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The evolution of Miss Wadena Pageant instills skills that stay, even if the times have changed

The history behind Miss Wadena spans 25 years and has changed. But organizers said the girls who participated in pageants have all learned valuable life skills -- and that hasn't changed.

Over the next few weeks the Pioneer Journal will run short biographies along with photos of previous Miss Wadenas leading up to the 25th anniversary pageant on June 28.

The Miss Wadena 25th anniversary pageant is at 7 p.m. on June 28. This year's theme is "A Royal Event." The pageant is on a Saturday this year instead of the usual Sunday. An open house reunion will be from 1-3 p.m. at the Depot.

Organizers say that girls who have participated in pageants have learned valuable skills.

"The Miss Wadena pageant is a nice way to earn scholarship money and learn life skills," said Diane Peters, 2008 pageant organizer.

"They've gained speaking skills, poise, things that they will use for the rest of their lives," added Jan Rohr, who has helped with the pageants for many years.

The pageant has had different names over the past 25 years.

In 1983, the first pageant was called "Miss Wild West Roundup and Little Miss Roundup," which was a collaboration with the Jaycee women's fashion show. It was presented as a promotion by the Retail Trade Committee and Wadena Chamber of Commerce.

Rohr said the Miss Minnesota aspect of the pageant was added and then Miss Wadena winners went on to compete at the Miss Minnesota pageant. After 1998, the Miss Wadena pageant returned to being a local competition.

A moment Rohr and Peters will always remember is when a bat started flying around while the first Miss Wadena Tracy Adams was singing.

Rohr still helps out with mock interviews and other parts of the pageant. It's amazing to do the mock interviews and work with the girls and then see them a year later, Rohr said.

The duties of Miss Wadena include being in parades, attending visiting pageants, helping at the community breakfast, hostessing at the Thanksgiving dinner and helping at the Easter Egg hunt.

Many of the former Miss Wadenas are planning to come to the reunion on June 28.

Year: 1983

Miss Wadena: Tracy Adams Kooman

Town: Maple Plains, Minn.

Education: BA St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.

Career/Profession/Job: Principal/Owner of The Adams Group (meeting, event planning)

Family: Peter, husband

Hobbies: Horse farm owner, showing quarter horses and paints, golf.

Fondest memories of reign as Miss Wadena: Meeting other candidates at Miss Minnesota. I'm still friends with Vickie Plaster (Miss Minnesota 1983).

How has being in the pageant influenced your life? Met other women in professional singing quartet. They helped me connect with Valley Fair where I was a singer in 1985 and 1987 and for five years on cruise ships from 1988-1993.

If you remember, what was your on-stage question? I don't remember. But the on-stage questions at Miss Minnesota were very difficult. The questions were about politics in the far East, euthanasia and fashion in Paris.

What advice would you give to young women today? Dream to do or be anything you want, then work hard and network to make it happen. Always offer to help. Go to college.

Parents: Bill and Sally Adams, Wadena.

Year: 1984

Miss Wadena: Leslie Lundquist Werden

Town: Dakota Dunes, S.D.

Education: BA in speech/communications from University of Minnesota -- Twin Cities, MA in English from Winona State, PhD in English from University of North Dakota.

Career/Profession/Job: Assistant Professor of English and Director of First Year Students at Morningside College.

Family: Maury, husband; children: Walter, 8, Owen, 7, Eli, 5

Hobbies: Reading, movies, watching kids play sports, performing in plays.

Fondest memories of reign as Miss Wadena: Getting crowned -- I really had no expectation of winning. Also, getting so much support from the pageant committee who had a limited budget to help me prepare for the Miss Minnesota pageant. We bought dresses on sale, ripped off gaudy brooches and re-sewed on well-placed sequins. They worked so hard!

How has being in the pageant influenced your life? I learned not to take things so seriously. I observed other pageant queens who acted so crazy, jumping rope to lose that extra pound between swimsuit and talent rounds. Then there were others who laughed and smiled, enjoying the moment. That is what I took from it, from those other queens: to just be happy with where you are.

What advice would you give to young women today? Keep moving forward. Whether that means getting more education or moving to another state or country or taking a new job. Know that you can do what you want to.

Parents: James and Marion Lundquist

Year: 1985

Miss Wadena: Maria Moore Clarys

Town: Circle Pines, Minn.

Education: North Dakota State University

Career/Profession/Job: Pharmaceutical Specialty Sales

Family: Howard, husband, Nathan 5, Natalie 2

Hobbies: Cooking, trying to stay in shape ... cleaning up after the family

Fondest memories of reign as Miss Wadena: How the people were so positive, and dedicated, passionate people who ran it -- Doug Nyhus and Diane Peters.

How has being in the pageant influenced your life? It helped me gain grace under pressure, poise, self-confidence.

What advice would you give to young women today? Keep your head on straight, don't let the negative influences around you determine your path.

Parents: Duane and Eunice Moore of Wadena

Year: 1986

Miss Wadena: Jennifer Ann Swenson Evenson

Town: Chaska, Minn.

Education: B.A. in liberal arts -- Concordia College Moorhead, Minn. Major: communications. Minors: business administration and English writing.

Career/Profession/Job: I recently retired from a 16-year corporate career with Ameriprise Financial Services where I held director positions in the company's service operations department and sales department.

Last year I left my corporate career to pursue an independent and more flexible career as a professional consultant and coach, allowing me more time with my three children and an opportunity to pursue other career passions. Reflecting on the decision, I think it is one of the best decisions I've made.

Most of my consultant career time now is spent as the Event Center Director for Grape Creek Vineyard & Winery located in Fredericksburg, Texas. I am enjoying being part of the new development, growth and success of the winery. I am also enjoying spending some time in the beautiful hill country in Texas. Fredericksburg is a quaint tourist community not far from both Austin and San Antonio.

Family: I have three beautiful children who are the focus of my life: Mitchell Troy, 11, Lauren Taylor, 9, and Kennedi Elizabeth, 7. On being recently divorced, I am spending my time focused on my children. My new consulting career gives me the flexibility I need to give additional time to my children.

I am still very connected to my family. My mom and dad, Barb and Jim Swenson (living in Willmar), my sister Jill (living with her family in St. Louis Park), and my brother Paul (living with his family in Chicago) and their families.

Hobbies: Vacations and travel with family, reading, golf, dinner out with friends, movie nights at home with family, going for walks, great conversation, life coaching, and helping others identify and pursue their career and life goals.

Fondest memories of reign as Miss Wadena: I loved representing the community by participating in the parades and attending the pageants for other communities. I also enjoyed meeting and connecting with all of the people I met through the pageant.

How has being in the pageant influenced your life? I think participating in the pageant helped me gain more confidence in myself during my teenage years. While I was always very involved and social, I was shy in larger group and stage settings and had some anxiety around performing in front of people. The whole pageant experience helped me gain confidence and overcome some of these fears.

What advice would you give to young women today? "Let go" of unrealistic expectations and pressure; get to know who you are from the inside out and let your spirit shine through; look for the gifts and the lessons in your life experiences; widen your circle and welcome new people, new places, and new experiences; dream big; believe that anything is possible; and have a vision for your life that is filled with passion and comes from your heart.

Parents: I am the daughter of Jim and Barb Swenson of Willmar, Minn.

Year: 1987

Miss Wadena: Gina Mathison Elstad

Town: Owatonna, Minn.

Education: BS in music education from St. Cloud State

Career/Profession/Job: Teaching seventh grade general music, seventh and eighth grade choir

Family: Husband, Jeff, and children Kirsten, 12, Darik, 9, Kaia, 6, Mikah, 3

Hobbies: Walking and musical performance

Fondest memories of reign as Miss Wadena: All the kind people who worked with me getting me ready for Miss Minnesota.

How has being in the pageant influenced your life? It encouraged my confidence and helped me to think on my feet.

What advice would you give to young women today? Believe in your strengths. Explore all opportunities that interest you. Have fun.

Parents: Earl and Gayle Mathison

Year: 1988

Miss Wadena: Melodee Stave

Town: Burbank, Calif.

Education: Bachelor of music from University of Minnesota

Career/Profession/Job: Music teacher/actor (Background on "Friends," "Scrubs," "Raymond," "Dharma and Greg," "Princess Diaries," etc.)

Family: Daniel Waite, husband

Hobbies: painting, sewing, hiking, traveling, church choir, landscaping yard

Fondest memories of reign as Miss Wadena: At a Sunnybrook Park event, a cute little boy asked with wonder, "Are you a real princess?"

How has being in the pageant influenced your life? It teaches poise and self-confidence.

What advice would you give to young women today? Shoot for the moon and you'll land with the stars.

Parents: Roderick and Joyce Stave