P.O. Box 116
Leavenworth, WA 98826
P.O. Box 116, Leavenworth, WA 98826
By Nevonne McDaniels
Carol Forhan is well-acquainted with the mystery behind the annual Royal Lady “Reveal.”
As the owners of The Leavenworth Echo since 2000, she and her husband Bill have worked with the Royal Ladies of the Autumn Leaves since 2001 to build anticipation and pull off the surprise introduction at the annual Royal Lady Banquet.
The Royal Lady represents the Bavarian Village on the festival circuit that encompasses the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, riding atop Leavenworth’s Autumn Leaf Festival float in parades and attending official festival functions at each of the host communities.
Carol Forhan has helped arrange exclusive interviews with the Royal Lady-to-be for a front-page story in the Echo’s weekly edition, timed to be published the day after the banquet. Hot off the press, advance copies featuring the Royal Lady interview and photo are distributed at the banquet that Tuesday evening as part of the reveal ceremony.
Residents and business owners familiar with the newspaper’s participation know Forhan is privy to the new Royal Lady’s identity. Every year she faces a gauntlet of questions from those seeking insider information.
For years, she has smiled, nodded and adeptly changed the subject.
This year, keeping the secret required a whole new level of subterfuge.
Forhan is the 2016 Royal Lady, an honor she accepted in October after a visit from Helen Rayfield.
“She came to the office. I thought we were going to talk about the Cascade Medical Center Foundation,” Forhan said.
Behind closed doors, Rayfield, Royal Lady in 1994, broached an entirely different subject, saying the Ladies of the Autumn Leaves selection committee put Forhan’s name at the top of the 2016 nominee list.
“She said, ‘You represent the town. You have been here a long time. You’ve been on numerous boards and committees and you represent Leavenworth,” Forhan said. “And, I said, ‘Well, that’s true.’ And then I started crying. I was just blown away. I never thought I would be a Royal Lady. It is such an honor, but with my jobs, I never put that together.”
Rayfield gave her a day to think about it.
“I knew it was a time commitment. They do a lot of parades,” Forhan said. “I know they go out of town a lot, including Canada. I thought, ‘Can I do this?'”
Forhan is the advertising director for The Echo, Cashmere Valley Record, Lake Chelan Mirror, Quad City Herald, all weekly newspapers, and the monthly Wenatchee Business Journal, all of which the Forhans own as NCW Media Inc.
She has served on the boards of Mountain Meadows Assisted Living and The Upper Valley Museum and has been a member of the Leavenworth Women’s Club. She is currently a board member of the Autumn Leaf Festival Association.
She also is an ordained deacon at St. James Episcopal Church in Cashmere, which she has done for nine years. For the past year she has served on the Commission on Ministry for the Diocese of Spokane.
Comparing the parade lineup with her own schedule, she decided she could make it work.
Once she accepted the commitment, the shroud of secrecy added to the fun and the challenge, she said.
Her first task was selecting a past Royal Lady to serve as Royal Lady Companion, to help guide her through the initial preparation for the announcement, which included getting a formal dress made and official photos taken. When the festival season gets underway, the companion also helps with the logistics of getting the Royal Lady in the right place at the right time at the dozen or so festivals throughout the year.
Forhan asked Margaret Marson to fill that role. Marson served as Royal Lady in 2004 and also served as companion to 2012 Royal Lady Sandy Siegert.
“She told me, ‘We’re going to have a lot of fun,’” Forhan said. “I said, ‘That’s what I’m expecting to do. Have a lot of fun.”
Forhan, at Marson’s suggestion, asked Mary Rose, a noted seamstress, to make the dress Forhan will wear at official festival functions, the first of which was the Royal Lady Banquet, March first. Rose has provided sewing services for Royal Ladies in the past, so is familiar with the stealth requirement. Rose helped Forhan select a pattern, including apron and buttons to meet the Bavarian theme, and the fabric, in green and blue. In addition to the formal dress, Forhan has ordered some more casual dirndls (Bavarian dresses) she can wear on the float.
Forhan said she expects to find out more about “the wave” and will seek advice from other Royal Ladies between the banquet and the first festival — the Tacoma Daffodil Parade April 9.
Once the final touches were added to the formal dress, photos followed. Heidi Swoboda of Swoboda Photography, also familiar with the need to keep the royal secret, took the official portraits, a standing pose that will hang in City Hall and the seated pose with flowers that appears in the newspaper and other publicity materials.
“I had to go get my nails done and my hair done. I had to fib about that,” Forhan said of the danger averted when her stylist made a comment that she had just been in.
“I told her we were having photos at church,” she said. “So, yes, not even my hair dresser knows.”
The Forhans’ family were let in on the secret last week and reminded not to post anything on Facebook, a relatively new danger in spilling the beans. They have two sons (David in Olympia and Michael in California) and four grandchildren, with a fifth on the way.
The next big challenge was trying to maintain appearances at the banquet itself.
“Bill and I have gone to every Royal Lady banquet for 15 years to take pictures and bring the papers with the picture of the Royal Lady,” she said. “The hard part of this is, if we’re not there, people will get suspicious.”
The announcement is made at the end of dinner, so usually the Royal Lady remains unseen, behind closed doors until the Reveal.
“This time, I will have to play it coy,” Forhan said. “Bill and I have made our reservations. We are sitting by the door. Bill is going to sing, which he has done a couple of times in the past. I will say I forgot the newspapers, so I have to leave to get them.”
She will do a quick change into her dress and then get in place for the announcement.
“I’m a little nervous about this,” she said. “It’s been fun. I’m just glad it’s coming to the end of this part.”
Once the secret is out, the next stage of her duties begins — sharing Leavenworth’s story and inviting people to town in general and to the Autumn Leaf Festival in particular.
Her message: “Please come and enjoy Leavenworth. We have something for everyone. We have great food and entertainment. It’s just fun. With all of our different festivals, you can’t miss.”
She understands from first-hand experience that not everyone realizes what Leavenworth is about.
The Forhans were attracted to Leavenworth and its Bavarian theme, having lived in Germany when Bill was serving in the Army.
“We were able to move here because we bought the newspaper, but it was that fascination with the Bavarian culture that caught our interest,” she said.
“Of course, there wasn’t really the culture here. It’s the style. I didn’t know that at first. I thought people spoke German here, I really did.”
Based on calls received at the newspaper office over the years, others have a different take on the Bavarian Village.
“We had one guy call from Florida asking what time the gates open. I guess he thought we were like Disney World. I told him, ‘Well, the gates are always open. In fact, we don’t have gates. We are a working town.’ We just chuckled,” she said.
Past Royal Ladies of the Autumn Leaves