PORT ORCHARD — If you had the chance to speak with the queens, princesses and duchesses who wore Fathoms O’ Fun royalty court sashes over 50 years, there’s little doubt most would say their participation in that program endowed them with the confidence and skills to talk with people of every stripe.
For 1969 Fathoms princess Susan Post, the experience as a festival ambassador and representative of Port Orchard allowed her to overcome a fear of getting up in front of groups of people.
“During the entire process (of being a member of the royal court), we were going to luncheons and learning how to hold a tea cup properly and introducing ourselves to lots of important people,” Post — whose married last name is Bittner — said June 24 at a reunion of past court members at Bethany Lutheran Church in Port Orchard.
“Later on, I would always think back about ‘surviving’ that time. It was a great experience and training opportunity.”
For Cheryl Jacobson Lambert, a 1968 princess who still resides in Port Orchard, her year wearing a sash was “a great, fun time.” She especially remembers wearing a “great swimsuit” the royalty received from Jantzen sportswear — and pulled out a faded photo of her modeling it during her reign.
The ebullient Lambert, who taught elementary education in the Lake Washington and South Kitsap school districts, said that if asked by the current Fathoms royalty, she’d tell them that “life is a surprise party and the time to live is now. And today doesn’t even know what tomorrow is going to be.”
Bittner, who now lives in Bellevue, said her time as a princess was valuable training for a career in business. She’s a businesswoman and CEO of her husband’s floor-covering company, Fryer Knowles.
While the memories of their time with Fathoms O’ Fun in the ’60s have faded somewhat, two more recent princesses say they have vivid remembrances of their time in the spotlight.
Cheyenne Werbelo, who was a princess in 2015, worked behind the scenes at Fathoms helping her mother in the years before joining the royal court. “I didn’t think I was going to do it (become a princess) — it took some convincing, but it turned out to be a lot of fun,” Werbelo said.
“We went to different places throughout Washington, took part in parades and met a lot of people. I’ve made lifelong friendships with the other court members and still talk regularly with them.”
The 2015 South Kitsap High School graduate hasn’t slowed her pace since her time with Fathoms. Originally planning to become a veterinarian, Werbelo instead leveraged her love of horses — she owns five of them — into planning for a career working with “problem” equines.
Werbelo will complete her studies early next year at the Monty Roberts Equestrian Academy in Solvang, California, and will become fully certified to train horses through her own business. But first, she has plans to get married, move to Arizona and work with horses there. Her next step will then be to return to Washington with her husband and build a home and business here.
Princess Kaila Lay, crowned in 2002, said she was excited to return to Port Orchard — she moved back from California just two days before the Fathoms festival this year — and “get caught up” with some of her pageant acquaintances.
Lay, who calls herself “a lifelong student” with two associate’s degrees, is returning to the classroom and entering a radiography program in Seattle.
Asked about some of her memories as princess, and of the lessons she learned, Lay hesitated. “I don’t really know how to describe it, but it was so positive and supportive,” she said. “It definitely was life-changing.”
As it had with many others, her time as a princess was a confidence builder as she went out into the community. “I loved going out to different cities around Washington and meeting other girls.
“One of my favorite memories is of going to the Sequim parade and meeting one of the royalty. She was deaf. At the time I had been taking sign language classes and was very interested in talking with her.
“We talked in sign language, and I got to teach some of the other girls basic signs so we all could communicate with her. The smile on her face in knowing that people were actually trying to communicate, and weren’t shy about talking with her, was the best feeling in the world.”
Lay said that encounter was affirming to her and the Sequim princess. “That was a great experience in helping her and knowing that I could help in a little way to make her day. It made my day and helped all of us have a great day.”
Sponsors of the hospitality suite included Papa John’s Pizza in Port Orchard, Unique and Chic Event Rental and Design, the Folden family, Shirley de Ford Photography, Ze Haira Hair Salon and Nostalgia House Bakery. Also instrumental to the suite’s creation were two mothers of past 2015 royalty court members: “Past Queen Mum” Anna Whitten and “Past Princess Mum” Mandy Werbelo, said royalty court coordinator Helene Jensen.