Hancock County

Bay St. Louis gathers 30 past homecoming queens

BAY ST. LOUIS -- When Lillian Olson Schaeffer Baxter was crowned homecoming queen in Bay St. Louis, gas was about 18 cents per gallon, "Gone with the Wind" had just won an Oscar for Best Picture and if she wanted to see a movie it would have cost her about 10 cents at the movie theater on Beach Boulevard.

Bay St. Louis was different, too. At the time, Hancock County had about as many people -- 11,328 -- as Bay St. Louis alone today. Her graduating class in 1940 had 39 people and she attended the same school from kindergarten through her senior year. When she was crowned homecoming queen, it was on the St. Stanislaus football field -- Bay High didn't have its own field, or a band -- and she wore simple school clothes while she walked across the field.

On Thursday, Baxter and eight other past Bay St. Louis homecoming queens were honored again in this year's homecoming parade. At Friday's homecoming football game, more than 30 queens will be in attendance and will be honored with special seating, crowns and corsages.

"It feels great. This brings back memories," Baxter said, sitting in a convertible, wearing a light-blue pant suit and holding a matching umbrella. "It was a long time ago but you never forget."

Baxter was the oldest former queen in attendance but it was the second-oldest at the parade who sort of jump-started the idea for the gathering.

Mittie Agnes Maskew Zengarling Smith graduated in 1950. Her daughter, Joyce Moran, said she had kicked around the idea of a gathering for a while but hadn't been able to get an early enough start to put it together.

But at last year's homecoming, Moran's son, the team's quarterback, was on the field and the announcer noted Zengarling Smith was in the stands.

"It made her so happy to have her name called out," Moran said, adding she wanted to be able to make such a reunion happen for her 84-year-old mother.

So this year, she used ads in the Sun Herald and Sea Coast Echo, Facebook posts and word of mouth to put together a list of all the homecoming queens dating to 1934. Then she started reaching out to the women.

Other homecoming queens in attendance Thursday were Sally Porter Cassagne, class of 1967; Debbie Weidman Heitzmann, 1968; Natalie Noonan Madigan, 1988; Tamera Labat Whavers, 1989; Ellen Felder Culpepper, 1995; Stephanie Sellier Schindler, 1997; and Suzy Thomas Gilmore, 1980.

On Thursday, Zengarling Smith also sat in a convertible and said she was excited about the upcoming events. She's lived in Bay St. Louis since before U.S. 90 existed, and raised five children there. She knows Baxter -- the two have attended church together for years.

In 1950, "I had a good life here. I did. I can't complain," she said.

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