Girl power at horticultural event

Posted: May 4, 2013

The Winchester Star

Kathy Sutphin of Frederick County and her granddaughter Hannah Sutphin, 6, enjoy some quality time together Friday during the 65th Ladies’ Horticultural Luncheon of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival.
Suzanne Conrad of Winchester was decked out in festive pink and green to celebrate with friends at the Horticultural Luncheon.
Virginia State Horticultural Princess and Apple Ambassador Rachel Moore Russell was the recipient of a $500 scholarship and a special guest at the 65th Ladies’ Horticultural Luncheon Friday.
Author Lisa Mikitarian speaks on the importance of girlfriends in a woman’s life during the Horticultural Luncheon.

Winchester — The 65th Ladies’ Horticultural Luncheon fully embraced its femininity Friday.

About 400 women in varying shades of pink and green turned out for one of the more traditional events of the 86th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival.

The attendance at the event in the Best Western Lee-Jackson was slightly lower than the 2012 edition, when 400 women attended, but that happens sometimes, said Hope Brim, the co-chairman of the luncheon committee with Bonnie Sine.

“There are a lot of other options — a lot of other functions and things going on today,” she said.

The mood was jovial in the room as guests enjoyed the elegant setting, a string of celebrities making appearances, plenty of door prizes and guest speaker author Lisa Mikitarian.

The event is sponsored by The Women’s Auxiliary of the Virginia State Horticultural Society, President Buffy Cooper said. The luncheon has long celebrated the apple industry and Winchester’s role in it.

“Many of these women here are from apple-growing families, so it is a chance to see people you haven’t seen for a while,” she said.

“Girlfriends” was the word of the day when Mikitarian started to relate the importance they have had in her life. She is the author of “Her Safari,” a collection of short stories published in 2011 and is working on her first novel with her daughter.

After a nervous start and an audible reminder to herself to “breathe,” she spoke from the heart about how a “shaky” childhood made her more appreciative of her husband Sam (who operated her visual presentation), their three children and the women she has befriended as an adult.

When her family moved to the Shenandoah Valley 21 years ago, Mikitarian said, she was “more excited about finding friends than the kids were.”

“Being in community with women makes the good times that much better and the bad times more bearable,” she said.

Mikitarian cracked up the room when she gave a “Top Five Reasons to have Girlfriends” list. Among them were “a girlfriend will never ask you to pull her finger” and “girlfriends know when to tell you to cry and when to tell you to stop.”

The luncheon is a wonderful opportunity for women who are longtime friends to get together, as well as a great family event for several generations of women and girls, Brim said.

For Angela Fowler, 38, of Winchester and her daughter Loryne, 13, the luncheon has become an annual mother-daughter tradition they have kept up for four years.

The atmosphere and the setting are beautiful and elegant with white cloth-covered tables and chairs and women in spring dresses, Fowler said.

Loryne likes to “dress up and see the queen and princesses.”

She was thrilled to pose for a photo with Queen Shenandoah LXXXVI-designate Rachel Lynn Matthews when she stopped by wearing her white strapless Coronation gown. She was attended by her maids, who wore matching pink floor-length dresses.

Matthews, the granddaughter of the late actor Michael Landon, said she has had an exhausting two days at the festival, but is “hanging in there.”

“I have been able to meet so many people and eat a lot of apple pie,” she said with a smile.

With Matthews were her parents Leslie Landon and Brian Matthews. It has been especially tiring for Leslie Matthews to get around since she is recovering from foot reconstruction surgery, but people have been really helpful and all the activity has been worthwhilet, she said.

“It is fun watching Rachel go through everything,” she said. “I forgot how busy it is.”

Dana Ann Bowers, 67, of Stephens City remembers seeing Leslie Matthews as queen in 1980, so it was a pleasure to see her again and “get close to the new queen.”

For Bowers, who has attended the luncheon 10 years, it was also a great surprise to win a bracelet, one of the more than 100 door prizes.

Also stopping by to say a few words were Winchester Mayor Elizabeth Minor, Miss Apple Blossom Victoria Maiden, Miss Virginia 2012 Rosemary Willis, and one of the few men in attendance, Sports Breakfast master of ceremonies Ken Mease.

Attending the event were Miss Apple Blossom Outstanding Teen Elizabeth Mothershead, Miss Apple Blossom Pre-Teen Tori Stanford and Virginia State Horticultural Princess and Apple Ambassador Rachel Moore Russell.

Proceeds from the event go toward two $1,000 scholarships for horticulture students at Virginia Tech, Cooper said. Russell, 18, of Clear Brook also was a recipient of a $500 scholarship as the Apple Ambassador.

Suzanne Conrad, 70, of Winchester said she is happy that the luncheon supports the horticulture industry and is “just such a wonderful place to come.” She has attended with friends for six years and plans to be back next year.

“The first time I came I had such a wonderful time. I immediately wanted to come back,” she said.

As she brought her talk to a close, Mikitarian charged the room full of women to be careful in how they treat their relationships with their girlfriends. Often people become “really surgical with our friendships,” forgetting that no one is perfect, she said.

“We all have the annoying friends, but let’s be honest, at some point we all are the annoying friend. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some grace then?”

— Contact Laura McFarland atlmcfarland@winchesterstar.com