Revisiting a Queen Tradition

By Heather Hickerson

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One float, two queen candidates and a bucket of red delicious apples were the main attraction of the first homecoming parade at the University of Central Missouri in 1938.

The agriculture department built the only float, a Horn of Plenty, which carried UCM's first homecoming royalty. The candidates threw the apples to the cheering crowd along the parade route to the football stadium where the winner was chosen at halftime of the football game against the Kirksville Bulldogs.

"Miss Willa Mae Fellhauer, chosen by popular election as homecoming queen, was crowned to reign in a throne of honor over the remaining festivities..." reads the 1939 Rhetor yearbook.

Willa Mae McKean

Willa Mae McKean, 1939 and 2008

Willa Mae McKean, who turned 90 years old in 2008, remembers what it was like to be named UCM's first homecoming queen. "I wasn't surprised; I had a secret tip from an insider," she says.

Celebrating beautiful students was not out of the ordinary for the university at that time. UCM has crowned beauty queens, most popular boy and girl students and Rhetor queens since the early days of the college. Celebrity judges, including Jimmie Fidler, a radio commentator for Fox Movietone News and a syndicated columnist, chose the three annual beauty queens. The student body voted for the most popular male and female students as well as homecoming queen.

McKean celebrated 70 years of the homecoming parade last fall when she rode down Holden Street with her two daughters in a convertible. She says she enjoyed seeing all the familiar faces, and her daughters really encouraged her to take part. She says, "I think they had more fun than I did. But it was neat to hear comments like, '70 years, that's awesome!'


Comments About This Article

To say Mrs. McKean is an institution in Warrensburg is an understatement---she is a living, breathing passionate testament to all that is good not just in the town, but in the surrounding area from which the students are drawn. You would do well to mine this rich vein for more rich ore (and lore) for future stories.

Author's note: I'm glad so many people were touched by Willa Mae's story. I'd like to add some information here that was left out of the printed story due to space limitations. Willa Mae, from Blairstown, MO, graduated from UCM in 1939 and received her master's degree in education from Central Missouri in 1968. She married her husband, a high school friend, in 1943. He was drafted shortly after they were married. They have two daughters, Merilyn and Mary Kate, both of whom are UCM graduates. After college, Willa Mae taught English at Warrensburg High School for 25 years. Her loving family and many friends are a testament to her true beauty. Sincerely, Heather Hickerson

No doubt, this is a lady who has led a virtuous life. She just looks so kind. I remember the McKean girls from my college days; they, too, were nice women. Sherry Altis; Knob Noster High School teacher

I remember looking at my mother's Rhetor when I was growing up and thinking what a pretty young woman Ms. McKean was. Her image really stuck in my mind....my Mother was a freshman at UCM in 1938. I enjoy articles on UCM's history.

Wow! She could pass for 20 years younger than her actual age!

I have known Ms. McKean for many years. She was my English teacher in high school. Then after I became the office professional in 1983 to the Department of Theatre at UCM, I met one of her daughters and also realized the other daughter was on Channel 4 News. All three are beautiful women.

I wish you would have given a little more background on her. I know her as a teacher, who was kind and caring as well as a neighbor. She would love to hear from others whose lives she has touched. She is a great role model for others as well as other women.

It is amazing to have the first homecoming queen revisit the Homecoming parade. I like seeing how people from the past are reconnected to people in the future. Nice article.

I would have liked to have learned more about what Willa was doing in the years between 1938 and now and whether she had children who became students at Central Mo.

She's still cute!! Looks good for her age!

I enjoyed this article as Willa Mae has been a friend many years. I had never seen her early picture.

I think McKean looks better now than then. Oh, to age that gracefully.

Very interesting to me since I graduated in June 1938. I must have had some contact with her. I was a neighbor of the Culps on Holden sreet. I will be 92 in March. Wish I could return for a visit.--Charles M. Roselle

I enjoyed it. She was one of my teachers in High School. Bob Martin "59

Fun to read about happy times at UCM.