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Essays helps select first queen in 1963
Festival started as Simpson Lee Days
Almond-Early-queens-DSC 0460 edited-1a
Ripon Museum volunteer Connie Jorgensen displays a portrait of the first Almond Blossom Queen Cathy Chirstensen in 1963. - photo by GLENN KAHL

• WHAT: 51st annual Almond Blossom
• WHEN: Feb. 22-24 at Mistlin Sports Park
• MORE INFO: Go to or drop by the Ripon Chamber of Commerce office on Main Street.

The crowning of the first Almond Blossom Queen, Cathy Christensen, took place the second day of the festival in 1963, according to records in the Ripon Museum.

Because of the large Dutch population, Netherlands Consul General Van Ravenstein was asked to do the honors by crowning the queen. The other finalists were Wendie Feichtmeir and Charlene Lisenbee.

The selection of Ripon royalty focused on essays the young women wrote entitled, “What the Almond Industry Means to Ripon,” with more than a dozen girls competing for the title.  All but three were eliminated with a second judging naming the eventual winner to wear the crown.

The Saturday parade through the business district over 50 years ago brought 125 entries with an estimated 7,500 spectators lining the streets with Ripon’s population only a fraction of what it is today.

Floats depicting the almond industry along with marching units with musicians in full uniforms. Pioneer families were honored on a special float.

The California Almond Growers Exchange commodity display stood out in the Community Center along with the Nestle Company’s booth featuring the Nestle Almond Bars.

The centerpiece of the Nestle display was a huge chest filled with blanched and in-shell almonds.  The theme of the Nestle display was “Chocolate and Almonds go Together.”  Nestle Co. and its freeze-dried coffee plant served as a major employer in Ripon for many years at the east end of the business district.   

More than 5,000 visitors filtered through the Community Center during the three days of the early festival.

Opening event at the first festival was the Almond Baked Goods Contest with more than 300 entries from the community. The contest was sponsored by the Ripon PTA.

All baked goods were required to contain almonds, according to the rules.  Mrs. John Sitma was the winner in the senior division with her almond cake judged the best of show.  Ten-year-old Bobby Madner took the junior division sweepstakes award winner in competition with his pastry that competed with “more than two score” of other children under 16. 

The actual festival got its start as “Simpson Lee Days” in 1961 by the efforts of the Simpson Lee Paper Company that named its queen, Miss Paper Doll.  Sharon McFall donned the crown in September of that year.

Since that festival was held in the fall, Ripon did not take over the event the next spring,  but rather in February of the following year.