Savanna Prince Roper’s cell phone rang at the dinner table. That’s a no-no. Her Hendersonville family typically eats together without the distraction of texts or tweets.
On this night in May, though, it was ok. Roper answered the call and learned she was named Apple Festival Ambassador for the annual Labor Day celebration.
“This time was an exception [to the rule],” Roper says. “It was so funny — my mom and I were jumping up and down.”
Roper, a senior at Hendersonville High School who has already committed to play volleyball at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, had added her name to a long list of ambassadors.
Unlike many of her earlier predecessors, though, Roper didn’t need to don a swimsuit to earn the title. From 1947 to 1992, the winner was named the Apple Queen — it was an official beauty pageant, a qualifier for the Miss North Carolina pageant.
“Now, it is different,” says the festival’s First Vice President, Lee Henderson-Hill. “Historically, beauty and swimsuits were part of the competition just like you were doing a pageant-style competition. Now it’s about the interview, knowledge of the heritage of the festival, the economic impact that farming and agriculture has on the community — now it’s more of a scholarship program.”
Roper received $2,000; the first runner-up, East Henderson High School’s Sheridan Nicole Mentch, gets $1,000. Scholarships are sponsored by the festival and the North Carolina Apple Growers Association.
Roper’s excited about being ambassador, which involves going to functions and events each day during the festival and related activities throughout the year.
“It’s a chance not only to represent the apple community and the apple growers in Henderson County, but also the youth of Hendersonville,” Roper says. “I get a chance to represent my friends and community of teenagers. This town is so amazing to me … it’s an honor.”
“The ambassador is the face of the festival,” says Henderson-Hill. “They are there for the opening ceremony and there for significant events during the festival … the smile and handshake.”
Before it became a scholarship program, anyone in North Carolina could enter the competition and earn the crown. Now, though, the program is just for students (male or female) at schools in Henderson County. To win, applicants must submit an essay, two letters of recommendation, a résumé, and a school transcript. Then there’s the interview with a committee and a speech in front of the committee and fellow applicants.
Colby Creasman Buchanan was the ambassador in ’09 and now co-chairs the Apple Festival Ambassador Program with her mother, Dawn Creasman. “It’s more about the apple industry and Apple Festival than it is about beauty. It gears the focus back to what it should have been all along.”
The North Carolina Apple Festival happens Sept. 2-5 on Main Street in Hendersonville, with satellite activities in surrounding areas. The finale is the King Apple Parade held on Monday, September 5, at 2:30pm. Visit ncapplefestival.org for a full listing of events. Henderson County is home to more than 200 apple orchards, and the fruit has been part of the region’s culture since the 1700s. It is the top apple-producing county in the state and seventh in the country; local apple crops bring in an average of $22 million per year.