Like many other traditions, the May Day Festival has changed throughout the years.
What used to be a large-scale, in-person production has been moved to a virtual event since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Despite the changes to the event, the grace and poise of the May Day Queens endures.
Lisa (Gambrell) Johnson, the 1981 May Day Queen, said her experience as queen centered more around the actual ceremony.
“It was mainly the whole getting ready for May Day – getting photographers, dresses for teas, dresses for the program, said Johnson. “It was a hectic time, but it was a fun time.”
While she enjoyed the process leading up to the festival, Johnson said that her favorite memory was the ceremony itself.
“My favorite memory of May Day would be the actual ceremony where the elementary kids performed,” said Johnson. “You could tell they put a lot of time into it with the costumes and the dances. That was probably my favorite part.”
Johnson said that she particularly enjoyed watching the young performers because they were really, really cute.
Johnson said that over the past 40 years, aspects of the festival have changed.
“Everything is different now. I think now from things I see on Facebook and things I see like in the paper and stuff; they are more involved in the community now than we were,” said Johnson.
She said looking back on her experiences, her advice to the new queen would be, “Enjoy her time, not to get all stressed about it. Just enjoy it.”
Twenty years after Johnson was crowned, Ashley (Hart) Byrson was named the 2001 May Day Queen.
“It was just an exciting experience and it allowed me to connect with very influential women within the community,” said Bryson. “It gave me an outlet to be able to give back and to get involved.”
Bryson said that she has remained involved with the May Day festivities since her reign.
“After [being crowned] we are privileged enough that when May Day festivities go on, we have a VIP area that the Ossoli Club prepares for all the queens of the past to come and meet and greet and socialize and look back through the albums for the years,” said Bryson.
She said the opportunity allows the queens to catch up with the queens prior to their reign and those that came after.
Her favorite part of being May Day Queen was realizing that regardless of who you are the possibilities of what you can accomplish are endless, said Bryson.
Her advice for the new queen is, “I would advise her to just cherish the moments. Build on the relationships and the opportunities that it sets forward for her to just take it all in because it is such a grand experience and it does pass by very quickly.”
Johnson said that despite the changes to the tradition, the May Day Festivities continue to happen.
“I am glad that they are able to do that [virtually]. I hated to see it just stopped like a lot of other traditions, but these women in the Ossoli Club have made it to where they have been able to continue that through the pandemic. That is a big deal. It would have been just as easy for them to say, ‘hey, we are not doing it.’,” said Johnson. “They are very committed. It’s a strong tradition and they were going to make sure that it continues.