Former BMD queens recall royal reign over The Grove

Past BMD Queens (from left) Carolyn Rippy (1966-67) and the festival’s inaugural queen Amelia Blowers (1965).

As the Bohemia Mining Days festival celebrates its 60th “Diamond Jubilee” Anniversary this year, organizers have rummaged through memorabilia stashed away in files and scrapbooks looking for nuggets from the past to honor the significant milestone in BMD history.

Established in 1959 as part of the statewide celebration of Oregon statehood, the celebration was held downtown on Main Street with the carnival set up in the parking lot on Fifth and Main streets. The first decade of the festival was filled with new activities and events that began to define Cottage Grove’s largest celebration of the year. 

Introduction of the Miner’s Breakfast on the Mountain in 1964, the excursion train up to Culp Creek (that included staged robberies) and the Lemati Gang’s Old West Shows are some of those first events. Another one was the Queen’s Court, introduced for the first time in 1965. 

That inaugural year, eight Cottage Grove High School girls vied for the honor of being the first BMD Queen. Amelia Dunnavin (now Blowers) was one of them, with Weyerhaeuser sponsoring her candidacy. The contestants competed in a swimsuit contest and answered questions posed by the judges on the Main Stage, which was set up on 5th Street. Amelia won the crown and assumed her duty to promote Bohemia Mining Days in publications and by attending celebrations held in other Oregon communities. 

Amelia said at that time being a BMD Queen was a pretty big deal. The coronation was covered by both The Sentinel and The Register-Guard. As the festival’s “The Nugget Girl”, she participated in a photo shoot with her picture used in promotional brochures. 

“I felt honored to represent Bohemia Mining Days,” Amelia said. “There was nothing negative about the experience. As we traveled along all those parade routes what I loved most was seeing so many people having fun.”

In the spring of 1967, Carolyn Cutts (now Rippy) entered the BMD Queen Pageant.  She competed with “four or five” of her Cottage Grove High School classmates in the swimsuit and oral interview competitions. She was chosen First Runner Up with Reba Wolford crowned as Queen.

“Reba was unable to complete her reign and I was asked to fulfill her duties,” Carolyn recalled. “I accepted and was then asked to continue as Queen the following year. It was a great honor for me to represent the Bohemia Mining Days Celebration and my hometown in many community events and parades around the state.”

Ray Nelson is recognized today as the “Father of BMD”. His wife loaned Carolyn an old-fashioned swimsuit to promote local parks and campgrounds. Her duties also included introducing the Old Time Fiddlers Contest, presiding at the Rodeo and attending the festival’s Street Dance. 

“In my opinion, the 1968 BMD Celebration was a huge success due to so much community involvement, support and promotion,” Carolyn said.

Carolyn was born in Butler’s Maternity Home in 1948. She compared growing up in Cottage Grove to growing up in Mayberry, the town depicted in the popular Andy Griffith television show of that era.

“I have so many wonderful memories from that time,” Carolyn said. “Cottage Grove was a small town like Mayberry. I felt safe and could walk to school and downtown by myself. We all knew our neighbors and the community was like my family. My hometown and my lifelong friends who still live there remain dear to my heart.”

Amelia, like many babies born before the Cottage Grove Hospital opened in 1951, arrived in this world in 1948 via SacredHeart Hospital in Eugene. Like Carolyn, she loved The Grove’s small-town atmosphere and the opportunities it provided for a happy childhood.

“I loved all the community involvement back then; everyone knew everyone,” Amelia recalled. “I have great memories of shopping at J.C. Penney, attending the little movie theater and the many trips to the lake to swim and water ski.”

One of Amelia’s keepsakes from her reign is the 1965 BMD promotional brochure. Events in that year included the Bohemia Pageant, Timber Show, Fiddler’s Contest, Talent Show and Train Ride. Carolyn and Amelia agree broad community involvement has fallen off since the mid-1960’s. 

Amelia recalls more people dressed up in costumes and most businesses decorated their stores during Bohemia Mining Days. The parade came through downtown and all the activities were concentrated in what today is known as the Historic Downtown District. 

Both former Queens went on to college (Carolyn became a Duck and Amelia a Beaver) then married and started their families. 

Amelia married Steve Blowers in 1969. 

Today, the Blowers live on five acres in the Corvallis area and enjoy the time they spend with their three children and four grandchildren.

Carolyn married her fellow 1967 high school classmate Bruce Rippy in 1983. They now live in Swan Valley, Mont., where her husband is a church pastor. They have six adult children who have blessed them with 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.  

In 2016, BMD organizers invited the two former Queens to participate in the celebration. They had Victorian-era dresses custom made for the occasion and said it was an honor they enjoyed immensely. 

They eagerly look forward to once again riding in a convertible in the Grand Miners Parade and being interviewed on the Main Stage at 8 p.m. Friday night.

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