Through the Generations

Three generations of VP queens, circa 2004: Rosalie McRee, who reigned in 1940; Rosalie ‘Robin’ McRee Ewing, 1967; and Rosalie ‘Lele’ Ewing Engler, 1997. Photo courtesy of the Engler family

Some things that are valuable in and of themselves become even more meaningful when passed down from generation to generation. This is true of heirloom silver, treasured family photographs…and being chosen Queen of Love and Beauty at the Veiled Prophet Ball.

Lele Engler’s grandmother, Rosalie McRee, was queen in 1940; Lele’s mother, Rosalie McRee Ewing, wore the feathered tiara in 1967. “And I was honored to follow the family tradition in 1997,” says Lele, who made her debut as Rosalie Ewing Engler.

Lele was a freshman at Dennison University in Ohio when her parents called and told her she’d been chosen as queen. “It was really hard, keeping it a secret from my girlfriends in St. Louis,” she recalls. “All of us were debuting that year; any one of us could have been chosen. Believe me, a lot of sidelong glances were exchanged up until the night of the ball.”

As the big night approached, Lele got plenty of advice from her grandmother and mother. “I welcomed it—after all, they had already been there and done that,” she says. The former queens were particularly helpful when it came to the traditional curtsy that queens and special maids must perform before His Mysterious Majesty, the Veiled Prophet of Khorassan: “They reminded me to stay down for at least three seconds, hold my bouquet low and smile big,” Lele says. “But the best advice they gave me was, be yourself and have fun.”

Now 32 and director of marketing and media at the Sundance Channel in New York, Lele has fond memories of her coronation and the year of parties that followed. “But what I remember most vividly was that my grandparents and my mom and dad, Curt Engler, were so proud of me,” she says. “Being VP queen wasn’t about me. It was about my family, and it was about being part of a St. Louis tradition.”

Lele’s mother, now known as Robin Engler, heard the news at the family dinner table. “My dad, Rumsey Ewing, casually said, ‘A big honor has been bestowed on me. How would you like to be VP queen this year?’” Robin says. “That’s how all of us have viewed the experience, as an honor for the family.” The Englers’ younger daughter, Ashley, 19, is looking forward to debuting at the ball next year, she adds.

Robin says a lot had changed by the time Lele made her debut at the Chase in 1997. “When my mother and I came out in the 1940s and 1960s, the ceremony was held at Kiel Auditorium in front of 10,000 people,” she recalls. “The walk up to the Veiled Prophet’s throne took about four minutes back then—it was the longest walk I ever took! I practiced my curtsy a full six months. Waiting for those curtains to open was nerve-wracking. But once I started walking and saw a few familiar faces in the crowd, I relaxed.”

Robin’s mom and Lele’s grandmother, Rosalie McRee, reigned in 1940. “In those days, the queens took a year off to do community service—I volunteered for the Junior League and other organizations,” says Rosalie, who today lives at The Gatesworth. “There was lots of glamour and pageantry associated with the ball, but in some ways it was much more accessible. Anyone could show up at Kiel and sit in the balcony.” But one thing has remained the same: “I think all three of us agree that the night was just like a fairytale.” LN