Long Live the Queens

Apr 21, 2021 | Derby, Holiday Celebrations

Jacklyn Love Marxer was crowned the very first Kentucky Derby Festival Queen in 1957.   Submitted photo.

The Derby Festival Royal Court has been a festival tradition since 1957. Once the official Derby Queen Ambassador dons her crown, she donates her time in service to fundraising events and Derby-related activities. These four queens have since removed their crowns, but they continue to rule when it comes to uplifting their families, coworkers, and the communities they serve.

1957 Jacklyn Love Marxer

Jacklyn was crowned the very first Kentucky Derby Festival Queen in 1957, and since then life has kept her on the fast track. She went on to earn her Master of Education and only recently retired from being a middle school guidance counselor. Jacklyn and her husband have been married 60 years. “He was a naval officer,” she says, “and we traveled all over the world and loved every minute of it.” Together they have three daughters and nine grandsons. “They keep us busy when they come to visit,” she says of her cherished grandchildren.

Jacklyn celebrates the Derby each year with a party. “We have hats required, betting, and lots of bourbon,” she says. At 86 years old, Jacklyn isn’t slowing down one bit. She’s a painter and an artist and belongs to several clubs including a book club. “I just had a really exciting life,” Jacklyn says.

Starr Sprigg Panther was crowned the 1970 Queen.

1970 Starr Sprigg Panther

If you’re lucky enough to be invited to Starr’s Derby party, “You better wear a hat,” she says. Hats, flowers, and food are some of her must-haves for a fantastic get-together. “Food is a big one,” Starr says, “and I always do little mini hot browns.” At 70 years old, when thinking back on her time as queen, she remembers being “astounded by the graciousness of the spirit of the people of Kentucky.” Today, living in Southern California near her two grown sons, she passes this graciousness forward.

Recently, Starr started a new career as a vocational therapist. She also does ministry work focusing on mentoring foster children and is very involved with a local women’s group. “To be able to teach value and worth to women is amazing,” she says. “I try to teach people to be encouraging…and it’s contagious.”

Preethi Ananthakrishnan was crowned Kentucky Derby Festival Queen in 1993.

1993 Preethi Ananthakrishnan

In 1993 when Preethi was crowned Kentucky Derby Festival Queen, she felt grateful. She appreciated being able to share such a remarkable experience with her parents. “I think probably that was my favorite,” Preethi says. These days, Preethi is married with three children ranging in ages from 9 to 15, she works as an infectious disease physician with Norton Healthcare.

Preethi is also involved in assisting the forward movement of causes like racial justice and racial equality. She says, “I’m trying to learn and help those causes as much as I can, as well I can.” This can look like volunteering, taking political action, or fundraising. “Sometimes it’s just listening and learning, as well,” Preethi says. Her Derby tradition centers around family time with dressing up and betting with candy. “It usually involves lots and lots of chocolate!” she says.

Michelle Ackerman Meiman, 1999 Festival Queen.   Submitted photo.

1999 Michelle Ackerman Meiman

“I’m continually striving to make a positive difference,” says the Festival Queen of 1999. Over the last 20 years, Michelle has seen her life expand and change. “I enjoy time with my husband of 12 years, and we have two amazing boys,” she says. Not only is Michelle the busy mom of two active soccer players (ages 8 and 10), she’s also the Senior Director of Human Resources for Springstone, a national network of facilities providing behavioral health services. “I love that I get to advocate for our employees,” Michelle says.

“Family and community is really how we spend our time,” she says. As a Louisville native, Michelle adds that her roots are deeply planted here. This is why passing down the Derby traditions she loved as a child is important. “I feel like a lot of the things that I grew up doing, I still try to continue in some way,” she says.

2020-2021 Royal Court: Giavanna Combs, Hannah Edelen, Leah Hazelwood, Molly Jett, and Hannah Robb. Uof L senior Giavanna Combs (far left) was named Queen.

The reign of the current Derby Festival Royal Court has been historic, due to the unprecedented pandemic. From socially distanced visits to helping keep Louisville families festive at home with DIY activities, recipes, silly videos and more, they served our community and continue to serve as the Royal Court for 2021. Uof L senior Giavanna Combs was named Queen.

P.S. Take our ‘Did You Know?’ Derby quiz!


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