Herald JournalHerald Journal, Aug. 29, 2005

'Princess Kay' Becky Dammann begins her year of promoting dairy industry

By Lynda Jensen

Anyone who knows Becky Dammann of rural Lester Prairie, 19, knows that her first love is the dairy industry.

And now she will be able to follow her heart – across the state and the nation – after being crowned Princess Kay of the Milky Way Wednesday.

“She was thrilled,” said her mother Mary Joe.

Becky’s royal first order of business was to sit in a rotating cooler for nine hours Thursday while having her likeness carved in a 90-pound block of butter.

She will spend the next year speaking about dairying and dairy products, teaching everyone from school children to adults about the industry; recording interviews, and hosting promotional activities.

Her official job description representing the Midwest Dairy Association is “to educate consumers about high-quality milk and dairy products, and the care and comfort dairy farmers maintain for their animals, as well as their commitment to land stewardship.”

Dammann will be making an average of three to four official appearances each month.

She will spend a great deal of time speaking, taking part in interviews, and conducting promotional activities.

Throughout her reign, she will be using a program titled “Milk: From Cow to You,” where she will visit elementary classrooms to educate students about milk production, dairy farming, and the importance of milk and other dairy foods in their daily diets.

Dammann is expected to take part in several parades, including the St. Paul Winter Carnival parade and the Minneapolis Aquatennial parade.

She will also record public service announcements for both radio and television.

Dammann attended the state fair with two other McLeod County princesses, Tracy Nelson of Winthrop, 21, and Lana Olson of Hutchinson, 19, as finalists for the top honor.

Other finalists included Sara Bremer, 21, of Hastings (Dakota County); Stacy Brogan, 19, of St. Charles (Winona County); Mandi Goplen, 18, of Pine Island (Goodhue County); Carrie Hubbard, 18, of Albert Lea (Freeborn County); Grace Phelps, 19, of Good Thunder (Blue Earth County); Katie Sexton, 19, of Millville (Wabasha County); Krista Sheehan, 20, of Rochester (Olmsted County); Elle Walker, 22, of Zumbro Falls (Wabasha County); and Abigail Wirt, 18, of Lewiston (Winona County).

Nelson and Olson walked away with substantial scholarships from the Midwest Dairy Association.

Wirt and Sheehan were selected as runners-up. Hubbard was named Miss Congeniality.

The other 11 finalists will also take their turns, one each day for two weeks, having their likeness carved in blocks of butter.

The last McLeod County dairy princess to become Princess Kay was Sarah Olson Schmidt of Hutchinson, who was given the honor in 2002.

Dammann’s natural enthusiasm for the industry is one of the qualities that the judges look for, with other criteria being general knowledge of the dairy industry, communication skills, and personality.

Part of this love emerged full force in Becky’s life a few months ago, when she had to make major decisions about her future.

At the time, Becky was thinking about pursuing a career as a pharmacist or physician, her mother said.

When it really came down to it, Becky would rather be doing her full-time job on the farm, she decided.

So, she turned her back on $8,000 in scholarships, and skipped plans to attend the University of Minnesota in Morris; simply to stay on the farm.

For Dammann, dairying is her daily pursuit of happiness, which she finds at her aunt and uncle’s farm, Engelmann Dairy, owned by Roger and Peggy Engelmann of Plato.

There, she feeds and vaccinates calves and drives truck. She wants to learn how to drive the semi this year, she said.

“I just love it so much,” she says with enthusiasm. “I love the dairy industry.”

She’s doing what she absolutely loves, Mary Joee agreed. “She’s just so in love with it. She loves where she’s at.”

Her favorite thing on the farm is “always being up for the sunrise and seeing the calves with their little ears all perked up and their eyes wide, hardly able to stand waiting for their fresh milk another minute,” she said.

Becky graduated from Glencoe-Silver Lake High School in 2004. Three of her brothers attended or currently attend Lester Prairie School District.

Her decision is very similar to what her father, Dan Dammann, did many years ago. He sunk every last penny into the farm, until he was forced to give it up, Mary Joe said.

The Dammanns live on the home place that was operated by the late Grandpa Wilmer Dammann.

Princess Kay history, facts

Princess Kay of the Milky Way serves as the official goodwill ambassador for Minnesota’s dairy industry. During her year-long reign, she makes numerous media and public appearances on behalf of the Midwest Dairy Association, which represents nine states.

The practice of crowning dairy princesses started in the early 1950s, when some Minnesota communities began selecting a “dairy queen” to act as a central figure for their dairy days festivities.

In 1953, legislation was passed allowing for the development of a statewide dairy princess program to be funded by the Minnesota Dairy Industry Committee.

In 1954, a public contest was conducted to name the Minnesota dairy princess. Out of more than 10,000 entries, the title Princess Kay of the Milky Way was chosen.

The first Princess Kay of the Milky Way was crowned on opening day of the Minnesota State Fair, Aug. 28, 1954.

In 1965, the American Dairy Association of Minnesota began its tradition of having the likenesses of dairy princesses carved in butter during the state fair.

In general:

• Dairy farming is one of Minnesota’s largest agricultural industries.

• Minnesota is one of the top dairy states in the nation, currently fifth behind California, Wisconsin, New York and Pennsylvania.

• Minnesota ranks third in the nation for cheese production and fifth for butter production.

• Minnesota is home to about 545,000 dairy cows that produce more than nine billion pounds of milk each year.

• The dairy industry’s annual contribution to Minnesota’s economy exceeds $3 billion.

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