Suffolk’s 1st Harvest Queen dies

Published 11:01 pm Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Betty Cross Pretlow, 87, Suffolk’s first Harvest Festival Queen, and one of the only women to wear the iconic “peanut dress,” died at her home in Everets on Tuesday.

She was born in Suffolk and attended Longwood College before teaching at Chuckatuck Elementary School.

Prior to her marriage to Joshua Pretlow, the former Miss Cross was named Harvest Queen in 1941 as part of the National Peanut Festival. She had been chosen for the honor by the Suffolk Rotary Club after having been named Miss Suffolk the previous year.

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She soon learned that the job was largely public relations, helping to garner positive attention for the event, Mrs. Pretlow recalled in 2006.

The famous peanut dress made an appearance during all of the festivities.

Mrs. Pretlow wore the dress to all of the National Peanut Festival activities except for the parade. New York celebrity Olive Cawley, who was crowned Peanut Queen that year, wore the dress during the parade, while Mrs. Pretlow wore an evening gown similar to the ones the festival’s princesses donned, according to a Peanut Festival historical account published in the Suffolk News-Herald in 2006.

The gown, specially made by Mrs. Charles Murden, the wife of an administrative officer at Planters, was covered with about 250,000 unshelled peanuts and weighed about 75 pounds, Mrs. Pretlow told the paper for the retrospective.

The dress was put in cold storage, but it was thrown out when the peanuts started to go bad, she recalled.

When her granddaughter, Denson Ann Pretlow, was named Harvest Queen in 1992, the dress was recreated for Denson to wear. Betty Pretlow served as Grand Marshal for the parade that year.

Even aside from the Harvest and Peanut festivals, Mrs. Pretlow was extremely active in her community.

She was a past president and member of the Junto Woman’s Club for 63 years, a member of the Junto Book Club and the Junto Bridge Club.

Karen Shaw, vice president of the Junto Woman’s Club, said Mrs. Pretlow had been a member of that organization since 1945.

“She was very prim and proper,” Shaw recalled. “Everything was to be correct from etiquette, very Christian.”

Mrs. Pretlow also was a member and past Regent of the Constantia Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution; a member of the Suffolk chapter of the Colonial Dames, XVII Century, a member of the Henry Lee society, an active member of Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church where she served as a Trustee, taught Sunday School and was a member of the United Methodist Women.

She was the first president of the Girl Scout Council of Greater Tidewater. She served on the Suffolk Bi-Centennial Commission and the Riddick’s Folly Board, and was past chairman of the Suffolk Fine Arts Commission. She was a charter member of the Westover Garden Club and organized and sponsored the Laurel Garden Club and the Village Garden Club.

She served on the Longwood College Board of Visitors from 1976 to 1984 and was a member of Longwood’s Societe Jeanne d’Arc.

A memorial service will be held at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church, 220 Kings Highway, on Thursday at 3 p.m. by the Rev. Ileana Rosario. Visitation will follow the service in the fellowship hall at 4 p.m. Burial will be private.

Memorial donations may be made to Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church, Post Office Box 2266, Suffolk, VA 23432, or to the charity of your choice. R.W. Baker & Co. Funeral Home and Crematory is handling arrangements.