Decades of ‘Alice’ history displayed at Neville Museum

Dan Hansen
Margaret (McGuire) Blott, Wisconsin’s first Alice in Dairyland is prominently featured in the museum’s exhibit.

GREEN BAY – Over the last 69 years, the role of Alice in Dairyland, and the process for selecting the young women to serve in the position have changed dramatically. Yet each Alice has been successful in promoting Wisconsin’s thriving agriculture industry.

In the early years, after World War II, Alice was a beauty queen fresh out of high school. Today, she is public relations professional with at least four years of experience or education in agriculture, public relations, communications, or related fields.

Beyond individual communication skills, the list of job requirements includes knowledge about Wisconsin's diverse agriculture and products, history, resources, and rural-urban issues. Alice is expected to work effectively with colleagues, the media, and the public. She develops her own educational materials, speeches, and presentations.

The early Alice traveled nationally and internationally with a chaperone, logging 150,000 miles a year — most of it on airplanes — and making over 1,000 appearances annually. Today's Alice spends much of her time driving Wisconsin's highways in her official E85 vehicle provided by the Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board. However, she continues to travel beyond Wisconsin’s borders, and still logs tens of thousands of miles.

Museum director Beth Lemke points out the photo display featuring all 69 women who have served as Alice in Dairyland.

In that very first year, organizers traveled throughout rural Wisconsin looking for Alice contestants, and judges narrowed the field to 16 finalists based on photos alone. Today, the call for applicants goes across the state to colleges and universities and Wisconsin’s array of agribusinesses, and a rigorous set of professional skill requirements and qualifications narrows the field from many applicants to as many as six finalists.

By the late 1950s, the selection process began in May and culminated in August. Four “Alice princesses” were named in June, and they spent the next two months in a constant job audition until Alice was named in August.

Today, Alice in Dairyland is a marketing professional. In the first round of the selection process, applications are evaluated on resumes, personal interviews, and communications ability. If they meet these criteria, they still have to impress a selection panel during the three-day finals where they are evaluated on public speaking, personal interviews, TV and radio interviews, and agribusiness tours.

Over the years, Alice in Dairyland has changed along with the changing face of agriculture and the world. But she continues to be Wisconsin’s most effective agricultural ambassador.

Natalie (Parmentier) Killion, Wisconsin’s 56th Alice, has loaned mementos from her year as Alice to the exhibit. She also is a member of the current Brown County Alice in Dairyland Committee.

Much of the history of the Alice in Dairy program from the past 69 years is currently on display in a special gallery,at the Neville Public Museum, according to museum director Beth Lemke. “On Jan. 28 we opened ‘Alice in Dairyland, Wisconsin’s Agricultural Ambassador.’” she said.

“The exhibit features highlights of the first Alice all the way through the 69th Alice Ann O’Leary. And the exhibit will remain open through June Dairy Month until July 9,” Lemke noted.

“We have the dress Ann O’Leary wore the night she was selected as Alice. We borrowed from the Wisconsin Historical Society the model and pattern of the dress worn by the first Alice, Margaret (McGuire) Blott. We borrowed from Natalie (Parmentier) Killian, the 56th Alice, the amethyst necklace that she was given,” Lemke explained.

The exhibit also features multi-media presentations. “The museum is home to the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s negative collection,“ said Lemke, “and our curator found almost 80 historic images of Alice through the years that were housed in our photography collection. Along with a display featuring photos of each alice, all throughout the exhibit are photos of Alice promoting Wisconsin agriculture over nearly 70 years.”

Video clips from Green Bay television stations highlighting appearances of Alice in Dairyland at various events in Northeastern Wisconsin are also part of the exhibit.

The Neville Museum is located at 210 Museum Place, between Walnut and Dousman streets in Green Bay near the west shore of the Fox River. Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays and noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays.