It was the Yuletide season of 1895, and the Eubank Hotel in Kilmarnock glowed with candlelight and twinkling eyes. Amidst the lilt of banjos and violins, dancers in their finest party attire were swirling about the room when John Armistead Palmer placed a chair beneath the chandelier and standing above the crowd, held a sprig of holly over the head of Miss Cora Brent. When he spoke, a hush came over the room. “I crown thee, Queen Cora, Empress of the Holly Realm,” and with his decree a tradition was born.
That tradition lives on. There has been a Holly Ball Queen every year since 1895 except during the years of World War I and World War II. In 1958 the Holly Ball Committee joined with The Christmas Assembly, a debutante charity ball which had begun in 1950 in the Northern Neck. The two events were combined to become the Holly Festival Ball, a debutante ball where a Queen would continue to be chosen by popular vote.
It was also decided that another tradition of the Christmas Assembly would be honored: that is, through the Tidewater Foundation, Inc. funds resulting from this charity ball would continue to be used to support the Tidewater Foundation’s commitment to cultural enrichment and education in the Northern Neck and Tidewater area.
Ever since the first Holly Ball, beautifully decorated and engraved invitations signaled the elegance of the occasion, with the reigning Queen’s family providing the food, decorations, orator and orchestra for the elaborate and much celebrated gala. The Holly Ball Committee has taken over most of these responsibilities. The reigning queen is still responsible for choosing the orator and, new in the last two years, for choosing a charity to which the debutantes are asked to make donations.
What began as a Yuletide party has grown into an event which requires thousands of hours of planning all year long. As soon as one Ball is over, plans for the next one begins. It’s a labor of love as people throughout the community play a part in preserving the Holly tradition. And it’s an event that gives back to the community—not just in memories and photographs, but a charitable spirit
that improves the quality of life in the Northern Neck.
This past year 16 college-bound, high school graduates, all with family ties to the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, accepted the invitation from the Holly Ball Committee to be presented at the 119th Holly Ball. The celebratory events they participated in leading up to the Holly Ball included the Holly Ball Coffee, where they first gathered together and met with the Holly Ball Committee, The Queen’s Ball given by the previous year’s Queen, and numerous parties given in honor of the debutantes by their families.
The committee is pleased that these young ladies embrace a time-honored tradition and mission of preserving a philanthropic legacy of giving back. The events hosted by the debutantes during the festive season unite these women and inspire the formation of new and unending friendships.
The 119th Holly Ball took place on Saturday, December 27, 2014 at the Indian Creek Yacht and Country Club, Kilmarnock, Virginia, with Richard A. Farmar, III as Master of Ceremonies. Presiding at the Ball was reigning Queen Hannah Elizabeth Rogers, who had chosen Lance Barton, founder and Director of The Northern Neck Food Bank, to be the orator. The Northern Neck Food Bank was her choice of a charity to which the debutants would make contributions.
The debutantes presented were Katherine Leanne Keyser, Laura Emily Smith, Laura Peyton Ellis, Elizabeth Paige Augst, Hannah Elias Rennolds, Hannah Ellery Kellum, Emily Virginia Szyperski, Katrina Lynn Gauntt, Emily Ryan Wilmore, Lauren Page James, Kate McGinley Nelson, Cameron Elizabeth Brent, Quinlan McHugh Moore, Connor Blaire Haislip, Katherine Louise Crowther and Kathryn Barclay Mapes.
According to tradition, voting took place by everyone in attendance at the Ball, and by popular vote Hannah Ellery Kellum of Farnham was chosen as the 119th Queen of The Holly Realm. She chose as her attendants Lauren Paige James and Emily Ryan Wilmore. Lance Barton, who had provided an eloquent oration at the gala crowned Miss Kellum with the traditional crown worn by former queens. Miss Kellum will reign as 119th Queen of the Holly Realm until a new queen is crowned at the 120th Holly Ball on December 28, 2015.
Special thanks to the many individuals, businesses and organizations who have given of their time, efforts and materials to make this event possible, and especially to Noblett Appliance, EVB, Lamberth Building Materials and Kilmarnock Mini Storage for their generous in-kind donations.
To view scores of Holly Ball albums and memorabilia, visit The Kilmarnock Museum, Inc., located at 76 North Main Street in Kilmarnock. It is open Thursday through Saturday, from 11 to 3. Phone number is 804-435-9100. To contact The Tidewater Foundation for more information or to make a contribution, the address is Post Office Box 363,
Irvington, Virginia 22480.