What's cuter than a 7- or 8-year-old dressed up in a floppy hat, tights and a frilly costume? And who has more energy?
While the Royal Court sedately marches down the aisle during the opening ceremonies at the Ak-Sar-Ben Coronation and Scholarship Ball, pages skip and run as only second- and third-graders can. Each is wearing a costume that may have been worn by dozens of other children over the years.
The design of the costumes hasn't changed since pages became part of the ball 116 years ago. And for close to half that time, neither have some of the costumes.
"The oldest costumes are at least 40 or 50 years old," said Merrily Boler, who, with her neighbor Judy Glesne, alters the pages' clothing to fit.
"They used to sew a tag in each garment with the page's name. Kids now come in and say, 'That's my dad or that's my aunt,'" said Glesne, who is a family and consumer science teacher at Millard North High School. "Part of the charm of the costumes is the history."
By the time they get out of their costumes and back into their own dress-up clothing the night of the ball, the pages have worn their decorative outfits for 20 minutes at the most.
But in the eyes of some parents, those may be the most important 20 minutes of the year. Parents see their child cleaned up, dressed up and on their best behavior. They see them participating in a ritual that is meaningful to Omaha families who are being saluted for service to their communities.
"The boys are very excited. The little girls are delighted. Their eyes light up when they get to see the costumes," said Boler, who taught home economics when Omaha Tech High School was open. "But the moms are totally thrilled."
Sometimes finding a costume in the storage room that fits becomes impossible. Consider the tall grade-school basketball player who was a page one year. "We had to make him a new costume," she said.
Over the decades, costumes become tattered. That's when Boler and Glesne, who have been Ak-Sar-Ben page clothiers for 10 years, create new ones. Unlike the original costumes that are silk and hand-sewn, new garments are made with polyester satin.
There's more to the job than fitting pages. Some reluctant boys and girls have to be coaxed into wearing the garb.
"Sometimes we use bribery, praise and encouragement," Glesne said. "They are taught the protocol of that night. Comb your hair and be on your best behavior."
And there is comic relief. "Boys are putting costumes on backward and buttoning in front instead of back," she said. "Pants are falling off."
After everything else - the national anthem, the promenade, the speeches, the musical production numbers - comes the evening's highlight. That's when Jeffrey Taxman, Quivira's prime minister, takes the stage for his long-awaited announcement of the identities of the queen and king.
Even he doesn't know their names until that night. "I receive that last page of my script just minutes before they're announced."
Kenneth Glenn, archbishop of Quivira, places crowns on the heads of the king and queen while Taxman introduces each. Both monarchs receive a ring.
In the script that Taxman reads, he tells the king: "On your finger, we place this ring, a symbol of your sovereignty." For the queen, he reads: "As a symbol of the encircling love of court and country, upon your finger we place this ring."
Taxman could very well wish mazel tov (good luck in Yiddish) to the Royal Court, a lyric from one of his favorite roles as Tevye in the musical "Fiddler on the Roof." He most recently performed in the Omaha Playhouse production of "Enron."
The Omaha native moved back to his hometown in 1980 after working in the financial services sector in New York City. He is president of Physicians Financial Structures Inc. in Omaha.
Taxman first's ball as prime minister was in 1989, making this ball his 25th in the role. Ten years ago, Taxman also began announcing introductions at the Royal Court brunch held months prior to the event.
"Ak-Sar-Ben has been part of our family culture for a long time," Taxman said. "It is one of the great city celebrations."
The Ak-Sar-Ben family tradition began with Taxman's grandfather, Harry Trustin, who was active in the civic organization. Trustin was president of the Omaha City Council for more than 30 years and an author of Omaha's city charter.
Taxman's mother, Barbara, was a page in 1939 and a princess in 1950. Taxman was a page in 1961 and has served on the Men's Floor Committee. His brother, Tom, was an escort and, in 1964, the king's crown bearer.
"My parents met at the Ak-Sar-Ben Coronation and Ball in 1950 when my mother was a princess," Taxman said. "My father's mother strongly suggested that he ask her out."
In the tradition of Ak-Sar-Ben families, Taxman's wife, Sherry, is an active volunteer. They have four children.
Taxman has had quite a run with 25 years as prime minister. The script for the coronation ends with the phrase: "Long live the kingdom." Perhaps Ak-Sar-Ben should add: "Long live the prime minister."
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The 117th annual Ak-Sar-Ben Coronation and Scholarship Ball
When: Saturday at CenturyLink Center Omaha. Doors open at 8 p.m. The coronation production begins at 8:30 p.m.
Tickets: General admission is $25 per person. Tickets include the coronation performance, dancing at the ball and a donation to the Ak-Sar-Ben Scholarship Fund. Business attire is suggested for general seating; black tie/formal gowns are optional.
Information: Call the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben Foundation at 402-554-9600, ext. 106, or email firstname.lastname@example.org through Friday. Tickets also may be purchased, cash or check only, the night of the event at CenturyLink.