John Holleman Jr. is PGC king

Published 4:35 pm Saturday, March 29, 2008

NATCHEZ — With three generations of pageant royalty coursing through his veins, it seems fitting that John Holleman Jr. would serve as Pilgrimage Garden Club king. John is currently representing the garden club during the 2008 Historic Natchez Pageant.

John’s great-grandmother, Kate Don Brandon, was one of the original founders of Spring Pilgrimage in 1931. His grandmother, Pat Brandon Dale, served on the pageant court in 1936. His mother, Betsy Dale Holleman, was queen in 1974 and both of his sisters have served on the court as well. It’s a family steeped in Pilgrimage history and one John said he is proud to be a part of.

With a lineage as storied as John’s, it’s no surprise that the 21-year-old is intimately familiar with Spring Pilgrimage. He grew up participating in the pageant and said he is honored to now serve as king.

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“This is just something I was brought up in,” he said. “When I came to Natchez to visit my grandmother as a boy, I always wanted to be a part of this. Serving as king is such a huge honor.”

John said his family is also excited and honored for him to represent the PGC.

“My grandparents are more excited than words can explain,” he said. “Everyone in the family is thrilled.”

John moved to Natchez at a young age and has since immersed himself in Spring Pilgrimage. At age 3, he dressed in full Pilgrimage attire and greeted guests as his aunt’s tour house. He also participated in the usual roundup of pageant activities, including Little Maypole, Big Maypole and Showboat.

“I grew up doing this and loving it,” he said. “Even before I moved here, I would dress up at the antebellum homes.”

Betsy, a Natchez native, said she tried to get John involved in Pilgrimage the moment the family moved back to Natchez.

“As soon as we got here, I called to find spots for him to participate,” she said. “He has always loved this. From a young age, he loved the history of it.”

The self-professed history buff said he is thoroughly enjoying his time as king. During his reign, John will wear a reproduction Confederate general’s uniform that was hand tailored by VanCourt of New Orleans. The gray coat has a military collar and gold bouillon wreaths with three stars in the center. Attached to the belt is a sword similar to the one worn by General Shelby during the Civil War.

The Millsaps College junior may be a Pilgrimage veteran, but the day before his reign began he admitted he would probably be a little nervous about taking the stage for the first time.

“I will be nervous, but the most nerve-racking part is all the stuff that goes along with the pageant,” John said. “Once I get out there, everything will fall into place.”

During his two-week reign, John will make the drive from Millsaps to Natchez several times, but he said most of his professors have been understanding of his need to leave class a little early.

Getting them to understand exactly what he was leaving for proved to be difficult, he said.

“Pageant is sort of hard to explain to people who have never seen it,” John said. “It’s really difficult to describe.”

John is majoring in business and plans to attend the MBA program at Millsaps after graduation. After that, John said, his future is wide open.

When he’s not busy in the classroom, John said he enjoys doing just about anything outdoors, including hunting and playing sports.