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Pilot Club prepares for big event

It takes a lot of work to pull off the Suffolk Pilot Club’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

Tickets already are on sale at the Suffolk Visitors’ Center for the club’s annual Queen’s Luncheon and Fashion Show, which will be hosted Sept. 29 in concert with the Suffolk Peanut Festival.

But Pilot Club members have far more to do in preparation for the event than just selling tickets. On Monday, the ladies were carving pumpkins that will be used as centerpieces for the luncheon.

“It takes a lot of work, but it’s our club’s biggest fundraiser,” Pilot Club President Margaret Smith said. “Our members all participate in helping organize it, decorate, set-up, cook and serve the food — everything is done by members.”

The Queen’s Luncheon is the kickoff event for the Peanut Festival and has been hosted by the club since 1981.

At the lunch, guests will enjoy a home-cooked meal made by the women of the Pilot Club, a fashion show of local models wearing fall fashions from Denison’s and the coronation of the 2010 Suffolk Peanut Fest Queen.

Since 1941, the peanut festivities have included the pageantry and the coronation of a queen and her court. The first “Queen Arachis Hypogea” (the botanical name for the peanut plant), Olive Cawley of New Jersey, was attired in an all-peanut gown, and her entourage included 50 princesses from dozens of communities and neighboring states.

The second festival queen, Patricia Donnelly of Detroit, had been the 1939 Miss America. She was greeted at the airport by dignitaries including Suffolk philanthropist and businessman Amedeo Obici. Obici scattered roasted peanuts at her feet, rather than the traditional rose petals.

The modern predecessor of today’s festival, Harvest Fest, was started in 1978, and the festival queen was chosen by the general public. Since then, the title has been bestowed to scores of young ladies, who represent the festival and the city of Suffolk at numerous functions.

Today’s festival queen is selected from among rising high school seniors by a panel based on four criteria: a creative writing essay, school activities, awards and achievements and community involvement.

All proceeds from the Queen’s Luncheon are given to local charities and used to give scholarships to Suffolk students.

At its Civic Night last year, the club gave $2,600 to local organizations and charities, including ForKids, Project Lifesavers, Relay for Life and the Alzheimer’s Association.

“For us, it’s a very special community event,” Smith said. “It’s a great afternoon to spend time with other community members while raising money to put to use back into the community.”

Tickets can be purchased for $15 at the Suffolk Visitors’ Center. Centerpieces will be available for sale at the luncheon.