News Columns & Blogs

Lynden teen took the cake as 1948 strawberry queen

Deloris Wood’s tidy apartment is filled with photographs, scrapbooks and poster boards with details from her life as a Lynden girl, a homemaker, the mother of seven children, and someone who dealt with the public in a variety of jobs, including operating motels with her husband, Jim Wood.

They also detail a rare, royal moment in her life 60 years ago.

When she was 16, Deloris Maxine Estie was an outgoing, articulate junior at Lynden High School. She also was Lynden’s first Strawberry Festival queen.

She rode high on a float that led 95 other entries in the festival parade on June 12, 1948, a sunny Saturday.

She gave public talks on the need for strawberry pickers, and traveled to other community events in the Northwest.

“You got to go everywhere,” said Deloris, who now lives at Orchard Park Assisted Living on West Orchard Drive.

She moved there a few months ago to be near her husband. He lives nextdoor at Courtyard Dementia Care Community.

Strawberries were tops in Whatcom County when Deloris was young.

“That’s what dominated the berry industry here for most of the first part of the century,” said Henry Bierlink, executive director of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission, form-ed in 1976.

By 1948, local growers had 2,000 acres in strawberries, a $2 million crop. They needed 8,000 people to pick all of those berries, but had only half that many workers ready to go.

To spread the word about the need for pickers, organizers cobbled together a festival.

Deloris was crowned May 22 after the mayors of Whatcom County chose her over three other young women. In addition to the honor, she received gifts from Lynden merchants: an RCA Victor portable radio and a 21-jewel Bulova watch.

At least 7,000 people — some reports say twice that many — packed the festival parade route along Front Street. Part of the attraction may have been the offer of free strawberry shortcake.

To serve the crowd, organizers baked a 5,000-pound shortcake, enough for 7,000 servings. The giant treat was on display in the parade.

Then, slices of the shortcake, along with 3,000 pounds of strawberries (sweetened with 600 pounds of sugar) and 150 pounds of whipped cream, were dispensed to the hungry horde from six serving tables.During the festival, planes dropped leaflets advertising the need for pickers. Fliers said pickers could earn up to $10 a day, at $1 per crate, which included a 20-cent bonus.

After the big beginning, the festival petered out after a few years, said Troy Luginbill, curator at Lynden Pioneer Museum.

Local strawberries are still around, but growers began shifting to raspberries in the 1960s and ’70s as California farmers got into strawberries big-time and as Washington labor laws deprived local berry growers of young pickers.

Today, Whatcom County has about 7,000 acres in raspberries, but only about 300 acres in strawberries, Bierlink said.

This Friday and Saturday, Lynden will celebrate its 11th Raspberry Festival, with tournaments, children’s activities, raspberries with ice cream, and a motorcycle parade.

“As far as I know, we’ve never had a raspberry queen,” said Gary Vis, director of the Lynden Chamber of Commerce.