On a January evening in 1978, young women dressed all in white began arriving at the St. Paul Municipal Auditorium. They were the Royal Princesses of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, all hoping to be crowned Queen of the Snows. The gilded, cavernous Auditorium had been transformed into the Great Hall of Jupiter for the coronation ceremony. King Boreas had been crowned and on this night a Queen would be chosen to represent the City in the coming year.
The Princesses had been preparing for months. In the fall of the previous year, Donaldson’s Department Store began an internal selection process for for their own store-sponsored representative. As many as nine single women, aged 18 to 25, were nominated internally and judged on personality, poise, maturity, and walk. By late Fall, Donaldson’s had selected their candidate.
Marlene Richter had taken a position at Donaldson’s a few years earlier and joined in the store’s 1978 Winter Carnival competition in order to expand her social horizons. A University of Minnesota chemical engineering student, Marlene hoped that participating in the Winter Carnival competition would create opportunities to meet new people, outside of the the men surrounding her at school.
Once she was selected as Donaldson’s Winter Carnival candidate, Marlene began preparing with the manager of the women’s wear department. Candidates and sponsors were responsible for providing a formal white coronation gown. The hunt for the perfect gown took the two women to a bridal shop in Rosedale Mall, where they found a two piece formal dress complete with lace and marabou feather trim that fit Marlene beautifully, straight off the rack.
On coronation night, Marlene and the other candidates stood under the hot lights of the Auditorium stage, nervous and excited. When the Grand Chamberlain bowed before Marlene, it took a moment for her to realize the choice was made; she would be Queen of the Snows. King Boreas (Dan Dolan), in his own imposing red uniform complete with gold braid and white gloves, crowned the new queen. The rest of the evening passed in a blur of activity; from a reception at the Radisson hotel on Kellogg Boulevard and back to a women-only suite at the St. Paul Hotel, where the remaining princesses would be outfitted with matching gold gowns to differentiate between Queen and Princesses.
The Royal party would appear at the annual parade and other events during Carnival in St. Paul, but their duties did not end there. As Snow Queen, Marlene made about 400 appearances throughout 1978, following the Carnival tradition of spreading St. Paul hospitality across the state and the nation. She was part of the last group of Carnival royalty to participate in the Rose Bowl Parade in California, on a float with Minneapolis Aquatennial royalty. She wore her coronation gown to many of these events, but wore at least eight other dresses throughout the year.
Marlene’s reign ended with the passing of her crown at the 1979 King Boreas coronation event. The Winter Carnival experience was all she had imagined and more. Donaldson’s sponsorship not only financed the wardrobe and other costs associated with Carnival, but enabled Marlene to travel extensively. Her social hopes were also realized; she created lasting friendships with the royal party and met Michael Killa, a member of the 1978 Royal Guard. Marlene and Mike later married.
After her time in Carnival, Marlene (Richter) Killa would go on to earn an MBA and spend twenty-two years as an engineer at Ecolab, a St. Paul-based multinational developer and manufacturer. For the past decade she and her husband Mike have worked together on their own construction company. Marlene and Mike took part in Saint Paul Winter Carnival activities for years following 1978: Marlene served as a judge for the 1980 Queen of the Snows competition and was active with the Former Queen’s Club for many years. Mike served as Captain of the Guard in 1986 and both were active with the Royal Party that year.
Sondra Reierson, Associate Curator, 3D Objects
- Saint Paul Winter Carnival guide to related MNHS collections, including photographs and artifacts.
- St. Paul Auditorium photographs. The Auditorium was razed in 1982; Ordway Theater was partially constructed on the original site of the Auditorium, beside the Roy Wilkins Auditorium.
- In 1961 Donaldson’s, a Minneapolis company, merged with the Golden Rule department store in St. Paul and changed the store’s name to Donaldson’s a few years later. The St. Paul location remained in the Golden Rule building until 1980, when it moved to the Town Square complex. The original building still stands at 85 7th Place East, St. Paul.
- Ecolab, Inc. records
- Saint Paul Winter Carnival Queen of the Snows coronation gown <2014.162.1.A,B> Two piece white formal gown worn by Marlene (Richter) Killa as the 1978 Saint Paul Winter Carnival Queen of the Snows.
- Saint Paul Winter Carnival King Boreas uniform <1988.396. and 1998.413.> Jacket, pants, hat, gloves and scepter used by Daniel F. Dolan as the 1978 Saint Paul Winter Carnival King Boreas.