The original Flower Festival Queen and her Court. Donnie is on the lower left. | Credit: Courtesy
Readon (Donnie) Marilyn Grossi in her days as a candidate for Flower Festival Queen | Credit: Courtesy

I met the dynamic and charming Readon (Donnie) Marilyn Grossi Silva several years ago at the Lompoc Valley Historical Society, where she was working as one of the volunteers who lovingly tend to the area’s history. Born in Lompoc on December 7, 1933, Donnie’s childhood home was on Santa Lucia Canyon Road, and she has lived in Lompoc all her life. 

I had heard that she was Lompoc’s first Flower Festival Queen back in 1954, and I was hoping she might share some memories with me. She was constantly in motion, but I followed her around and did my best to ask her questions.

It wasn’t hard to picture Donnie as a festival queen, looking pretty in a fancy dress, wearing a flower crown, and waving from a float. She earned the title by selling the most tickets to the festival, and her vivacious personality, still very much in evidence, must have served her well. “We went up and down the streets, hounding people, begging them to death to buy the tickets,” she recalled. She probably sold thousands.

But she also admits to having had connections: her dad was bartender for Martin’s Bar, and his bookkeeper gave her good advice about where to sell the tickets. “I was in every bar from Oxnard to Avila Beach selling those tickets,” she laughed. Her mother ran the soda stand at Stan Johnson’s drug store on the corner of I and Ocean, and that helped too. Yes, those tickets sold like hot cakes, and Donnie was the unequivocal queen. 

A recent photo of Readon (Donnie) Marilyn Grossi Silva | Credit: Courtesy

A local seamstress made a formal dress for her in powder-blue, dotted Swiss material, but she lost weight, and it was way too big, so she donned a lavender gown of her own for the parade. Her floral crown was made of locally grown white stock flowers, already a little past their prime on this July day. But nothing could diminish the excitement.

“We went up H Street for the parade,” she said. “Back then, the town really came out to celebrate together. Anything for a celebration! Everyone participated. They had a street dance by Brown’s drug store on the corner of H and Ocean and closed off two blocks. The street was so packed with people, you couldn’t believe it.”

Donnie’s father played accordion, sometimes accompanying a terrific local piano player named Bea Harris at the USO and other venues. “Back then, they had dancers,” she said wistfully. “But that’s all changed; the dancing has changed. Except for the swing,” she added, after a pause. “They’ll never get rid of the swing.”

Donnie’s history is right here, but Lompoc doesn’t feel like a small town to her anymore. All the old names were real people to her, and every street still holds stories. She told me that many newcomers lack a sense of the past and aren’t even interested in it. They do not feel the deep connection and sense of community that added such pleasure and meaning to her life. It’s a loss.

But maybe there’s a lesson here on the importance of engaging in community, participating, celebrating, and learning what happened yesterday to help guide us through today. 

And in plucky Lompoc fashion, the town is now readying for its 71st Annual Flower Festival, June 20-23, 2024, in Ryon Park, on Ocean Avenue, to celebrate the valley’s flower growing heritage with carnival rides, arts and craft exhibitors, equestrian units, food booths, musical entertainment, and of course, flowers and floats. The parade begins at 10 a.m. Saturday and the theme for this year’s event is “Shoot for the Stars.” A queen will be crowned. Maybe folks will dance. A little celebration is good for the soul.

Festival Location: Ryon Memorial Park, 800 W. Ocean Avenue, Lompoc

Admission is $5, but free on Friday before 1 p.m., and kids 12 and under are free all weekend. For information see or  

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