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King, queen reign with the spirit of Cheese Days tradition
Diane and Duke Phillips, Monroe, are the 2014 Cheese Days King and Queen.(Photo supplied)
MONROE - Duke Phillips, the reigning king of Green County Cheese Days, said Del Heins, who is parade marshal along with Jim Bruce, always bows before him when they meet.

"He doesn't have to do that, but it's nice," Phillips joked.

He and his wife Diane have been volunteering for Cheese Days since the early 1990s and Diane currently serves on the Cheese Days executive board. The Monroe couple, nominated to serve as the king and queen last year, is the face of Cheese Days, but Diane said they are just two out of the 800 or so people who help out with Cheese Days.

"We shake hands and wave in parades, but there are so many people in the background who do great work for Cheese Days," she said.

It's been a busy year in the buildup to this year's 100th anniversary of Cheese Days, she said. They have been to parades and special events across Green County and the region, helping build excitement for and promote Cheese Days.

The couple has three grown daughters, Kim Zettle, Kirsten Boll and Kari Phillips, and five grandchildren. Duke retired from Maple Leaf Cheese and Diane retired from Woodford State Bank after 45 years in banking.

Both said they share a fond love of the Monroe community, where they were both raised, and Cheese Days gives them an opportunity to show that.

Diane grew up on a farm north of town, but the family they made together stayed in town. "Monroe is just a great place to raise a family," Diane said.

She said their three daughters also live in town and have no plans to leave.

"Why would you?" she said. "It's close enough to Chicago or Madison. It's great here."

Diane is most excited about the band Aarelander Musikanten, a brass band from Switzerland, making its way to Cheese Days this year. Diane said she and Duke were on a trip to Switzerland last year and saw a Battle of the Bands contest that Aarelander Musikanten won. She got to talking with the band leader and asked if the band would think of coming to Cheese Days in 2014. The band leader told her yes, but she expected it to never come to fruition.

"After we figured everything out over email, it became for sure and we were so excited," she said.

As Cheese Days draws closer, Duke and Diane will continue their busy schedule promoting the festival. They'll be attending events throughout the festival, set for Sept. 19-21 in downtown Monroe, culminating with their appearance in the Swiss Colony Cheese Days parade Sunday.

Diane said they have been volunteering for enough years now that they know have a good idea works well and what doesn't at the popular festival.

"If it works, don't change it," she said.