Being crowned Strawberry Queen in 2014 gave Varnum the confidence to pursue her dreams in college. Now, she’s months away from graduation and plans to open her own business in January 2019.
When Jessi Rae Varnum was crowned Strawberry Queen in 2014, she knew that it would change her life forever. Having attended the festival since she was “practically an infant” Varnum felt she knew the ins and outs of the coveted event.
However, the second she had the large crown placed on her head, she knew a door to a completely different realm of Plant City would be opened to her.
“I was purely shocked when I won,” Varnum said. “I was so excited. It was one of the things I’ve been thinking about since I was so little…it was so humbling and such an honor. It was everything I’ve prayed for. I knew right away this was going to be something special.”
Varnum had spent her entire life stepping into leadership roles and getting involved in her community. She was voted Outstanding Teen 2013 at Durant, was a member of National Honor Society, vice president of Student Government, producer of D News morning show, captain of the varsity cheerleading squad, managing editor of yearbook and more.
She loved her town and wanted to go out for Strawberry Queen since she was a child. After all, both her mother and cousin had been either crowned queen or on the court, and she wanted her chance to be a part of Plant City history and give back to the town she holds so dear.
Some of her favorite memories of her tenure involve the people she met along her journey. She remembers vividly learning to Polka Dance on opening day, reminisced on the time she was able to spend shaking the hands of the volunteers that are “the heart of the festival” and laughed when she recalled the faces of the children she spent time reading to and getting to know.
Her grandfather and her mother are heavily involved with the festival every year. She spent years of her life showing animals in the agriculture shows during the event. Even still, she said she spent every day learning something new about her town and her favorite event.
“I grew up with the festival but being queen just completely showed me a new side,” Varnum said. “Seeing the fair go up and then watching it be torn down, seeing the behind the scenes aspects and getting to know the volunteers that make the entire thing possible, you think you’re a part of it but then you get to be a part of the history of it. It was incredible.”
Varnum is in her final semester at Florida Southern College. She is majoring in business and minoring in public relations and marketing. After graduation she plans on diving right into creating her own business. She plans to open a bridal salon in downtown Lakeland by January 2019.
She said she has always wanted to be her own boss and absolutely adores the fashion industry. She wants to work in weddings because she loves the “idea of romance” and wants to help brides find their perfect gown.
As queen, Varnum said she had the chance to meet many “intimidating” people like the governor, other politicians and celebrities. Through those experiences she learned that if you’re passionate about something and confident, your voice still matters, regardless of age. It’s a lesson she plans to carry with her into her new venture as a young business owner.
“As long as I’m confident and knowledgeable about what I’m doing I still have a voice that matters in this world,” Varnum said. “Strawberry Queen taught me that and gave me the confidence to know that everything I do, with the Lord helping me, can be successful.”