In 1953 the Buna Volunteer Fire Department was organized. The only money the department had was from donations from the community. They would hold cake sales and dinners to help raise more funds when needed. The Miss Buna Contest was an idea conceived when the need for a different kind of fund-raiser became apparent. The first Miss Buna Contest was held in 1957 with Nancy Richardson Simmons being crowned the first title holder. Her crown was made of cardboard and she was presented a gold compact. The girls and the community found fun and excitement in the Miss Buna Contest, so a new social event for Buna was established and the fire department had a new fundraiser.
Betty Barker directed the practice with the girls at the high school auditorium. She required them to walk with a book on their head for posture and poise, it was an unforgettable experience for all. “Amateurish, but who cared! Everyone had fun and the fire department had a fund raiser” Mrs. Barker stated. The next year, Mrs. Barker asked the fire department for a portable ramp to be set up in the aisle to the stage, but the funds were not available. Mr. Melvin Simmons heard about it and offered to loan them the lumber so the ramp could be constructed. E.E Stringer Funeral Home loaned “grass” carpet to cover the ramp. The second contest was held and Charlie Fae Dickerson Young was crowned the 1958 Miss Buna. She was crowned with a pretty “store bought” crown and robed with a velvet satin robe that Dot Sowell made. The robe was worn by each succeeding Miss Buna until 1991 when a new robe was made by Glenda Ferguson.
In 1959, the contest became a pageant. Sixty-three girls participated and Barbara Franklin McCann was crowned the third Miss Buna. In 1960, the fire department organized a women’s auxiliary and the pageant became the responsibility of these women. The original pageant directors were Rose Bradford, Sue Bunker and Melba Breithaupt. Mrs. Breithaupt directed the pageant for fifteen years, after serving as Sue’s assistant for three years. Other directors and their assistants included Sondra Rose, Karen Lewis Gerber, Susan Fields, Mickey Reeves, Lori Reneau, Kerbi Waghorn, and Sierra Fisher, all past Miss Buna’s. The firemen also help with the pageant, but Raymond Doyle Walters was the pageant coordinator for many years. After his passing, his son Todd Walters continued his father’s legacy and has served as pageant coordinator to date.
In 1958 the firemen constructed a float for their reigning Miss Buna Nancy Simmons. The next year (1959) the community got in the “float mood” and local businesses and churches decorated floats for a parade. The Miss Buna Pageant and Parade sponsored by the Fire Department combined forces with the Buna Chamber of Commerce to expand the idea of a community festival. Mr. Gene Keeler, owner of Western Auto is credited with the idea of the Redbud Festival which is an annual spring celebration where hundreds of people come to this family oriented East Texas community for a weekend of togetherness and good times. It all came together in 1973, when the first Redbud Festival was born. The theme was “Spring in Buna.” It was held in March, and was named after the beautiful Redbud trees that bloom at that time. The Buna Volunteer Fire Department and the Buna Chamber of Commerce came together and created the Redbud Festival that is held the 2nd Saturday of March. They have a carnival that opens on Thursday of the week, and on Saturday there is a big parade, and flea market, dance. rodeo, and other festivities. The concluding highlight of the festival is the Miss Buna pageant Saturday night. Young ladies are sponsored by local businesses and individuals. The young ladies sell ads to local business and individuals to raise money for the fire department. The ads are placed in a program that is sold at the pageant to help raise additional funds for the fire department.
The Buna Volunteer Fire Department has a long legacy of service to the community of Buna. They are so proud to offer the opportunity to represent Buna to one young lady each year. The Miss Buna pageant is a source of pride and tradition and a blessing to our community.