearances.

The festival queen is considered a prestigious honor in Plant City, where many girls grow up dreaming one day of wearing the crown. 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.

Varnum, 18, grew up attending the festival and entering animals in its livestock shows. The 5-foot-7 brunette with green eyes is the daughter of the 1985 queen, Kay Varnum.

Varnum is the cheerleading captain at Durant High School, and among other activities is vice president of student government, producer of the school morning television show and yearbook managing editor.

She was chosen from a field of 20 young women at a Jan. 25 pageant by a panel of five out-of-town judges. The annual contest, first held in 1930, is open to unmarried women ages 16 to 20 who live in the Plant City area.

The queen and court all attend either high school or college, and Sytsma works with their teachers to make sure they keep up with their studies while tending to their royalty duties during the 11-day festival.

Sytsma said Varnum, Barrow, Cook, English and Kent are looking forward to the festival.

“They are so anxious to represent the community and to do a good job,” Sytsma said. “I’ve worked with them since the day after the pageant and I know they’ll be terrific.”

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