2023 Strawberry Festival Royalty

Louisiana Strawberry Queen 51
Kirstin Lynn Drozd

A berry sweet welcome to my hometown, where it’s always “Strawberry Time”!

As a hometown girl, my love for Ponchatoula is rooted deep. My late granddaddy, Julian Dufreche, 2004 Strawberry King and life-long politician, helped construct our very first festival, “Berry Bonanza”, in 1971. During this time, my great aunt and strawberry royalty role model, Patricia “Sissy” Dufreche Allgood was crowned the very first Louisiana Strawberry Queen, but not only do my granddaddy and my Aunt Sissy have roots to the festival, my family and the community have put a lot of hard work into supporting and promoting our local strawberry industry and the City of Ponchatoula.

It truly takes a village! My parents, Corey and Melissa Dufreche and Master Sergeant USMC (retired) Eugene and Bobbi Jo Drozd, instilled in me the importance of working hard, following my dreams, and giving my all to accomplish my goals. Along with my parents, my grandparents, Kenneth and Terry Milton, Janet Dufreche, Sarah Marie Caldorera, Dick and Eva Blumel, Ronnie and Regina Clark, and Allen and Betty Gilmore, the late Julian Dufreche, and the late Robert and Elaine Drozd, my siblings, Andrew Maestas (Fanny), Raquel Ortiz (Paul), and Triston Drozd, and my many aunts, uncles, cousins and nephew’s support, encouragement and love, I have achieved so much. At sixteen, my granddaddy told me he wanted me to be queen! Well, really what he told me was that it was his dream for one of his girls to be the Louisiana Strawberry Queen and continue the Dufreche Strawberry Royalty Legacy. Since the age of 18, I have served as a member of the Ponchatoula Jaycees where I was honored to represent them as a voting member on the Strawberry Board; this is where my love and knowledge for the festival and City of Ponchatoula truly began to flourish. In 2022, I decided it was time for me to take that leap of faith and with the guidance of my “Queen’s Team”, my family, friends, and my guardian angel, I was crowned your 51st Louisiana Strawberry Queen and there is no doubt in my mind that Granddaddy is bragging in heaven and smiling down on me!

A 2018 honors graduate of Loranger High School, I am currently a Marketing major with a concentration in Professional Sales at Southeastern Louisiana University; Go Lions! While not at school or promoting the Strawberry industry and the City of Ponchatoula, you can find me serving the most delicious pizzas at Commodores, shopping in the amazing shops and boutiques our city has to offer, duck hunting, deer hunting, fishing, relaxing at our camp on the Tangipahoa River, volunteering for the Richard Murphy Hospice Gala or our local chapter of the Louisiana Costal Conservation Association, dabbling in amateur photography, hanging out with my Pyran(Paran), Kenny, or traveling to visit my family in Wyoming. I truly am honored and humbled to be your 51st Louisiana Strawberry Queen! I look forward to being an ambassador for not only the local farmers and festival, but, also, for the City of Ponchatoula; it truly is a gift from above.

It’s Strawberry Time and I look forward to seeing you all at our local events, Toula ‘Que & Fall Fest on October 28-30, the Julian Dufreche Day in the Park on April 1st, and most especially, the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival on April 14, 15 & 16, 2023, where we’ll all have a berry sweet time.

Sincerely yours,
Kirstin Lynn Drozd
Louisiana Strawberry Queen 51

Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival King
Arthur “Art” Thompson

Greetings from Ponchatoula and Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival LI! I am King Arthur “Art” Thompson, and I am proud and honored to represent the second largest free fair in the great state of Louisiana, the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival.

A Ponchatoula native and businessman for over 40 years, I was born in Pumpkin Center to Daniel Preston Thompson and Estelle Traylor Thompson. I attended Ponchatoula schools, Mississippi State University and Southeastern Louisiana University, and married Evelyn Poche. We have four children and thirteen grandchildren, Clay (wife Jodie, daughters Alex, Gabby, Kate, Libby), Jennifer (husband Ken, sons Matt, Luke, Preston, daughter Sarah), Artie (wife Jolynn, son Brayden, daughter Brinley), and Jeremy (wife Tiffany, sons McKaden, Kellan, daughter McKena).

I have served the community through various organizations including the Knights of Columbus, Ponchatoula High School Boosters Club, Ponchatoula youth baseball and football programs, St. Joseph School Basketball, and St. Joseph School Booster club. I am a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ponchatoula and grew up in Pumpkin Center attending Trinity Baptist Church, where I developed a love for music that I treasure to this day.

In high school I dated my future wife Evelyn whose parents, Rufus and Ludivine Poche, are on the Strawberry Wall of Fame. Years later I went into the family piling business. This allowed me the opportunity to fulfill Coach Scott Martin and Superintendent Virgil Allen’s goal of refurbishing the high school football fields. With my oldest son Clay, my equipment and gravel pit, we were able to reshape the fields to LHSAA specifications.

I was also afforded the opportunity to support one of my military heroes, Col. Jim Hulsey, in his efforts to build an obstacle training course for the Marine JROTC on the grounds of Ponchatoula High School. Teaming with the National Guard, I’m proud that this course is still a viable part of their program and has hosted training and competitions with other schools throughout the area.

Please join me in thanking and remembering all strawberry farmers and the festival board members who continue to keep the industry and festival tradition alive. These are the hard-working people who make Ponchatoula and the Strawberry Festival a continued success and allows the non-profit organizations to raise funds for their yearly activities. I am proud to represent Ponchatoula, the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival, our community, and organizations as your King LI.

Arthur Thompson

Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival Blossom
Mary Howes

Hello and welcome to the 51st Annual Strawberry Festival. My name is Mary Howes and I am proud to be the 2023 Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival Blossom. It is an honor and privilege to represent the hard-working farmers, local non-profits, and the family atmosphere that is the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival.

While I am not a native of Ponchatoula, I have called Ponchatoula home for the last 36 years. I was born in Port Lavaca, Texas in 1949 to Charles and Helen Peavey. I was raised in Simmesport, Louisiana and graduated from Simmesport High School in 1967. That same year I met my husband, Wayne. Wayne and I were married in 1968 and went on to have four children: Richie (Kimberly), Keith (Michelle), Charlie (Alysha) and Jennifer (Scott). Wayne and I have also been blessed with eleven grandchildren, one great grandchild and one more on the way, Austin Taylor, Brittany Howes, Christian Howes, Katie Howes, Madision Howes, Johnathon Howes, Jadyn Howes, Matthew Howes, Brady Howes, Emma Drake, Addison Drake and Brantlee Woods.

In 1986, Wayne and I moved our family back to Ponchatoula to take over the family farm, raising bell peppers, strawberries and other produce. While Wayne worked as an Agriculture teacher at Springfield High during the day, I tended the farm and took on the duties of a stay at home mother. Upon Wayne’s retirement from teaching, we opened and ran a produce stand near our home, selling home grown and locally grown produce and goods. We ran the stand for six years until Wayne’s passing in 2011. These days, I am retired from farming life, and I enjoy spending time with my family, reading and listening to good music.

In the past, I have had the honor of being a Strawberry King’s wife, and a Strawberry King’s mom, and now I get to hold the title of Blossom. I am extremely honored to represent the town of Ponchatoula, and the strawberry industry that has played such a significant role in my life. It is my hope that everyone will continue to support our local farmers and enjoy all of the traditions that the festival has to offer. Please join me on April 14-16 for the 51st annual Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival. It will no doubt be a Berry good time!

Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival Grand Marshal
Gary Stanga

Hello and Welcome. My name is Gary Stanga, and I am this year’s Grand Marshal for the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival. I am heavily involved and dedicated to the city of Ponchatoula and Tangipahoa Parish. My love for the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival and community runs deep. If there is a story to be told, I will be willing to tell it.

I grew up on a farm in Bedico. I attended Champ Cooper, PHS and SLU. I retired after 31 years from BellSouth. During my tenure with BellSouth, I served 20 years on the Ponchatoula City Council. After leaving BellSouth, I served for 13 years as Chief Deputy for Clerk of Court Julian Dufreche, and I have currently served 5 years as Clerk of Court and counting. I am a Christian and attend the First Baptist Church in Ponchatoula.

I am a charter member and Past President of the Ponchatoula Lions Club, past President of the Ponchatoula Jaycees, and past member of the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival Board.

I am one of six children born to Inez and Elvin Stanga. I am married to the love of my life, Jean Ridgedell and together we have one son, Matthew Stanga, a wonderful daughter in law, Melissa Doty Stanga, and two beautiful granddaughters, Halle Reis and Mila Kate.

Having grown up on a strawberry farm, I really appreciate the struggles of today’s farmers. I am honored to be the 2023 Grand Marshal and look forward to promoting the strawberry industry and festival. Join me Festival Weekend April 14, 15, & 16, 2023!