by Shelley Bennett
There are two things that I accidentally stumbled into doing that have brought me much happiness and fulfillment. One is coaching drill team, which you know has become a passion of mine. The other is directing the Miss Lassen County Scholarship program.
Back in 1994, my friend Renae called and asked if I would help her run the Miss Lassen pageant. How could I say no? I was still in college, working at least two jobs, not married, and had a lot of free time. I readily agreed.
Since then, when Spring rolls around I start thinking about themes and picking songs, creating calendars, distributing applications, and making the texts and phone calls to all those involved. It takes a lot of people to make this annual event happen!
This year is an exception. My daughter Sofia took out an application and will be in the running for Miss Lassen County 2023. So, I have decided to be a pageant mom this summer; trading in my clipboard and script for a glittery sign emblazoned with her name and a cringey, but encouraging saying.
I will definitely miss the hustle of backstage and a summer full of making memories with Lassen County’s best, but I know the program is in good hands with my replacement Jen Wood.
My pageant life started shortly before graduation in 1988. (That’s 35 years ago for those of you doing the math.) I was serving at a wedding reception and director Ronnie Chandler said (more like demanded…lol), “You should run for Miss Lassen County!” I paused for a minute and thought to myself, yes, I should.
It had been a dream of mine since my uncle’s former girlfriend Lynn (Foster) Sheehy was crowned in the late 1970’s. But it was just a dream. I had never thought about what it would take to make it a reality.
I learned a lot about myself that summer. Memorizing dance steps and speeches, learning to walk properly in heels, and perfecting my interview techniques are all things that I took into my future. I even snagged a job at Sierra Theatre from my sponsors Mike and Carolyn Smith.
My mom and I became closer than ever with our endless trips to Reno, dress fittings, costume designing, and constant quizzing on current events.
When I came up short at the end of the summer, Ronnie encouraged me to do it again. Something I didn’t take seriously until someone said to me, “Can’t you just be happy with second place?” I was never an athlete, but suddenly I was a competitor.
Serving my community as Miss Lassen County 1989 was one of the best times I’ve ever had. I loved dressing up, putting on my crown, and getting out to do work. From festivals and fashion shows to the Children’s Fair and Special Olympics track meet, I enjoyed every minute of my reign.
I loved meeting the people of Lassen County and representing them during Miss Cal State week was such an honor. It was there that I met Suzette Galloway (Mrs. G) who, like Merryweather in Sleeping Beauty, ensured that the county representatives felt confident and sparkly as they went onstage. She continues to be source of inspiration and encouragement.
It is impossible to list all of the incredible people I’ve encountered because of the pageant in the last 35 years. Al and Joy Robbins come to mind. At first, they sponsored my competitor, but they became my biggest supporters and more than friends.
I didn’t mean for this to turn into my queen’s last walk speech, but thank yous to:
Every Miss Lassen, Ambassadress, Princess, and contestant, from Autumn (Santos) Cappalonga to Olivia Ormachea have blessed me in different ways and many have become my dear friends.
It was always my goal to help each one of you find your potential and realize that like Glinda the Good Witch said, “You’ve always had the power, my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.”
The fair managers who believed in me and gave me carte blanche to create an annual showcase that brought in loyal audiences and ticket sales: Tom Henderson, Claude Neely, Jim Wolcott, and Kaitlyn Midgeley. And to the fair boards who supported me and my decisions.
Our talented local emcees, Hugh Hardaway, Scott Blackwood, and Jeremy Couso, who make the show run smoothly. Every time I visit another competition, I appreciate their professionalism even more!
All of my co directors are forever in my heart: Renae Langslet, Nikki Langslet, Donna Weeks, Salome Shaw, Frank Marino, Courtney St. Jacques, Becky Hubbard, Jillaine Singleton, and Jen Wood. Thank you for enriching my life, holding me accountable, and making the dreams of hundreds of young women come to fruition. “Because of you, I am changed for the better.”
My backstage friends Cary, Wendy, Barb, Becky, Dawn, Kerrissa, Salome, BJ, and all of the other hairdressers and trailer attendants. You are there to put out the fires and make sure everyone looks and feels beautiful through every aspect of the show and you have never failed.
The talented choreographers (Jessica, Seanne, Jillaine), dancers, and singers (Emily, et al) who fill in the spaces and carry our story from beginning to end.
All the various parts of this program! The judges, workshop presenters (I’m looking at you Teresa), sponsors, program designers, parade drivers, trailer providers, accountants, judges’ assistants, florists…the list goes on and on!
And finally, to my family: Leo, Jake, Landon, Sofia, mom, dad, Casey, Alison (my amazing set designing sister), and Juanita-by association you have been an integral part of the MLC program. Whether it was setting up the backstage, decorating the stage, or watching the kids while I had rehearsal, I couldn’t have done it without you.
I’m so excited that Sofia gets to experience this competition. I might be a nervous wreck sitting in the audience, but I can just imagine her shining onstage. Ah, goosebumps!
Until next year…
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