By ANDREA VARGO
As Louella Johnson sits in a retirement apartment in Watertown holding a blue scrapbook in her lap, the memories of 1941 come slowly.
Johnson was Howard Lake's first Strawberry Queen, and its first ambassador to other cities.
As she recalls those years after her family moved to the area in 1936 from Kansas, in order to go to Howard Lake High School, she lived with a Howard Lake family for three years
"Burt and Ed Koenig were so good to me," she said. She did with some housework to help pay for her room and board.
When the spring of Johnson's senior year came around, the strawberry growers of the area decided to have a celebration that would draw attention to the berry production of the Howard Lake area.
The Strawberry Festival was born in 1941.
"To be a finalist for the queen contest, you had to be one of the top 15 in number of votes," she said.
"Any girl could get votes. If you purchased something in a business, I believe, you got to vote for a girl," Johnson said.
The newspaper published the girls' votes for several weeks; those who had 100 or more votes, so it was easy to see who had them.
The first publication of the votes had Elaine Seltz in first place with 19,659 votes and Johnson in 21st place with 657 votes.
"I never thought I'd get enough votes to be in the top 15," said Johnson.
Then, there was the dress.
"Where Gerry's Super Valu store is now, there was a big store. Some committee purchased this beautiful dress and displayed it in the window," said Johnson.
"We would walk past it and remark on how beautiful it was," she said. "And I'm not sure who decided what size to buy."
"It was so remarkable. It fit me perfectly," she said.
Then came the Strawberry Festival and all the excitement.
There was a kiddie parade, a band concert, and a fast diamondball game under the lights between the Dayton girls team and the Walther League of Howard Lake (a boys team).
Entertainers Eddie Gallaher, the Bob-o-Links trio, and others from WCCO Radio performed that Saturday night, according to that week's issue of the Herald.
There were games, concessions, rides, bingo, stands for food and refreshments, and bands.
On Sunday after the parade, Howard Lake Mayor A. G. Reiter gave a speech of welcome, with mayors from several other neighboring cities also speaking.
The evening brought a beautiful spectacle, with a procession of trumpeters, guards, senior and junior attendants, and crown bearers to wait upon the queen and assist in the coronation ceremony.
Merle Potter of the Minneapolis Daily Times interviewed each candidate, said Johnson.
"We went into a room with him, one at a time," she said, "and he asked us some questions."
"I was so shy. I was in total shock, and I don't remember any of it," said Johnson.
Potter made the choice before 1,000 people in the city hall (upstairs in the community room), and Johnson remembers thinking, "The floor is going to give way, there are so many people."
There were so many people, some could not even get in the building.
Potter, who had extensive experience at judging beauty contests, stated that Miss Sutherland (Johnson) was one of the most beautiful girls he had ever picked.
He said, "In a contest of this kind, the photographic element is a factor as well as complexion, poise, posture, personality, and carriage."
After Potter made his choice, A. V. Narverud, president of the Commercial Club crowned the queen during the Sunday evening ceremony.
Looking back over the whole festival weekend, Johnson said she remembers most the chicken dinner on Thursday night, when the candidates were introduced.
She and her husband Harry Johnson were dating at the time. They went together to this big, free, chicken dinner, and it was wonderful.
"The whole festival was a really nice experience," she remembers.
"It was definitely a highlight of my life," she said.
Johnson came back to participate in several more Strawberry Festivals.
The next year, she crowned the 1942 Strawberry Festival Queen in the high school gym, where there was more room for the crowd.
Johnson still comes to Howard Lake to shop the antique stores and see old friends.
"I still like to drive by the old Larabee and Koenig homes south of Bergie's Pizza," she said.
"But I don't come to town without my makeup on. I have to preserve my image," said Johnson.
After about 10 years, the festival was discontinued, followed some time later by Good Neighbor Days, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year.
In 1976, Lee Ann (Haglin) Carlsted of Howard Lake was chosen Bicentennial Queen, and in 1978 Carla (Munson) Hausladen now of Minneapolis became the Centennial Queen at the first Good Neighbor Days celebration.
The first young lady with the actual title of Miss Howard Lake was Susan (Luhman) Michael, now of Durum, Conn. in 1979.