Homecoming keeps it timeless


Shannon Auvil

The bonfire pile waits to be lit Wednesday afternoon on the Quad. The annual homecoming bonfire takes place Friday, Oct. 26 after the 2012 Homecoming Queen crowned.

Adrienne Burch

On a late October afternoon 62 years ago, Janice Garrison stood on the sideline in Bryant-Denny Stadium watching the Mississippi State University Famous Maroon Band perform as she waited to be crowned the 1950 University of Alabama Homecoming Queen. The band played song after song. Halftime ended, but Garrison still waited.

“The band took too long,” she said. “I never got my crown.”

It was supposed to be an emerald- and diamond-encrusted tiara shipped all the way from New York City, Garrison said. But she never even saw it. Garrison is now 81 years old and goes by the name of Janice Stracener after marrying her now-deceased second husband. She will return to campus this Saturday to ride in the 2012 Homecoming Parade, where she will finally be given the spotlight she was meant to receive 62 years ago.

In 1950, Stracener was nominated for queen by Alpha Chi Omega sorority as a freshman. She went up against 46 other young women and won the top honor.

“It was quite an experience,” Stracener said. “There were so many other girls in the contest, and I came up first.”

In the 1950 Homecoming game where Stracener was supposed to be crowned, the Crimson Tide played Mississippi State in the Battle for Highway 82. This year’s Homecoming game, where she will make an appearance, will highlight a modern version of the same rivalry, with both teams fighting to keep a undefeated record.

Long-time friend of Stracener, Peggy Gillam, said riding in the parade is like Stracener’s swan song.

“She’s thrilled to death and so full of herself,” Gillam said.

Gillam’s son-in-law, Alex Michaels, is credited with making this dream come true for Stracener. He recalls joking with her for years that she needed to be in the parade.

“I told her I would drive my pickup truck, and we would put a rocking chair in the back for her to ride in,” Michaels said. He said it was all just a joke until last spring, when Stracener told him she seriously wanted to ride in the parade before she passed away. So, Michaels went to work. He contacted Abby Grace Brown, executive director of Homecoming 2012, and asked if Stracener’s wish of riding in the parade could happen.

Brown said she was immediately touched by Stracener’s story.

“For someone in their 80s to want to relive that moment, it was such an honor to have the opportunity to make her dream come true,” Brown said.

Brown contacted her authorities on the Homecoming committee and worked to make Stracener’s wish a possibility. Finally, a few months ago, she sent an official invitation to Stracener asking her to ride in the parade.

“She was very excited,” Michaels said. “She immediately took Abby’s letter and made about 10 copies and passed them out to all of her friends.”

Brown said Stracener has called her frequently since accepting the invitation, giving her updates on her travel plans and sharing her excitement for Homecoming.

“Getting to talk to her brightens my day,” Brown said. “She is so pumped up about Homecoming, and I can clearly see how important it is to her.”

Stracener’s excitement continued until three weeks ago, when she thought her dream of riding in the parade may not come true. She had a stroke and spent some time in the hospital recovering. However, she said she now feels completely ready for Saturday’s festivities.

“God has been good to me,” Stracener said. “And he has presented me with the honor of being in the parade.”