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The bread ‘marriage’ of Miss Honey-Krust and Mr. Rainbo

Pat Everheart • Jan 30, 2012 at 8:10 AM

Priscilla Estes Sarvadi is in on the good-natured teasing she still occasionally gets about her brief, highly publicized “marriage” half a century ago. But, don’t think “Kardashian.” Nobody involved in Savardi’s nuptials pretended hers was anything but an unabashed publicity stunt.

Because of it, one of the pastors she works with at Munsey Memorial Methodist Church delights in calling her “honey bun.”

Another finds a way to steer the conversation around to the wedding when he and Sarvadi meet with someone who isn’t familiar with her backstory. That’s so he can deliver his punchline: “She used to be more honey, now she’s more crust.”

“They wouldn’t do that if they didn’t love me,” Sarvadi says, adding, “I am crusty all right, I’m covered with crustaceans.”

The story starts in 1961 in the East Tennessee State University (College, back then) student center. Young, blonde, athletic student Priscilla Estes was practicing her dance routine for the upcoming Miss Johnson City pageant. Watching from the balcony were the president of a local business and a tall, dark and handsome stranger from Texas.

It wasn’t quite “Kid, we’re gonna make you a star.” It was more like, “How’d you like to dress up in a wedding gown and have your picture taken?”

“They approached me and said they’d like to sponsor me in the Miss Johnson City pageant, whatever that meant,” Savardi said. “I said it was fine with me. What did I know?”

Then came the proposal: Will you, Priscilla Estes, become Miss Honey-Krust and be the face of the local bakery during its acquisition by the Dallas-based Campbell Taggart Associated Bakeries, to pose, parade and cut wedding cake for a few weeks and then go back to your normal life?

And so it was that Miss Estes of Washington College became Miss Honey-Krust, who became Mrs. Rainbo, and Honey-Krust Bread, a local staple since 1930, was replaced on grocery store shelves by Rainbo Bread.

“I wasn’t paid anything,” Sarvadi said. “I just got a bit of notoriety, and an opportunity to be chauffeured around by a good-looking guy in a silk suit — or, at least a shiny suit.” She also got a set of luggage, which her “groom” delivered to her home in Washington College.

“Tom Sasser (Mr. Rainbo) used to come by to pick me up for appearances and all the women working in the registrar’s office would gather around to get a look at him,” said Sarvadi, who was a bobby-sox-wearing student worker at the office staffed by older women.

“He was a perfect gentleman, taking my arm when I stepped off a curb.” Sure, Sasser may have been a gentleman, but a Google search indicates “Mr. Rainbo” may have been somewhat of a man on the make, having tied the knot with more than one small-town beauty under similar circumstances.

The whirlwind Rainbo-Honey-Krust courtship culminated in a wedding at the then-elegant John Sevier Hotel with three bridesmaids in attendance and the whole town invited. On Saturday, the couple was paraded through a bustling downtown Johnson City escorted by Honey-Krust employees. Numerous other glamorous public appearances followed.

The whole affair lasted about six weeks. So maybe you should think Kardashian.

If any of the attention went to Sarvadi’s head, it has long since passed into the realm of sweet memory from an innocent time. She’s very much of the moment, satisfied with where life has taken her, with her daughter, Brittany, a registered dietitian who lives in Jonesborough, and with her work at Munsey as director of the Christian Life Center.

Except for a 12-year period that began with her actual marriage in 1973, Sarvadi has lived in the Johnson City area. She lived in the same home in Washington County until she completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at ETSU. She was on the faculty of ETSU for 24 years, teaching contemporary and ballroom dance and other courses in the physical education department.

Sarvadi joined the Munsey staff part time in 1989 and soon began leading the singles ministry, planning dinners and field trips for the church’s unattached adults, a role she fulfilled for 22 years.

In 2000 Sarvadi joined the Munsey staff full time. As director of the CLC, Sarvadi is responsible for the hundreds of events and programs that take place in the downtown facility, which houses meeting rooms, a banquet hall, an indoor track and exercise areas.

Sarvadi is particularly excited about Upward Basketball, a Christian-centered program for young children. Now in its fourth season, Munsey’s Upward Basketball program has 216 kids ages 4 years to sixth grade and 44 coaches on 22 teams. As the Munsey staffer assigned to the program, Sarvadi works from around 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Saturdays during the season, which runs from January through mid-March. The rest of the year she keeps the same morning schedule, but goes home at a more reasonable 5 p.m.

“People ask me how I can work such long hours,” she said. “I tell them, it’s just for the (basketball) season and, besides, when you love what you do, it’s not really work.”

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