The queens come home
LU to honor former homecoming queens Oct. 22
When the 2011 homecoming queen is crowned at the Lamar vs. Central Arkansas homecoming football game on Saturday, Oct. 22, she will join a legacy of ladies including the legendary Miller sisters, who reigned during the late 1940s, and one shy beauty who braved an elephant ride during her campaign in 1958. Beloved as Beaumont’s sweethearts, these are the Lamar University homecoming queens.
Big Red was even surprised with a crown during halftime in 2002.
“I never thought I would be a homecoming queen,” said Alisa Hicklin Fryar, who earned her bachelor of political science in 2002. “I went into the homecoming game with no expectations whatsoever of winning – it was just something I never would have expected.”
Fryar, a Labelle native who served as president of the Student Government Association, was nominated on behalf of SGA and was also the chair of the group’s homecoming committee.
“That whole week during homecoming I was in the student center trying to get people to participate and come to the parade and other functions we had going on, and I wound up meeting a lot of students,” she said. “It was a lot of work, and I learned about coordinating big groups of people with big projects, but I was busy.”
On the night that Fryar was crowned queen in spring 2002, she was busy on the basketball court dressed up as a big, familiar red bird.
“I was the mascot for the first half of the game, ran around, got sweaty and had a good time. Then at halftime, I ran in the back and changed into something I thought was minimally acceptable for being seen in public – so you can imagine my surprise when they called my name and presented me with a tiara, flowers and a sash. It was funny,” she said. “Even Dr. Simmons was laughing as he put the crown on me.”
For Fryar, who is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, her crowning moment is one of many fond memories of her time at Lamar.
“There’s nothing that I love more than trying to stay connected to Lamar, because it was such a big part of my life. Coming down and helping out is what I look forward to each year, so it will be really fun to be recognized and meet the other homecoming queens. It’s these things that really give you a neat picture of the history of this institution.”
On the morning of this year’s homecoming game, former homecoming queens will be welcomed with a brunch hosted by Lamar’s ‘first lady’ Susan Simmons, followed by a formal acknowledgement during halftime before the new queen is crowned.
In 1958 President John Gray himself crowned Mary Theresa Nelson Mason, a shy young student who was asked to represent Sigma Phi Epsilon.
“I really thought about it a long time, because I’m just not the type of person who likes to be out in front of people – I’m bashful,” said Mason, of Beaumont. “The Sig Eps were just such an energetic and creative group. They did a tremendous campaign; there were billboards all over the campus. They had done so many things and worked so hard, I just felt it was my duty to do what they asked.”
But when the Sig Ep boys presented Mason with an elephant to ride, “I was terrified!” she said. “Her name was Big Babe, and she was nice but she was big. And there was no seat; all I had was the straps on the bridle on top of her head,” she said. “I knew what they must have gone through to get her there, so I knew I had to just do it. But it was very good for me, and my sorority (Alpha Chi Omega) encouraged me to step forward and be brave, and the Sig Eps made me an honorary pledge after that.”
The class of 1945 had to borrow a few gentlemen to attend its sweetheart dance when Georgianne Miller Campbell, now of New Braunfels, was named the sweetheart of Lamar.
“We had to get the Marines from a Marine base as escorts. John Gray had just left for the Navy, and by the time I got to Lamar most of the men had joined the service,” said Campbell, who earned an associate degree in psychology and social service in 1945. “They wore their uniforms, and they were so nice.”
The first of three sisters to be honored with the crown at Lamar, Campbell said she was honored that her female classmates named her their sweetheart.
“There were so many girls there that I thought were amazing – they were honor students, very pretty, I just felt really special. And to know that this was mostly girls that were voting on me was special to me too. It was kind of nice having an all-girl school; there weren’t a lot of romances going on. Everybody was supporting the war, and we all just kind of hung out. It was just us girls.”
Of course, when the men were in town, they made their way over to the Lamar campus.
“When the service guys would come home they’d come out to Lamar, and we would all dance. The Port Arthur boys would come, and Port Arthur at that time was the jitterbug capital of the country they’d win all these jitterbug contests on the national news,” which they listened to on the radio, she added. “They’d wear their zoot suits, and they could jitterbug. And they would teach us.”
After Campbell went on to New York to study art, her younger sister Helen was crowned Lamar’s homecoming queen in 1946.
“Being somewhat of a tomboy, I remember thinking ‘I wonder if I’m pretty enough for this,’” recalled Helen Louise Miller Buell Cooper Fry, who the Engineers Club flaunted with a slogan reading “Five foot two, eyes of blue.”
“The gentlemen from the Engineers Club made me feel pretty and worthy, but it is quite a feeling having that given to you.”
After earning her associate degree in business with a minor in psychology in 1948, Fry went on to own a public relations company in Niagara Falls, Ontario before settling in Lakeway, but the honor she and her two sisters share has always been a special memory.
“Georgianne is the artist and I’m the athlete,” said Fry, a tennis player now ranked No. 15 in the nation and No. 1 in Texas in the United States Tennis Association for doubles in her age group.
“For the last 15 years, I’ve belonged to a ping pong group of ladies,” she added. “I always giggle every time I say that.”
When it came time for Kathleen to conclude the Miller reign, the “Marilyn Monroe” of the family made her sisters proud. After Miller was crowned homecoming queen in 1948, The Houston Chronicle lamented: “The Miller Dynasty will end its reign at Beaumont’s Lamar College Friday Night when 17-year-old Kathleen Miller reigns as homecoming queen,” citing the reason being that there were simply no more Miller girls to wear the crown.
The following year, Kathleen Miller was crowned homecoming queen a second time.
“I was thrilled to be awarded the first year. The second year, I was just totally overwhelmed,” said Miller. “I was just amazed that I would get the same acknowledgement. I remember my mother telling me, ‘Kathleen, you did well. You’ve been a good student, you’ve been trying to get ahead, and you make sure that you toot the horn for Lamar.”
After graduating from Lamar with a degree in elementary education in 1949, Miller went on to the University of Texas – where she was nominated as one of the Bluebonnet Belles.
“She was just a knockout beauty and very smart,” Fry said of her younger sister. “A lot of intelligence went along with that blonde hair.”
Dr. Tamerla Chavis, a neurosurgeon in Beaumont, was in the sophomore year of her chemical engineering degree when she was crowned homecoming queen in 1980.
“It was a big boost in confidence, and I think it changed things,” said Chavis, who was sponsored by her fellow Lamar cheerleaders. “I’m a little bit on the shy side, so to get the vote from the student body as the homecoming queen, I was excited. I was honored. I realized I wanted to work with people a little more.”
After earning her bachelor of chemical engineering in 1983, Chavis went on to medical school at the University of Texas in San Antonio. Lamar honored her as a distinguished young alumna in 2004.
“I think any time you recognize a young woman it’s special for them,” said Chavis. “There was a time when I was told not to put that on my resume – I was one of very few women going into surgery, and going into neurosurgery was almost unheard of. But I think we are past those things and we’re able to see it more for the accomplishment that it is, and I view it as one of my accomplishments. It’s a vote of confidence by your fellow students, and that I’ll always cherish.”
Photo 1: Beaumont neurosurgeon Tamerla Chavis, Lamar's 1980 homecoming queen, went on to be honored as a Lamar distinguished young alumna.
Photo 2: The Miller Dynasty” as they appeared in the Houston Chronicle in 1948 after youngest Kathleen (bottom left) was crowned the first time, followed by her older sisters Helen (center) in 1946 and Georgianne (top) in 1945.
Photo 3: Alisa Hicklin Fryar after being crowned homecoming queen in spring 2002.
Photo 4: News clippings of the three Miller sisters they year they each were crowned homecoming queen (From left to right): Georgianne, crowned in 1945; Helen, crowned in 1946; Kathleen, crowned in 1948 and 1949.