PLEASANT GROVE -- Mary Louise Driggs White was a reserved strawberry blonde 80 years ago when she was chosen to be the Strawberry Girl of 1919.
That's part of the reason she remembers the event so clearly. "Oh, I was shy. I was the youngest of seven, and my aunt May (Beers) wanted me in the limelight so bad. I think she thought it would be good for me. It was probably her idea."That's how Mary came to be decked out in a paper dress and hat and store-bought slippers on a float attached with streamers to a butterfly on her uncle's car in the parade for what might have been the earliest Strawberry Days Festival, two days before her birthday onJune 23, 1919.
"I even have a funny story about that. My cousin was driving and the car stopped. It just stopped in the middle, and I was so embarrassed. I didn't know what to do. My father came out and picked me up and put me in the road and told me to skip the rest of the way behind the gypsy's monkey grinder. So I did, and it was fine after that."
White said everybody gathered afterward in the park for a picnic and a bowl of strawberries with cream -- the beginning of a tradition that has now been handed down for 80 years.
"I remember my Uncle Howard gave a speech and then everybody went down to the cemetery. There must have been a band in the park because I remember music. Mainly I remember the parade. There was a parade of wagons and a few cars. I remember it exactly and the people that came down for the strawberries and the pitchers of cream."
White doesn't care much that a local historian is disputing her story. She has a picture and her memories and she knows when she was in Pleasant Grove.
"They're saying the Strawberry Days wasn't celebrated until 1921, but I wasn't here then. I was here in 1919, on top of an old car."
White is 86 today. She and members of her family are revisiting the homes of her past this weekend during the city's 1999 Strawberry Days celebration, which ends Saturday.
Mildred Sutch, Pleasant Grove's historian, cannot find a record of an official Strawberry Days celebration held in Pleasant Grove until 1921. Her research doesn't verify White's story, although the 1920 census does show Annie Beers Driggs (White's mother) living in the Franklin-Beers Hotel with seven children.
It may have simply been a neighborhood event with a title bestowed by family and friends, Sutch said. The town celebrated the 4th of July and the 24th of July at that time, she said, but not the strawberry harvest.
It's difficult to know for certain what's actually the truth because White is the last survivor of the seven children born to Leland Monroe and Annie Beers Driggs and few peers are left who can clearly remember that period of time with her.
Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, author of the "History of Utah County," lists June 21, 1922, as the starting year for the first festival with a pageant, a parade and a baseball game. Sutch does not see how White could have been named the Strawberry Girl of 1919 when the celebration did not yet exist.
But White's family and the parade committee isn't worrying over it.
"She was there. I'll go with her story," said her daughter, Charlene Claybaugh.
White will ride in the mammoth parade this morning at the invitation of city officials, and her family has gathered in American Fork to celebrate her long-ago "crowning."
She has a card commemorating the day with "Ode to a Strawberry Girl," written by her nephew.
She lived in Pleasant Grove for approximately three years before she moved to California. She has been back often and has written a history of the historic Beers House Hotel, her mother's childhood home and the place White lived in Pleasant Grove..
"We're excited to share this bit of her history with her," said Claybaugh. "I know she is excited."