Waco Cotton Palace Queen 2020

By Gretchen Eichenberg

Lella Sue McClane Brown

Pictured: Photo by Doug Fitzjarrell

MLella Sue McClane Brown will be crowned queen at the 50th annual Waco Cotton Palace Friday, April 24, 2020 at Waco Hall. Susie is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Stanton Boyce Brown. She is granddaughter of Mrs. Margaret Cannon Boyce Brown and the late Mr. Shepherd Spencer Neville Brown, Sr. and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Sanford McClane of San Antonio.

The kind, loyal and optimistic high school senior said she lives by these words from American author Of Mandino: I will love the light for it shows the way, yet will endure the darkness because it show me the stars.

“Life is full of beauty and light,” Susie said. “To be able to truly appreciate all the good things in life, sometimes we have to experience times that aren’t so great. But, it’s important to look for the light.”

In that spirit, it’s meaningful connections with people in her community that Susie will seek throughout her reign as Cotton Palace queen.

“Susie knows that love of others is the most important value,” said her mother, Len. “Susie doesn’t put on airs and she has a lot of clarity about what she believes about many things. My hope is that her authenticity will shine through and inspire meaningful connection among everyone involved, and not only the court members.”

Susie hails from a long line of Wacoans and Cotton Palace royalty, dating back to the original Texas Cotton Palace in the early 1900s. Her linage includes her grandfather’s uncle, A.J. Dossett, who was the 1919 King; her great- grandmother, Margaret Owen Curtis Boyce, who was the 1921 Duchess of Amarillo; and a cousin, Sarah Dossett Kendall, who was the 1929 Texas Cotton Palace Queen.

Following a more recent line of family members who have participated in the Waco Cotton Palace Pageant, Susie’s heritage includes one of the founders of the pageant’s revival. Her grandmother, Margaret Cannon Boyce Brown, was one of the team of community-minded women who, beginning in 1969, researched and worked to create what is now the long-standing Waco tradition of Cotton Palace.

Susie’s father, Boyce Brown, was a royal escort in 1982 and king in 2016. Her aunt, Margaret Brown Lewis, was queen in 1975. In 1977, Susie’s grandfather, Spencer Brown, Sr., was crowned king. And in 1980, another aunt, Stanton Brown Sattler was named queen. Susie’s cousins, Elise Brown and Camilla Brown Custis reigned as queens in 2011 and 2012. Susie and her sister, Annah, were royal attendants to the king and queen 2009 and 2011, respectively.

Susie’s mother, Len, has been involved in Cotton Palace for many years, too, serving on the wardrobe, educational outreach and productions committees. Boyce and Len have sponsored many out-of-town court members over the years and five years ago joined in the tradition of hosting a farewell brunch on the lawn of the family home.

Love of learning

Susie is a senior at Vanguard College Preparatory School where she enjoys creating new and exciting opportunities for students to get involved. She is a founding member of Vanguard Service Club and a founding member of the Viking Colorguard, which took second place at this year’s North Texas Colorguard Association ‘Wintergard’ competition.

“I enjoy being involved in color guard because it’s physical, creative and technical, all at the same time,” Susie said. “And you’re always learning and doing something new.”

Her favorite subject, Susie said, is European History.
“I love the way our European History class incorporates religion, art and history all together,” Susie said.

A multitude of dedicated teachers, Susie said, have inspired her to do her best over the years. And she couldn’t help but give them credit:

“Mrs. [Jen] Ferretter is very passionate about the courses she teaches and I really like that about her,” Susie said. I like Mrs. [Shelley] Johnson because even though she teaches really difficult math classes, she is very supportive. She sets you up with a good foundation for learning the material. Dr. [Wendy] Allman is one of my favorite teachers because she is kind, funny, even quirky, and really cares about her students.”

This fall, Susie will attend Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth, where she is considering a major in business.

What she said she most looks forward to doing, once she is on her own: “Being able to discover a new side of myself in a new environment.”

Serving her community

Susie is tender-hearted and wants to help those in need. Family Abuse Center, a local shelter for women and children, is a place where Susie said she felt a connection while serving.

“I had the chance to walk in their shoes in a small way,” she said, “and begin to feel what they must feel.”

Susie said she believes it is important to learn the significance community service early in life.

“Serving can teach kids to understand that not all people grow up the same way as they do,” Susie said. “Also, it helps kids to be aware of different perspectives in life.”

She has also served the community through her involvement in Symphony Belles and as an acolyte for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Susie strives to remain true to herself, regardless of her circumstances and maintains a calm, steady presence, Len said.

“She has empathy for those who are different or perhaps misunderstood, and she strives to affirm them in her own way,” Len said. “I admire that she does not have to agree with someone or their choices in order to be able to affirm their worth and value as a person.”

Susie’s father, Boyce, appreciates her spirit of compassion.

“She has a strong spirit and a strong sense of what is right,” Boyce said. “Susie has a caring spirit for those who need a friend.”

Work and fun

Outside of school, Susie said she loves to play around on the piano and guitar, cuddle up with her cats and hang out with her friends. She has a passion for photography and photo editing and loves to be outside. Susie also enjoys traveling.

“I love Italy because it has amazing art, architecture and culture,” Susie said. “I was able to travel there again this year with my school.”

Susie attended Laity Lodge Youth Camp for four summers where she said she cherished her time on the banks of the Frio River. She also puts in her fair share of work, trying out new things to discover more about herself.

“I have worked at Extraco Banks, our family business, over four summers,” she said. “After that, I wanted to try something different, so I worked as an intern for Dr. Kelsey Bass at Compleo Physical Therapy and Wellness. Currently, I’m working as a marketing intern for Chelsa Ressetar at Vanguard.”

Susie has two dogs, Reyna and Big Jake, and two cats, Snickerdoodle and Snowdrop.

Life in Waco

Growing up in Waco, and being fortunate to travel to many other places, Susie said she does love living in a small town.

“I love the size and feel of our downtown, especially all the cool boutiques,” she said. “We also have a lot of green space and natural beauty in Waco, like our parks, Lake Waco and the Brazos River.”

A favorite spot where you might run into Susie and her friends? Studying and hanging out with friends at Dichotomy.

Susie’s royal gown is fashioned of ecru raw silk overlaid with embellished laces. The embroidered lace on the bodice and sides of the skirt is accented with bugle beads, seed beads and gold sequins. The front and back of the skirt have overlays of diagonally patterned embroidered lace decorated with gold sequin fringe. The neckline of the bodice and hem of the skirt feature gold scalloped beaded lace. An elaborate crystal banding decorates the skirt, sleeve edges and the waistline. More than 1,100 Swarovski crystal rhinestones were applied by hand to the gown. The skirt also features a 36-inch train and is worn over a large hoop petticoat. Designed by Libby Starr, the gown was fabricated by Susie Thennes in her Dallas atelier. Thennes has brought Waco Cotton Palace gown designs to life for more than two decades.

Building relationships with new friends and people she might be going to school with next year are some of the reasons Susie said she is looking forward to Cotton Palace weekend.

“I’m excited about all the family and friends from outside Waco who will be here for the event,” Susie added. “It’s very special to be able to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Cotton Palace, especially with my grandmother, Margaret.”

It’s a time she’ll most definitely take to heart.

“This means a lot to her,” Boyce said. “Susie has seen us welcome families into our home since she was a little child. This year, Susie wants to help create a fun, gracious and welcoming weekend, along with some 300 volunteers, and build some life friendships along the way.”

Susie said she’ll make it her personal mission to welcome people and also to bring awareness to local charities throughout the weekend.

“I look forward to showing off Waco to out-of-towners, talking to new people and I would love to bring publicity to nonprofits in the area,” Susie said.

The Cotton Palace Scholarship Fund awards money to deserving students in the Baylor University and McLennan Community College theatre departments.

Join the Conversation