The way Hanna Claire Waits was being asked by Texas Rose Festival Association President Britt Brookshire to be the rose queen was a comedy of errors.
Waits and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Waits of Tyler, can’t get through the story without breaking into laughter.
The plan was simple: The Waitses would call their daughter, who was a freshman at the University of Oklahoma, and tell her to go to the family’s cottage near campus to let a repairman in the door.
When the unsuspecting Waits opened the door, her parents, along with Brookshire, planned to surprise her.
Things did not go as planned.
Waits drove her car to the home earlier than the designated time, left it parked in front and walked to campus.
When her parents and Brookshire and his wife, Sunni, arrived, they panicked, thinking Waits was inside and the big surprise was spoiled.
After sneaking around, they discovered, to great relief, that she was not there.
When Waits returned, she had her friend and fellow Sooner Madeline Varga with her.
Before Waits opened the door, she peered through the peephole, saw Brookshire and realized what was about to happen.
She also knew it was supposed to be a big secret.
“I said to Maddie, ‘You aren’t supposed to be here,’” recalled Waits. “’Go hide.’”
With Varga hiding in the car, Waits finally opened the door.
“Mr. Brookshire was holding a giant bouquet of roses,” Waits said.
It all ended well and Varga came out of hiding to join the others.
Waits was asked to be the rose queen in late November 2018, but the formal announcement did not take place until a news conference just before the Winter Gala in January.
“We all know that the Rose Festival is not just about the breathtaking costumes and fun parties, but about promoting Tyler and the rose industry,” she said after being announced as the rose queen. “The Rose Festival enhances commerce and tourism, bringing our entire community together to celebrate.”
She thanked Brookshire for choosing her and acknowledged family members who have been involved in the festival.
“I would especially like to recognize my mother, Laura Waits; my grandmother, Jean Hanna; and my aunt, Sheri Hanna, for being great role models all of my life,” she said. “I’ve watched you all serve in many different festival positions and I appreciate all you have done to allow me to be the queen.”
After the news conference, Waits said she was excited that Liz Schoenbrun, her longtime friend, was serving as the rose princess. Waits and Schoenbrun were attendants to Rose Queen Sarah Clyde in 2008.
“Some of my fondest memories of the festival are from when I was a royal attendant with my good friend Liz Schoenbrun,” Waits said. “We looked up to Queen Sarah Clyde and the rest of her court in awe, dreaming that someday it would be us. ... It’s amazing to think that we are here now serving together in this year’s festival.”
Waits has stepped into the role as an ambassador of the festival. She spoke at Rose Sunday, a ceremony held in the spring to draw attention to the Tyler Rose Garden and rose industry.
“On this Sunday, let us all remember our Lord and Savior who created these beautiful roses that we celebrate today,” she said. “The rose industry and our spectacular rose garden have played a tremendous role in advancing the reputation of our city and surrounding communities. People come from all around the world to see the famous Tyler Rose Garden.”
At a news conference during the week of festival summer rehearsals, Waits talked about being the rose queen.
“What a blessing and honor it has been for me to serve as the 2019 rose queen,” she said. “Since the beginning of the year, I have really enjoyed promoting the rich history of the Texas Rose Festival and the impact it has on the East Texas community. I am proud to be from Tyler and that our city is known everywhere as the Rose Capital.”
She acknowledged the festival’s hundreds of volunteers.
“On behalf of this year’s court, thank you to all the men and women who are working behind the scenes to make another spectacular festival come to life.”
Waits is a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, where she is majoring in finance and accounting with a minor in sports management. She is active in her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and is a member of the Sports Management Club.
During the last two festivals, Waits has served as a backstage dressing assistant. Her mother was a lady-in-waiting in 1981 in the court of Rose Queen Kay Fair. Mrs. Waits also has served in many volunteer roles, including as head of the Queen’s Coronation and Queen’s Tea committees.
Waits’ father was president of the Rose Festival Association executive committee in 2017. The committee is in charge of overseeing all aspects of the festival, which traditionally draws about 100,000 visitors over four days.
Other family members who have worked behind the scenes are her grandmother, Jean Hanna, whose credits include chairing the Rose Show. Her uncle, Chad Tolbert Hanna, was an escort and her aunt, Sheri Hanna, spent years in volunteer service. Her cousin, James Chad Hanna, has been an escort, and this year another cousin, August James Hanna, is an attendant to Rose Queen Hanna.
The rose queen is the star attraction at the Queen’s Tea, Rose Parade and Queen’s Coronation, the ceremony in which she is ceremonially crowned.
This year’s festival is set for Thursday through Oct. 20. The Queen’s Coronation takes place in two performances Friday at the University of Texas at Tyler’s Cowan Center.
Waits will take the stage wearing a gown with a long train and a crown designed by Winn Morton, who is famous for his creations.
Mrs. Waits said she and her daughter had some ideas about what they wanted the gown to look like but basically left Morton to do his magic.
Attached to the train are more than 10,000 beads, sequins, rhinestones and Swarovski stones. Also sewn into the fabric are 1,000 specks of mirrored glass to ensure that the train will sparkle brilliantly.
“It’s spectacular,” Mrs. Waits said of the dress.
Morton said that for Waits, he designed the tallest crown ever worn by a rose queen.
Mr. and Mrs. Waits got their first look at their daughter in her full coronation regalia during a rehearsal this summer.
Mrs. Waits said it took her breath away.
“It’s such a big deal when the rose queen finally comes out in the dress (during the coronation),” Mrs. Waits said. “And she’s so beautiful in it.”
Mr. Waits added, “I really appreciate all the work that went into it. It is bigger and better than what I thought it would be.”
He said he is pretty sure what will happen when he sees his daughter onstage during the coronation.
“Of the two of us (he and his wife), I’m the crier,” he said. “I’ll be crying.”