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What It Means To Be Queen

Living an extraordinary life...


by Sara Vogt, Chloe Quimby - June 23, 2015

The Pennsylvania State Laurel Pageant has been a Laurel Festival tradition since the festival’s initiation in 1938. Since that time, seventy-four beautiful young ladies have been crowned the Laurel Queen. This week, Wellsboro Home Page had the privilege of speaking with one former “royal” who won the pageant in 1965.

“‘I am just so ordinary, looking around here, they all have beautiful clothes on and I am just me,’” Jean Ritchie remembers remarking when she first arrived in Wellsboro in 1965. She was surrounded by sixty-some other beautiful candidates, who she viewed as much more likely to win than herself. Yet for an ordinary woman, Ritchie has lead an extraordinary life!

Ritchie vivaciously recounted her pageant experience, recalling laughingly that her mother wouldn’t allow her to buy new clothes for the event. “‘Nobody will have ever seen these clothes before, Jean,’” she quotes her mother as having said. “‘Just go and be who you are.’” And that’s what she did. Fifty years later, she advises that modern pageant ladies do the same.

She further counseled today’s contestants to enjoy getting to know each other and other pageant participants. “Especially the people that are older than you are,” she adds sagaciously, “to talk to them to find out what their life has been like…you learn a rich bit of history by just talking to them.”

Ritchie credits her crowning with having a positive impact on her self-esteem. However, the primary lesson she received was that, in her own words, “Ordinary people can have wonderful lives.” As the 1965 Laurel Queen, Jean Ritchie certainly has lived a wonderful life, as evidenced by her passion to serve others.

About fifteen years ago, Ritchie began a ministry in her church called “Mugs and Muffins.” The ministry is a monthly Bible study and prayer/support group of between thirty and forty ladies from their community and other surrounding communities. Mugs and Muffins gathers on Saturday mornings in Ritchie’s home to study Bible topics and share needs. Most recently, they have been studying the gifts God provides through His indwelling Holy Spirit, and how they can use these gifts to be effective in their walk with God.

Around the same time Mugs and Muffins began, Ritchie and her husband Phil Ritchie embarked on some major remodeling projects, including building a stand-alone, two-car garage. “We wanted to create a space that we could entertain out-of-town guests in which they would not feel that they were intruding on us, and that we would not feel [we were] intruding on them,” Ritchie explains. Thus, they added a guest room above their garage for that express purpose.

Along the way, Ritchie and her husband realized that some of the young couples in their Sunday school class needed a place of retreat where they could get away for a few nights. To meet the need, they opened up their guestroom to anyone who could do with a break from the routine of work and children. There is no TV or internet access—it’s just a place where couples can regroup and reconnect. Many have used it, and some have returned several times.

Additionally, since retirement, Ritchie has been volunteering at several nursing homes, where she plays piano and sings with the residents. They love to sing hymns and the popular songs of the ‘10s, ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and even the ‘50s. “I have learned that even individuals with dementia are able to recall the tunes and words from many years ago!” Ritchie says.

Jean and her husband look after four of their six grandchildren every Friday. Two of their grandchildren are home-schooled, so they help with the kids’ studies on Fridays. “This keeps us young (and tired),” Ritchie quips, “and it gives our daughter-in-law a day off.”

As a couple, their hobby is their flower gardens. They love the rich variety of plants that God has created, and enjoy creating and maintaining beautiful areas of flowers, hostas, and ferns in their yard. They also love to share the beauty of nature with those around them.

It is clear from her laudable lifestyle that Ritchie hasn’t stopped enjoying a wonderful, ordinary life since her coronation in 1965. As a commendable role model and former-Laurel Queen besides, it seems more than likely she will continue the admirable trend.

“The picture is of my parents – Harold and Helen Crouse – and my grandparents, J. Paul and Carrie Fogelsanger. All are deceased.” – Jean Ritchie


Writing: Sara Vogt, Chloe Quimby


Produced by Vogt Media

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