On being royal

The St. Paul Winter Carnival Royal Family is a yearlong endeavor, but most members stick around for life.

Queen of the Snows Melissa Hoffbeck shows a girl how to walk down the runway before the Queen of the Snows Crowns and Gowns Fashion Show at Jimmy's Event Center on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. The St. Paul Winter Carnival begins this week, and the new Royal Family will be crowned Friday.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Queen of the Snows Melissa Hoffbeck shows a girl how to walk down the runway before the Queen of the Snows Crowns and Gowns Fashion Show at Jimmy's Event Center on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. The St. Paul Winter Carnival begins this week, and the new Royal Family will be crowned Friday.

Callie Sacarelos

Every year at the St. Paul Winter Carnival, a new Royal Family is crowned and oversees the 10-day celebration. But their reign doesn’t end after the big showdown at the close of the carnival, when the Vulcan Krewe overthrows the wintery Royal Family to welcome warmer weather.

The Royal Family makes up to 350 volunteer appearances throughout the year at hospitals, hospices, schools, fundraisers and other festivals and events around the country. The first 100 appearances take place during the carnival.

“Once you’re in, you’ll want to keep volunteering and make it greater,” said Jennifer Stachowiak-Tamburo, the 2005 East Wind Princess.

Started in 1886, the St. Paul Winter Carnival was modeled after the one in Montreal, from which the Royal Family tradition was adopted.

St. Paul Dispatch columnist Frank L. Madden was the first to record this previously oral tradition in “The Rollicking Realm of Boreas: A Legend.” Written in 1937, the piece is a brief account of the history of the Royal Family and their annual battle with Vulcanus Rex, a character based on the Roman fire god, who ends winter and the festivities.

The legend was incorporated into Winter Carnival history and updated throughout the years to eventually include King Boreas; Aurora, Queen of the Snows; a prime minister; a North, South, East and West wind prince and princess; the King’s guards, captain and sergeant of the guards; Klondike Kate, a red boa clad entertainer; and Vulcanus Rex and his Krewe.

Once the male members of the Royal Family are selected by nomination and pass a background check, the transition is relatively easy. The women, on the other hand, go through a three-month vetting process in which they’re judged on their social skills, public speaking, poise and commitment to the position.

The process starts in October with informational meetings where candidates meet each other. In November, official applications are due. Volunteering starts in December, and things kick into full swing in January with almost daily appearances, events or meetings.

“The girls have got a really tough job because they don’t know on coronation night if they’re going to a hotel and spending the next 10 days with the Royal Family or if they’ll be going home,” said Matt Wallace, the 2013 Prime Minister. “We have to plan the exit for the girls who don’t make it, a place for them to cry and be supported by their friends.”

“What they call ‘festival world’ is a culture in and of itself,” said Melissa Hoffbeck, the 2013 Queen of the Snows. “At Carnival, once you’re in, you’re in for life.”

Queen candidate Dawn Gleason said she values the sense of family among everyone involved in Royal Family events.

“What can you join, even in college, where you make that many friends?” Hoffbeck said. “There’s hugs and kisses and I-love-yous. You really do gain an entire family. You just feel like you have a spot, and I think at the end of the day, that’s just what you want.”

Being a part of the Royal Family is, however, like having a second job. The difference is that members don’t get paid and often end up spending a lot of their own money to fulfill their royal duties.

Hoffbeck estimated that she spent up to $10,000 on Royal Family activities in the last year, about $1,900 of which has gone to gasoline alone. Then there are the hotels, festival packages, entertainment and dining out expenses that come with traveling to other festivals in places like Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, Illinois and Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Traveling to other cities and meeting people at festivals and events is a lot of fun, “but the best part is when little kids ask, ‘Are you a real princess?’ It melts your heart,” 2013 North Wind Princess Jill Volkert said.

Volkert said her first year “in crown” was a gift, and she plans to be involved with the carnival for the rest of her life.

“It’s so much fun to see a little kid look up at you and say, ‘Mommy, can I be queen someday?’ It’s a better positive influence than Christina Aguilera or Justin Bieber,” Hoffbeck said.

Hoffbeck said she spoke at every event in the last year, and she does it off the cuff. Her goal is to be a great ambassador for St. Paul.

“You’re only as good as the last thing you did. So you have to be the best that you can be all the time,” she said.

When their one-year reign ends and a new Royal Family is crowned, the previous family members are expected to volunteer their time to the carnival for the next four years. But most of them continue to volunteer and participate beyond their call of duty.

“I feel bad that there are people who don’t know about the Winter Carnival,” said Ted Natus, the 2013 King Boreas. “I worked my way up from nothing when I first came to St. Paul. Now, to have this position is just amazing.”