Whitehouse Preparing For 30th YesterYear Celebration
By KELLY GOOCH
When the Whitehouse YesterYear festival debuted nearly 30 years ago, the goal was to get community members involved in celebrating the town's heritage.
Decades later, that goal is still accomplished annually through pageantry and entertainment, current and former organizers said.
YesterYear began in 1983 after Whitehouse High School seniors interviewed elderly community members, most of which were in their 70s, about their lives and life in Whitehouse for a class project, said Linda Rash, a senior English teacher at the time.
She said she saw a special passion between the two generations during that process because the students enjoyed the senior citizens' unique stories, and the senior citizens liked having someone who wanted to listen to them.
"We had a day where all (the people they) interviewed got to come to school, and each student presented the person they interviewed ..." Ms. Rash said. "From that, our goal was that the community would take that and go with it and do whatever, and it did from then on."
The first event occurred on June 25, 1983, and "took you on a trip down nostalgia lane," according to a YesterYear booklet.
A street parade, games, live music at City Park, a noon barbecue, craft demonstrations such as lye soap making, basket weaving and churning, a Texas shootout featuring "real-life" outlaws and a street dance were among the festivities.
Sightseeing tours in a mule wagon also were available, and visitors could ride in antique cars or a horse and buggy, according to a YesterYear booklet.
The second celebration is described in the booklet as one that "turned back the hands of time" to choose Ms. YesterYear and duchesses in an unair-conditioned auditorium. Clara Warren Phelps served as the first Ms. YesterYear, and money from the pageant and other YesterYear activities went toward funding the city library, Sylvia Reel, then-coordinator of the pageant, said in the booklet.
In the years since, organizers have taken away different things from the celebration.
Teresa Hughes said for her, the consistency of great performances in the revue talent showcase stands out.
"It surprises me every year how many wonderful people become involved, from dancers ... to instrumentalists. It amazes me how much talent is in East Texas," she said.
"We've always featured local talent performing alongside the pageantry. There's a storyline, so when we finish the show, the theme has developed the storyline with actors who pull you through, so you leave with an entire experience of what the theme is."
One of her favorite themes was "A glimpse of grandma's garden."
Susan Shivers, who helped with script writing for probably six or seven years, became involved with the celebration in 1999, one year before the revue was added.
She said there was usually a carnival in the park and a parade, but the revue and coronation and ball were added as a way to get more community involvement and showcase local talent.
"Some of the most fun times is when we'd get together, those of us writing the script, and we would try to make it very appropriate and specific to Whitehouse," Ms. Shivers said. "It was always very lighthearted. It wasn't meant to be serious at all. We would have a lot of fun writing scripts and intertwining the scripts with little tidbits of history from Whitehouse and little tidbits of some of the Whitehouse businesses that we'd intertwine in the scripts."
She said a script that got big laughs was one that involved a family traveling. The family's car broke down, and a local mechanic stepped from behind the curtain to help.
"Just little things like that that are so lighthearted and funny. It was always enjoyable to see people enjoy good, clean humor based on the local community ..." Ms. Shivers said.
"I think the YesterYear Organization has made every effort to make it current with what people are interested in. The board has always been open to any new idea."
This year's theme is "A Night to Be Treasured." The revue is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday in the Whitehouse High School auditorium, 901 E. Main St., followed by the gala.
Mr. and Mrs. YesterYear Jerry and Jenny McFadden will be presented, along with the 2012 royal court, Ms. Hughes said. The gala will feature light finger foods and music from Darren Cable and The Upscale Band.
Ms. Rash said she's pleased the community has gone so far with the event over the years and that the 1983 interviews can still be read in a published book.
"I have one of the books and looked at it often. So many we interviewed at the time have now passed on, but as long as the book is around, their story is still a part of it," she said.
She added, "I'm just extremely proud of what they're doing because I think the history of a community is always important -- those senior citizens who helped make it what it is as well as the new generation coming up."