Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Aug. 2, 1999
Winsted royalty more than just pretty faces
Ambassador is an accurate word to describe the role of the Winsted royalty.
Each year, young girls are chosen to fill that role at Winsted's Legion Days Festival. Candidates fill out an application, describing their reasons for wanting to be an ambassador.
Their candidacy lasts from June to August, allowing the young women to get experience as an ambassador before any of them are crowned.
During that time, they attend three parades, help out at Bratbusters, serve meals at the Legion Club, and participate in other activities.
Legion Days also finds the royalty volunteering to help out with the volleyball tournament and kiddie parade, or wherever help is needed.
The royalty is directed by a queens committee that oversees the activities of the ambassadors.
After being crowned, the queen and two princesses will attend a few more events before the end of thesummer. The winter months are less demanding, but the royalty does make an appearance at the city's Winterfest.
Come summer, the ambassadors hit the road. Almost every weekend finds them at some function, both in and outside of Winsted. Any given weekend can include three to four events.
Sarah Behrens, Winsted's outgoing queen, said, "The purpose of being an ambassador is to bring the good will of the city of Winsted to other communities."
There is a general stereotype that young women who compete in such competitions do so just to get social approval of their beauty. Critics in general also assert that such competitions send a message to young women that being beautiful is their ultimate goal in life.
A current film, "Drop Dead Gorgeous," produced and written by Minnesota native Lona Williams plays on some of those stereotypes. Williams herself was a Minnesota Junior Miss and national pageant runner-up.
Sarah Behrens said that being a royal is not just about being a pretty face or having fun.
She said, "Traveling to all these different cities this year, I've realized the girls who have been chosen for these positions have won because they have bright spirits inside they're beautiful people on the inside."
Behrens admits that there are candidates who are in it for the "glam" aspect of the competition. She feels that is a minority of the young women in the royalty community.
Moreover, Mary Behrens, Sarah's mother, adds that the program in Winsted is different than other beauty pageant programs.
The elements satirized by Williams' movie occur, she said, "In some programs, but not this program. (The program) is not based on people who have this perfect appearance. They are looking at a girl's character, her volunteerism within her own community, her spirit of serving others."
Mary Behrens adds that there is no beauty judgment at the Aquatennial program. She also believes that the opportunity provides young women with great experiences. Mostly, she feels the young women have a chance to develop their interpersonal communications skills and meet a wide variety of people.
Locally, the judging is similar to that of the Aquatennial judging. In fact, the judges are provided by the Aquatennial organization, not by the community.
Sarah Behrens said the questions are directed mostly to a young woman's character. She adds that there is no beauty qualification in the local process either.
As current queen, Sarah Behrens will have the opportunity to compete in next year's Aquatennial. Winsted sent its first queen last year, Ellen Schoenfelder.
Sarah Behrens feels that the opportunity to send a queen is a valuable one for Winsted. She said it allows the city to send a representative to Minneapolis and form relationships with all the communities who attend.
She said, "It's a wonderful opportunity for our community and our industry, and all the things that we have here to be represented there."
About 50 girls attend the Aquatennial to compete for three ambassador positions in Minneapolis.
Sarah Behrens explains that other towns automatically send their queens. She said she would like Winsted to do the same, and recognize the value of the event.
Mary Behrens adds that it is also a wonderful opportunity for the individual. She explains that the young women get to attend many events in a safe environment and meet other young women from all over Minnesota.
Beyond competing, the young women do a lot of community volunteer work. Sarah Behrens feels that the royalty gets more back than it receives by volunteering.
She said one of her favorite experiences was singing Christmas carols for all the residents of St. Mary's Care Center.
"Just to see the spirit of Christmas that was brought to (the residents), it was really exciting," she said.
The royalty have some input in volunteer work they would like to do. They decide the types of events they would like to do in conjunction with the queens committee.
Time is a consideration, and they are not often able to fulfill all their plans. However, Mary Behrens said the royalty can come up with any idea they would like to do to serve
The Aquatennial organization also stresses community involvement and works to publicly recognize it as well.
Each year, the organization presents a Commodore Award to an outstanding volunteer in Winsted. Last year, it was Mae Stifter. The award will again be presented to another volunteer at this year's Legion Festival.
Besides helping others, Mary Behrens feels the royalty are role models for the younger generation. She said little children, especially younger girls, are awed by the presence of the royalty in full regalia. Sarah Behrens adds that awe is an opportunity to be a positive influence on that child's life, and she feels the role is a serious responsibility.
Both Mary and Sarah Behrens encourage young women to participate in Winsted royalty.
They admit that it takes a lot of work and time. Mary Behrens said, "The word commitment is the word," adding that candidates should realize the responsibility that goes along with the role.
The queens committee and parents of the young women sit down and go over invitations received to attend various events, and try to balance that with the young women's schedules. The Royalty tries to attend as many events as possible, but only to the point that it is feasible.
However, both Behrens add that besides having to do a lot of work, the overall experience is fun.
The community at large also has a big hand in the royalty's functions. Without sponsorship, the ambassadors would have a hard time doing their volunteer work or attending events.
The young women's sponsors are assigned to them by the Winsted Civic and Commerce Association, but businesses can choose to sponsor specific individuals.
This community involvement even relates to the royalty's float, which was provided by work from community members. Both Behrens are grateful for the float and adds that it is a luxury that not all towns have.
The Aquatennial has a long history in Minnesota, starting in 1939. Winsted has had royalty consecutively for the past 8 years. Other communities go as far back as the Aquatennial. Being involved in either is not a prerequisite for running in national beauty pageants, as some people might think, making the experience one uniquely designed for Minnesota.
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