Not only does the Texas Rose Festival span 88 years honoring Tyler’s rose industry, but it’s also become a generational family tradition, especially for 2020 and 2021 Rose Festival Princess Elizabeth Reid Walker.
Elizabeth Reid Walker, also known as “Ellie,” has connections to the Texas Rose Festival on both her mother and father’s sides of the family.
Her grandmothers, Martha Walker and Diane Wall, have spent years volunteering in some capacity for the festival, and her maternal grandfather, Andy Wall, was the Texas Rose Festival president in 1989.
In addition to serving as an attendant in a past festival court, Ellie Walker’s parents and other relatives have participated in festivals as well.
“I think (my family members) were excited. They’ve done so much and had different jobs. They’re excited for me to experience it,” she said. “I helped out for a while; I was a dresser when I was little. So it’s kind of like relapsing on that now that I’m older it’s like a bigger deal.”
A 2019 All Saints Episcopal School graduate, she is majoring in studio art at the University of Texas at Austin and a part of a sorority focused on philanthropy. She enjoys giving back to the community, such as by volunteering at the East Texas Food Bank.
“With Rose Festival I’ve done a lot during COVID at the food bank. I helped package some stuff and that was really fun,” she said. “The pageantry is fun. It’s fun to celebrate it but it’s also a giving back element that makes it all hustle together.”
On Friday evening, the Walker and Wall families and several others celebrated their princess as well as Texas Rose Festival Queen Anna Grace Hallmark, Duchess of the Rose Growers Emily Ann Milton and festival volunteers at the kick-off for the festival at Willow Brook Country Club in Tyler.
The event honored the volunteers and sponsors while also starting the countdown for the festival set for Oct. 14 to 17. The festival in 2020 was postponed due to COVID-19 so members of the court are continuing their reign.
Ellie Walker’s paternal grandmother Martha Walker has been a part of the Rose Festival for at least 40 years, serving as coronation chair and other leadership positions.
“She’s been our princess in our family her entire life, but I think she’s a wonderful representative for Tyler. I’m so happy for her and proud of her too,” Martha Walker said. “We’ve always been active in the Rose Festival. We love the Rose Festival.”
Martha Walker said the Rose Festival has given Tyler a national presence.
“People associate us with roses and beauty, and I love that,” she said. “I think as far as from a commercial standpoint, I think it’s extremely important. We have lots of people that come in from all over and see our city at its very best and have a good time and remember the good memories of Tyler.”
An opportunity to become a member of the Rose Festival court is a chance to meet many friends and create memories, Martha Walker said.
“You can live a normal happy life and never get to do this. But if you do, you will end up with more of an appreciation of your community and the people it takes to put on something like this,” Walker said. “It gives you a special presence and a polish that will probably come later on in life but it comes early and so you have that gift that is yours forever.”
Ellie Walker’s maternal grandmother Diane Wall said seeing her granddaughter be the princess feels magical. She and her husband have been working with the Texas Rose Festival since 1965.
“We moved here and we hit the road running. My husband Andy was president in ‘89, and it’s just a joy for her,” Diane Wall said. “It’s a dream come true. I love that it’s a city-wide love of Tyler and all the volunteers come together and really support it.”
She recalled writing scripts for members of the court and having various leadership roles. Her daughter and Ellie’s mom, Andrea Walker, was a lady in waiting.
“I’m so grateful that our children participate in the Rose Festival because Andy and I did. We just participated in everything in every way,” Diane Wall said. “(Ellie’s) a fun, neat gal and we’re so proud of her like all grandmothers are.”
Andy Wall said he’s grateful to be back after serving as festival president 32 years ago.
“It’s really awesome that our granddaughter is involved in it and the Walkers were close friends of ours anyway, Dr. Walker and Martha,” he said. “To have their son marry our daughter was a real blessing.”
From his presidential tenure, Andy Wall remembered he and other leaders decided to move the queen from the front of the parade to the back.
“It came off a lot better,” he said. “We had a beautiful day for the parade, and that’s one thing we want to go well because the community really participates in that.”
Bruce Faulkner, president of the 88th Texas Rose Festival, said Friday the purpose of the kick-off in July was to honor the participants and volunteers working tirelessly behind the scenes.
“We’re here to promote the local rose industry, celebrate community, volunteerism, instill community pride and attract visitors and commerce to our incredible community,” Faulkner said. “I’m proud to say that this marks the 88th anniversary of the Texas Rose Festival.”
Hallmark called serving as queen for two years a “true blessing and honor,” and she’s enjoyed promoting the rich history of the Texas Rose Festival.
“While many aspects of the festival, such as the themes and costumes have evolved over the past decade, one thing has remained the same — the strong sense of service and support from its many volunteers and sponsors in Tyler and Smith County,” Hallmark said. “It is especially evident how strong our community is as we pull through the COVID pandemic. I’m proud we are able to gather and celebrate again together.”
Melton said she was honored to represent her family’s legacy in the rose industry as the duchess of the rose growers for both 2020 and 2021.
“The Rose Festival along with the city of Tyler has focused on the same tradition for many years: celebrating the beauty of the rose, promoting the local rose industry and its history and attracting tourism to the city of Tyler,” Milton said.