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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The Collector: Helen Kennett’s Lilac Festival pins capture the community

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

As a teen, Helen Kennett marched with the Shadle Park High School band in the Armed Forces Torchlight Parade.

“I played the glockenspiel,” she said. “It was heavy!”

But she enjoyed the experience, and several years later, she purchased her first Lilac Festival pin. The 1979 item featured a simple spray of lilacs. Today, the collector has every pin issued, from the first one released in 1976 to this year’s “Dare to Dream” design.

“I didn’t set out to collect these,” Kennett said. “But through the years, I thought I had a pretty good collection, and then I saw some gaps.”

She picked up a few at garage sales to fill in the gaps. This year, she was given the pins from 1976, 1977 and 1978, the first three years they were issued.

“I love that it keeps growing,” she said. “To me, it captures our community in so many ways.”

Kennett pointed to an example, the 2018 “Swing into Spokane” pin.

“It’s got a tiny pig (in a chef’s toque) for Pig Out in the Park, a basketball for Hoopfest, and a runner for Bloomsday.”

The 1987 pin, “Let’s Grow Together,” celebrates farming communities.

“See the sheaf of wheat and the apple?” she asked.

For the first few years, the pins didn’t have a theme hence a fellow playing the sousaphone from 1980 and a red-nosed clown with a balloon bouquet from 1982.

Over time, construction went from flat plastic to metal to composite. Her favorite is 2000’s “Imagine the Future.”

“It looks like a lilac crown,” Kennett said. “My favorites feature the lilacs big.”

The 2000 item is unique because it was designed to fit together with the 1999 “Honor the Past” pin, which spotlights the Looff Carrousel.

She also has both versions of the 1984 pin. Shaped like Washington state, it features the American and Canadian flags. It had to be reissued because the first one had the Canadian flag on the left. Flag protocol dictates that when displayed with another flag with crossed staffs, the American flag should be on its own right (left to a person facing it.)

Less complicated and far more whimsical is the 1996 “Lilac Luau.”

“The Clocktower is wearing a grass skirt and dancing the hula,” Kennett said. “It’s the cutest!”

For 30-plus years, Kennett taught general music and choir at Blair Elementary at Fairchild Air Force Base. The Spokane Lilac Festival offered her a way to connect her students to the Spokane area. During the last four years she taught at the school, her choir sang at the Lilac queen’s coronation.

“Every year, I’d go to the Lilac Festival office and purchase their poster and hang it in my classroom, so they (her students) would feel like part of the community.”

That’s why she loves pins that honor the military, like 2017’s “Celebrating our Heroes.” The purple-trimmed pin includes an outline of a saluting soldier. Likewise, 2010’s “Freedom isn’t Free” honors all military branches with a bald eagle in the forefront.

The 2024 pin is a blast from the past.

“I love this year’s because it’s so retro and uses the original Expo colors,” Kennett said.

That was the intention of 2024 Spokane Lilac Festival co-presidents Carly Cortright and Elisabeth Hooker.

“The president chooses the theme,” Hooker said. “This year, when Carly and I picked our theme, we wanted it to be Expo-focused.”

They knew just who they wanted to design it – local artist Chris Bovey. The “Dare to Dream” pin features the iconic Riverfront Park butterfly and the Pavilion as a nod to the 50th anniversary of Expo ’74.

Hooker said Kennett is not alone in collecting these souvenirs.

“Pin collecting is very prevalent among all the festivals, like the Apple Blossom Festival in Wenatchee and the Portland Rose Festival,” she said.

Kennett’s collection doesn’t break the bank. The pins are still $5, just like when they were introduced, but for her their value is priceless.

“To me, each one of these stands for much greater than the little pin,” she said. “It stands for our whole community – it’s like a mini-history of our area.”

To purchase a lilac pin visit