July 29, 2014

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Last days to reign: 2008 International Queen prepares to pass on crown to successor

LORAIN — Natalie Rodriquez doesn’t know how she’ll react, even though she’s been asked it a lot lately.

“People ask me if I’m going to cry,” Rodriquez said. “I don’t know yet. You don’t really know.”

Tears or not, the coming week will surely run the gamut of emotions for Rodriquez.

The reigning Lorain International Festival queen will preside over the festival that’s been a big part of her life for as long as she can remember. But she’ll also crown her successor and, with the crown, hand off the exciting, busy life she’s led as Lorain’s ambassador to festivals around the state.

In the last year, the Kent State University junior spent more weekends than not on the road.

“My duties were to promote the festival, to get people to come to our festival, and to get other royalty members to come to our festival,” Rodriquez said.

Officially, those duties required her to attend six festivals. Rodriquez went to more than 30. So what were those festivals? Festivals about firefighters. Festivals about holidays. Festivals about baskets. Festivals about animals. And then there was the food.

“There’s a lot of food festivals,” Rodriquez said, “like the Bratwurst Festival and the Corn Festival and the Melon Festival. They’re all fun and interesting.

“I think my favorite so far was Bratwurst because it’s a town with maybe 500 people, and there were 6,000 people at the festival. It was like ‘Where do they all come from?’ ”

At each festival, “you get there, you meet the other queens, and they have a queens brunch or lunch or breakfast or whatever. And then you do their parade,” Rodriquez said.

And that camaraderie is what she’ll miss the most.

“It’ll be sad not seeing a lot of the different girls that I’ve met throughout the festivals,” Rodriquez said. “I’ve become really good friends with a bunch of them, so it will be sad not seeing them every weekend at the different festivals.”

Still, Rodriquez probably deserves to spend a little time concentrating on herself.

She’s entering her senior year as a special-education major at Kent — she has one semester of classes left, followed by a semester of teaching in a school.

After that, she hopes to get a teaching job locally so she can stay close to home — at least to start.

And that will let her continue to play a big role in Lorain’s Mexican community. She’s been a part of the Mexican-American Citizens’ Club, which was founded by her grandparents, for as long as she can remember.

Through the club, which was her sponsor as a Mexican princess last year, she’s worked the International Festival “ever since I was really little, taking money and giving people their food.” There have also been fiestas and dances the club puts on year-round.

And her thoughts on the bittersweet crown hand-over?

“A year is enough,” Rodriquez says, “I’ve realized ‘OK, this is what it’s all about, and I’m going to let some other girl try it.’ ”

Contact Rona Proudfoot at (440) 371-0792 or ronalproudfoot@yahoo.com.

This year’s pageant

Eighteen princesses representing nine nationalities will compete to be crowned the 2009 International Festival queen:

• The pageant is 7 p.m. Thursday at the Lorain Palace Theatre.

• Tickets are $9 and can be purchased at www.lorainpalace.com or at the Palace box office.