After 59 years, pageant is still a jewel

N.J. teen sails through and is crowned yacht club's Queen of the Chesapeake

June 06, 2007|By JONI GUHNE | JONI GUHNE,Special to The Sun

Rachel Holmes Cruzan's ascension to Queen of the Chesapeake in 1948 was anything but smooth sailing.

Because her entry was flubbed in the Maryland Yacht Club's pageant, the 17-year-old had no place to stay and spent the night before the contest sleeping on the floor of a sailboat.

After a night enduring mosquitoes and noisy partyers, she awoke with little enthusiasm for the contest.

"I was ready to go home," said Cruzan, who lived in Bel Air at the time.

But to her surprise, Cruzan was picked as queen over five other contestants.

"It was totally unexpected," she said.

On Sunday, Cruzan was on hand to crown this year's queen, as the club celebrated its 99th season opening with a weekend of events that included a formal flag-raising and costume party attended by hundreds of officers and members of the MYC and neighboring yacht clubs, as well as the annual pageant.

Dressed in white from head to toe - in keeping with the gowns worn by the contestants - Cruzan helped crown the 2007 winner, Maegan Kyser, a New Jersey resident representing the Great Oak Yacht Club in Chestertown.

In 1948, Cruzan's parents had talked her into entering the competition. But her sponsor, the Bush Yacht Club in Abingdon, failed to communicate with the MYC, which arranged housing for the contestants.

Cruzan graduated from Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, in Westminster and taught English while raising seven children. In 1990, she was part of a select group of teachers honored by The Wall Street Journal.

Today, the writer and watercolor painter resides in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

In Cruzan's day, the participants donned long-sleeved gowns with high necklines and had shoulder-length hair. In this year's competition, the 14 contestants, representing a variety of yacht clubs from around the bay, looked every bit as glamorous as Miss America finalists: perfectly styled hair, floor-length strapless gowns and no shortage of poise.

They were interviewed by judges and spoke eloquently before an audience of more than 400, as cameras flashed and cheers arose as each club's princess was introduced. Ranging in age from 16 to 21, the contestants were judged on poise, appearance, personality, an essay relating to the bay, achievements, and attendance at events thrown by various bay-area clubs.

Kyser, this year's winner, is a rising senior at West Deptford High School in Westville, N.J. The 17-year-old grew up in a boating family. Her parents, Howard and Sheila Kyser, keep their 44-foot motor yacht, Happy Ours, at the club in Chestertown.

"We live on the boat in the summer on the Chesapeake," Howard Kyser said. "We're still glowing [about Megan's win]."

The Kysers also have two sons.

The newly crowned queen spends her spare time studying dance and teaching ballet and jazz to children. Her favorite subject is math, and she plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania's school of business and become "a director or CEO at a children's hospital."

During her year as queen, Megan hopes to promote club events. All of the clubs have season-opening events, and some have winter balls, she said. The queen is required to attend these events.

The pageant capped an eventful weekend for MYC, which has managed to survive nearly a century while many other bay-area clubs - from New Jersey to Virginia - have come and gone.

The origin of the club, MYC officials say, stretches to a Sunday almost a century ago when the eventual founders were aboard a motorboat in Baltimore's harbor. The motor failed as a storm was brewing, and the men paddled to a nearby dock, which happened to belong to a private yacht club.

After being confronted by club members who hurled insults, the men got the motor restarted and headed for the bay, stinging from the encounter and determined to promote camaraderie among boaters. They vowed to start their own club and, on Nov. 10, 1908, the Maryland Motor Boat Club was incorporated. Ten years later, with an influx of sailors in the club, the name was changed to the Maryland Yacht Club.

The MYC facilities include a clubhouse, a swimming pool and docking slips for members and guests on 8 acres overlooking Rock Creek and the Patapsco River in Pasadena. The club also offers boating lessons every summer and encourages camaraderie among the more than 300 members.

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