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Royalty returns to annual Cuero turkey festival

Sonny Long

By Sonny Long
Oct. 7, 2009 at 5:07 a.m.
Updated Oct. 8, 2009 at 5:08 a.m.

Katherine Reilly and Frank Sheppard  served as the Sultana and Sultan of the 1972 Cuero Turkey Trot. They and four other former royalty will be grand marshals at Saturday's Turkeyfest parade. Reilly still fits into the dress her mother made by hand back in the early 1970s for the occasion.

CUERO - A rainstorm did little to dampen the spirits of Frank Sheppard and Katherine Reilly that night in 1972, when they were named Sultan and Sultana of the annual Cuero Turkey Trot pageant.

The duo has reigned ever since.

The last of the pageants was in 1972, so technically Sheppard and Reilly still rule the fall festival, now known as Turkeyfest. The pair and four others who once bore the titles of Sultan Yekrut and Sultana Oreuc will lead Saturday's Turkeyfest parade as grand marshals. The marshals will be presented to the public at 10 a.m., with the parade beginning at 11 a.m.

Sheppard, 87, and a Cuero attorney, remembered that night in 1972 well.

"The sultan came in early on, took a seat and observed the historical pageant being performed," Sheppard said. "The sultana was in the tent waiting for her cue to come in, at which time a terrible storm broke out. She barely made it to the stage before everything had to be shut down."

Reilly, 20 at the time of her coronation as Sultana Oreuc IV, said, "I got drenched. There was a big push to get me out on stage. Then the heavens opened up. The train got wet. Fortunately, it dried out during the parade the next morning."

The entire costume is a source of pride for Reilly, who still fits in the gown.

"I don't know what size it is. My mother made it," she said. "The best part was the preparation, the costuming. It was all done in secret. How you can keep a secret in a town of 7,000 is pretty amazing. But it worked."

It was exciting being named as royalty over the annual event that drew thousands of people to Cuero to see not only the parade, but also the parade of turkeys down Cuero streets, another tradition that has been morphed into the Great Gobbler Gallop turkey race.

"It's just fun. It's special, especially if you've grown up here you've heard about it your whole life. It was certainly special and I think quite a compliment," she said.

Sheppard enjoyed it, too.

"It was lots of fun, I'll guarantee you that. It was going from morning until night," he said.

Event organizers of the current Turkeyfest celebration said discussions have been had on holding a pageant for sultan and sultana in 2012, the 100th anniversary of the first Turkey Trot.

"I think it would be great fun, but you'd have to have a lot of community involvement in staging a pageant," Reilly said. "It is a tremendous amount of work. It was a very intense celebration."

The intensity returns at 10:30 a.m. Saturday as Ruby Begonia and Paycheck square off in the second leg of the Great Gobbler Gallop. Paycheck leads by four seconds after the September race in Minnesota.

Paycheck has won the Traveling Turkey Trophy of Tumultuous Triumph two consecutive years.

Paycheck's handlers are confident of victory.

"We are confident that Paycheck will bring us another win and continue the winning streak," said Jodi Almberg, a member of Paycheck's race team. "We won in Minnesota by four seconds. We're all friends and Paycheck didn't want Ruby to feel embarrassed, thus the close race."

Paycheck has been spending time at an exclusive resort in Texas for the past few weeks to get acclimated to the weather," added Almberg. "He spent the first week relaxing; being pampered, eating out, reading and massages. The last few weeks he has been training with Hollywood trainer. He is ready to race and bring in another win for us."

Terri Warwas, Ruby Begonia's team captain, said, "It sounds like Paycheck is getting the big-head, getting a Hollywood trainer. We've got this race on our home turf and Ruby will make up those four seconds, no problem."

The 37th annual Cuero Turkeyfest begins Friday and runs through Sunday with all activities at the city park, except the Great Gobbler Gallop turkey race and the parade.



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