Philanthropist and retired businesswoman Bernyce Crownover of Italy began her reign as Crape Myrtle Queen on Friday in a flurry of congratulations and applause from friends on the Crape Myrtle Council.

“This is really a surprise to me,” she said, hugging 2006 Queen Shirley Williams and accepting her crown.

“It’s an honor and it’s a wonderful organization,” she said later. “I feel great to be part of it.”

Crownover was selected as this year’s queen by the decision of the former queens for her contributions to the community.

“I just think that Bernyce is a perfect choice because she’s done so much for the community,” Williams said. “Her love just goes out, especially to the children of Waxahachie.”

Crownover, who lived in Waxahachie from 1970 to 1991, started the Keep Waxahachie Beautiful program and is president of the board of trustees of the Gingerbread House children’s advocacy center.

Even more than the honor, Crownover is eager to talk of the progress of construction on the Gingerbread House.

“We’ve worked hard,” she said. “It’s had a lot of delays, but it’s going to come true.”

Debra Wakeland, CEO and president of the Chamber of Commerce, said she has worked with Crownover in planting wildflowers and cleaning up roads, and that the businesswoman is not afraid to get involved in beautifying the community.

“She has planted bags and bags of wildflower seeds,” she said. “She is such an environmentalist — this is just perfect.”

Crownover’s daughter-in-law, Julie Crownover, also attended the annual Queen’s Tea, an event at which the announcement of queen is kept as much a surprise as possible.

“It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person,” she said.

Before announcing the queen, however, Crape Myrtle Festival chairman Bonney Ramsey took a moment to remember the late Gladys Nay, a former Crape Myrtle Queen.

“We miss Gladys so much,” she said. “We all loved her very dearly — still love her. She was a great lady.”

As queen, Bernyce Crownover will lead in Wednesday’s parade with her husband, Roy, help promote crape myrtle plantings and the Crape Myrtle Festival and help organize next year’s extravaganza.

“She’s now part of the group of the queens,” Ramsey said. “All you have to do is just have fun.”

The Crape Myrtle Council promotes crape myrtles in Waxahachie, and was a driving force in official recognition of the community as the Crape Myrtle Capital of Texas by the Texas House of Representatives. The group has planted thousands of crape myrtles in Waxahachie and encourages businesses and residents to grow the shrubs as well.