PIECES OF THE PAST: Celebrating a Special Centennial

Tacy CalliesMiss Florida Citrus, Pieces of the Past

LaVoyce Leggett (center), 1966

By Brenda Eubanks Burnette

One hundred years ago, in February of 1924, a young woman named Dorothy Williamson was chosen as Florida’s first Citrus Queen. Since that time, numerous young women have vied for the title and have promoted the Florida citrus industry throughout the world. To celebrate the centennial, the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame has interviewed many of these industry representatives. Visit FloridaCitrusHallofFame.com/MFC to view the videos.

The Florida Citrus Queen/Miss Florida Citrus Centennial Celebration will be March 1–2 at Nora Mayo Hall in Winter Haven, where many of the pageants were held during the Florida Citrus Exposition. On March 1, the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Induction Luncheon at Florida Southern College will host those women who can attend, and the 2024 Miss Florida Citrus will be chosen that evening — complete with a 100th anniversary commemorative crown. The Centennial Gala will be held the evening of March 2to celebrate the promotional contributions made by these iconic industry representatives.

The Florida Citrus Hall of Fame fellowship students have been working on the queen biographies, showing that many have gone on to successful careers of their own. The first, Dorothy Williamson, was born on March 8, 1902, in Winter Haven. She was the daughter of Francis E. Williamson, owner of Winter Haven’s Ritz Theater and was 22 years old when she was crowned. She received the honor alongside the one and only Citrus King, Harvey Henderson. She went on to become the president of Winter Haven’s Business and Professional Women’s Club before passing away at the age of 41.

Frances Layton was the 1957 Florida Citrus Queen and married Richard Pope Jr. Together, they helped the Pope family turn Cypress Gardens into one of Florida’s early tourism powerhouses. She still lives in Winter Haven and is active in her church and community.

Ann Daniel was the 1964 Florida Citrus Queen and Miss Florida, going on to become first runner-up to Lee Ann Meriwether at Miss America with an awe-inspiring performance on her accordion. She married her Florida Southern College sweetheart, John Adams, and lives in Winter Haven.

Karol Kelly was the 1965 Florida Citrus Queen. She and her husband, Fred Bullard, own The Karol, a successful boutique hotel in St. Petersburg named after her and featuring promotional photos from her year as queen. She crowned LaVoyce Leggett, who married Lanier Porter and together have a successful insurance business in Longwood. They have been involved for many years with the Miss America and Miss Florida organizations and helped revive the Miss Florida Citrus title in 2015.

Sonya Lynn Surrency, 1975

Sonya Surrency was the 1975 Florida Citrus Queen and has inspired numerous lives as a math teacher. During her tenure, she escaped a fire at her hotel and ended up in the street dressed in her pajamas, robe and slippers! She lives in Tampa with her husband and is helping with the upcoming Centennial Celebration, as is Lisa Maille, the 1977 Florida Citrus Queen, who runs a successful image and consulting firm in Orlando.

The first Miss Florida Citrus was Lori Schirard, in 1984, who helped run the pageant in the 1990s and had a successful citrus business for many years. She now runs an equine rescue shelter in Sebring and is also working on the Centennial Celebration, as is Mandy Hancock, who traveled throughout the world as Miss Florida Citrus in 1981 before working with Florida’s Natural Growers in their marketing department. She lives in Winter Haven with her husband Brian and helps run their business, Jarrett Ford.

There are many more we could reflect on, but there is not enough space here, so please visit the website to catch up on yet another legacy of the citrus industry — Florida Citrus Queen/Miss Florida Citrus!

Happy New Year! I hope you’ll make plans to join us March 1–2.

Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.