The joy of having served as Alice in Dairyland still resonates with Virginia Peterson Bahe.
Bahe was Wisconsin's third Alice in Dairyland, chosen from a field of 30 candidates during a program on the first day of the Wisconsin State Fair in 1950. Saturday night she witnessed the selection of Ann O'Leary as the 69th Alice in Dairyland during the finals in Dodge County.
Bahe recalls the process of selection in 1950 which was very different than it is today.
'We wore formals and gathered in a circle, parading around the room for the audience at the State Fair to see. Then we sat down for the interviews,' she recalled. 'I had a hoop skirt on and when I sat down my chair folded up.'
The interviews took place before a State Fair audience on the Breda Greeme show, a popular live television cooking show at the time.
Contestants were nominated for the opportunity to compete for the Alice position which was just in its third year. Her brother nominated her.
Each contestant answered some questions and then the selection was made by a panel of three judges.
'I don't know why they picked me,' she said. 'I was barely 18 years old, but I was glad they did.'
She does remember they gave her a $100 wardrobe allowance that she used at Chapman's department store.
'I was provided with a Red Rambler for traveling around and I had two chaperones,' Bahe said. 'Mostly we traveled in the state but we did go to Chicago for an activity with Bordens. Elsie (the cow) and her calf Beauregard were also at that event.'
She says she had a wonderful time serving as Alice in Dairyland and learned a lot along the way. In the years following her reign she worked for a mink company, did some singing on the radio and taught school.
Changes in selection process
The method of making the selection of the new Alice in Dairyland has changed over the years just as the job description for Alice has changed.
The first Alice in Dairyland was selected during ceremonies at the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis as a part of Wisconsin's centennial celebration. There were 600 applicants for that position in 1948 and the finalists were invited to come to the fair where they completed the final interview on stage.
The winner, Margaret McQuire, emerged as the new Alice and immediately set out to promote Wisconsin's dairy industry all around the country. Because of her extensive travels throughout the country the state reserved a special Alice in Dairyland airplane for her use.
She faced a bit of pressure in that first year because she knew if she did a good job the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture would continue the position. If not they would seek another way to promote the state.
Her campaign was overwhelmingly successful and the state determined that the Alice in Dairyland program would continue.
For some years the candidates were chosen in districts around the state, with local parades, banquets and promotional events highlighting the selection of a district winner who would then go on to compete at the state level.
Former Alices' return
Also in the crowd on Saturday were some other former Alices, , including Mary Ellen (Jenks) Jordal-1954, Debra (Casucci) Crave-1981, Lisa (Hosely) Behnke-1985, Stephanie Binversie-1989, Renea (Troeller) Heinrich-1991, Angela (Corbin) Tuthill-1993, Courtney (Ott) Booth-1997, Jennifer (Hasler) Meyer-1998, Sheri (Holt) Hicken-2001, Natalie (Parmentier) Killion-2003, Betsy Francoeur-2004, Nicole (Franzen-Reese) Barlass-2006, Jill Makovec-2007, Ashley (Huibregtse) Andre-2008, Cheryl O'Brien-2009, Christine (Lepple) Lindner-2010, Katie Wirkus-2011, Rochelle (Ripp) Schnadt -2012, Kristin (Natzke) Olson-2013, and Zoey Brooks-2014.
Some of the former Alices took part in their own reunion of sorts, arranged by the Dodge County Host Committee. They toured Honey Acres at Ashippun and Silver Creek Alpaca Farm at Watertown before moving on to the evening event in Watertown.