photo by James French Photography

For most college freshman who go away to school, the Thanksgiving break is their first time to go back home since the beginning of the semester. Although many will not admit to being homesick, most look forward to Thanksgiving with great anticipation. They look forward to reuniting with their families, seeing friends, and simply enjoying familiar surroundings. That was true for Anna Grace Hallmark. After graduating from All Saints Episcopal School, she chose to attend the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, in part because she wanted to assert her independence. A friend of her father’s had gone there and suggested she look at it. “We visited several times and even went to a football game when I was in high school. I liked the small-town atmosphere and the campus. Once I started classes, I knew I made the right decision,” Anna Grace explains. She is a member of Kappa Delta sorority and is majoring in business with plans to attend law school when she completes her Bachelor’s Degree. Despite enjoying her new-found independence, Anna Grace was feeling just a little homesick, “I was anxious to be home for the holiday,” she admits with a laugh. “It was fun going to watch my brother play basketball. I didn’t think anything about our parents wanting us to get home quickly after the game.” 

It was perfectly natural for long-time family friends to be dropping by during the holiday. Anna Grace’s grandmother has been friends with Mary Lauren and Bruce Faulkner for years. So, Anna Grace was not surprised to see Mary Lauren and Bruce Faulkner visiting her grandparents. She was surprised when they gave her a box to unwrap. She opened the box and inside was a silver tray. The words engraved on the tray did not immediately register with Anna Grace. She saw her name and beneath it she read, “Queen of the Texas Rose Festival.” The announcement was made public at the Winter Gala in January of last year.

“The last thing I expected to happen during the Thanksgiving break was to be asked to be the Queen of the Texas Rose Festival. I was in shock,” Anna Grace exclaims. “My first memory of the Rose Festival was when I was about five and going to the Queen’s Tea. In the second grade I was a junior hostess at the Queen’s Tea and that was very exciting. I have attended every year since my childhood but never thought I would be queen one day. I was not involved with the festival again until I was in high school. In my junior and senior years, I was a dresser for the attendants to the Queen in 2018 and 2019.”

Queen Anna Grace is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Cameron Blake Hallmark. She has two brothers, Patrick, a 2021 graduate from All Saints Episcopal School, and seven-year-old Cameron, who will serve as his sister’s scepter bearer at this year’s festival. Her grandparents are Celia Flowers Bates and Barrie David Bates, Betty Jane Hallmark and James Patrick Hallmark, Ken Needham and Cheryl Needham. Anna Grace’s mother, Erica Needham Hallmark, has served on the wardrobe committees from 2005-2010 and as a chaperone in 2009. She also participated as a Lady-in-Waiting in 1996. Coincidently, Mary Lauren Faulkner was in charge of the Coronation the year Anna Grace’s mother was a Lady-in-Waiting. Anna Grace’s parents and grandparents have continued to support the festival as hosts and sponsors since 1986.

Anna Grace’s family has a long history with the Texas Rose Festival. Family members who have been participants in the festival include her aunt, Lucille Annie Bates, Lady-in-Waiting – 2014; her aunt, Michelle Flowers Dial, Lady-in-Waiting – 1986; and her uncle Jason Butler Flowers, Escort – 1989. Many cousins have participated including William Michael Hallmark II, Escort; Heather Ashley Hughey, Lady-in-Waiting; Hillary Aarin Hughey, Lady-in-Waiting; Holland Avery Hughey, Lady-in-Waiting; William Robert Hughey III, Escort; Lindsey Dickerson Amos, Duchess; Mary Michael Dial, Royal Attendant; Merritt Elizabeth Dial, Train Bearer; and Hampton Malone Hughey, Royal Attendant. 

Once the excitement of being chosen as the Rose Queen subsided, Anna Grace immediately became aware of the responsibility that had been bestowed upon her. “The two things that are the most important for me are being an ambassador for my hometown and being a role model for the little girls who will be attending the festival, just as previous Rose Queens served as role models for me,” says Queen Anna Grace thoughtfully. 

In January, before starting the spring semester at Ole Miss, Mary Lauren Faulkner accompanied Anna Grace, her mother, and grandmother to New York to meet with Jacob Climer. Jacob is the new designer, assuming the role previously held by Winn Morton since 1982. “Jacob showed us his initial design for the train and gave us the opportunity to provide our input. My dress was made in Dallas, but Jacob personally worked on the train in New York,” says Anna Grace. It was the first time for Anna Grace and her mother to travel to New York. “It was a ton of fun! We had dinner with Jacob and did lots of shopping. Shop till you drop, shopping!” Anna Grace traveled to Dallas for a fitting with John Ahrens who made the dress portion of her costume. Then, she returned to school until Spring Break. It was while she was on Spring Break that the coronavirus hit and everyone’s plans for the year were suddenly changed. “My father and I made a whirlwind trip to Oxford to get my things before the school was closed. I was able to take courses online, like everyone else,” Anna Grace explains. 

For Anna Grace, the hardest thing to deal with during the pandemic was the uncertainty. “We didn’t know for certain what events that had already been planned would go forward. It was announced that we would be able to have Rose Sunday. I was nervous about getting up in front of people and speaking. I am not a big fan of public speaking, but I am getting over my shyness. I memorized my presentation part for Rose Sunday and that helped a lot! The more I get in front of people, the more relaxed I am.”

Shortly after Rose Sunday, it was announced that the festival would be postponed for 2020. The usual rehearsal held in July was canceled, which was a big disappointment for Anna Grace, who had been looking forward to meeting the out-of-town girls who were to participate in the festival. The Executive Director for the Texas Rose Festival, Liz Ballard, came up with ideas for ways members of this year’s court could help during the pandemic. “We volunteered with PATH, the East Texas Food Bank and Meals on Wheels. In this time of crisis, I think it is important that we came together as an organization to work with those agencies that are so vital in taking care of people who could not take care of themselves,” Anna Grace explained. She and Bruce Faulkner visited the Promise Academy where they had a question-and-answer session with the children. Anna Grace enjoyed that opportunity to be with the children. She is an avid babysitter and loves children. By fall 2020, she was able to go back to Oxford, although she has not had any classes in the classroom. So far, all of her classes have been taken online from her apartment in Oxford. “I love Oxford, but I was looking forward to meeting all the girls at this July’s rehearsal, especially because we missed that opportunity last year. I’ll be home the rest of the summer and then back to Oxford when the fall semester begins for my junior year.” 

In October, Anna Grace will be back home during the entire week of the festival. “I am not a center-of-attention person. It’s not something I am accustomed to, but I am getting better about it. I am not as shy as I used to be and I am getting better about speaking in public. I am looking forward to meeting new people,” she confesses with a laugh. “The thing I am most nervous about is doing the bow, like everyone before me, and walking with that heavy train. I admit that I am excited about finally getting to participate after the festival being canceled last year.”