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She'll always be the first strawberry queen
By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published November 4, 2007
The first ever queen of the Florida Strawberry Festival, Charlotte Rosenberg, has died at age 93. Through clips and interviews with people who remember, we're trying to recreate that day in 1930 when Mrs. Rosenberg was crowned. This photo, courtesy of the Plant City Photo Archives, shows Mrs. Rosenberg the day she became Strawberry Queen.
PLANT CITY - Charlotte Rosenberg's eyes were blue, but when she wore shades of purple, they looked lavender.
Her skin was peaches and cream, and her hair strawberry blond, set in perfect finger waves along the side of her face.
Her parents ran a dry goods store in Plant City, and Charlotte worked there on Saturdays. She knew everyone in town. She'd pat kids on the head when they came through the store.
At Plant City High School, she was popular and soft spoken. She was a cheerleader and played violin in the school orchestra. She was a meticulous seamstress, but her social life didn't leave much time for sewing.
Charlotte owned the first gear shift Ford in Plant City - a little convertible in medium blue with a black top and a rumble seat, said her sister, Della Rosenberg.
In 1930, members of the new Plant City Lions Club decided a festival was in order to celebrate the strawberry harvest. And of course, a queen would be crowned. People voted around town for their favorite gal.
The festival lasted four days in March. There was a Ferris wheel and merry go round, hamburgers, hot dogs, cotton candy and strawberry shortcake. There was sawdust on the ground. The mayor proclaimed a holiday.
On pageant day, Charlotte, a high school senior, took a while getting ready, her sister said. She wouldn't leave the house if her hair wasn't perfectly so.
Charlotte wore a white v-neck satin gown from Maas Brothers Department Store, "the type of dress a royal queen would wear," said Della Rosenberg, 90.
At the tip of the neckline, Charlotte pinned a cameo that belonged to her mother - the lady pictured had a diamond chip in her necklace and three on her hat.
Charlotte was crowned the first-ever festival queen. She wore a red velvet cape. She won a white gold necklace with a diamond chip, said her sister.
"She was my queen," said Helen Harrell, now Helen Mann, 86. "Everything she did or said I thought was the ultimate. Like kids look up to movie stars and all."
* * *
A Florida Strawberry Festival queen has been crowned every year since 1930, except for a break during World War II.
Now the women wear beaded dresses and earn scholarships. The festival lasts almost two weeks. Big country music stars perform and politicians mingle.
Charlotte Rosenberg never talked much about her strawberry past, her family said. But she thought about going back to the festival. She mentioned the idea to her daughter in recent years, but it didn't work out.
She lived in Tallahassee, where her family business, Rose Printing, is based. She married a man with her same last name and had children. When her husband died, she took over the company before eventually handing it down to her son, Charles.
She knew everyone by name. During Vidalia onion season, she'd share recipes. For the Jewish New Year, she'd bring challah.
"Hi, Miss Charlotte," her employees would say as she walked through.
People knew who she was.
On Oct. 17, the queen died. She was 93.
Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 893-8857.
Born: July 28, 1914.
Died: Oct. 17, 2007.
Survivors: children, Katie Rosenberg, Charles H. Rosenberg and wife Genny, and Debra Fowler and husband Guy; sister, Della Rosenberg; three grandchildren, Sam Rosenberg and wife Maria, Simon Rosenberg and wife Kelly, and Josie Rosenberg.