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GREEN BAY – Since iconic Lambeau Field has been the site of so many of the state’s historic sports events over the last several decades, it seemed entirely appropriate that it should also host a milestone event in Wisconsin’s historic Alice in Dairyland program.

Surrounded by photos of legendary Packer players and other related memorabilia, more than 450 people filled the Lambeau Field atrium tables for the social hour and banquet. An additional 50 people were on hand for the finale program waiting for the name of the state’s 70th Alice in Dairyland to be announced.

The program, rich with Alice history, began when emcee Bill Jartz introduced 37 past Alices, who walked across the stage to thunderous applause. The first to be introduced was the first Alice, Margaret McGuire, of Highland, who served in 1948.

Previous Alices also attending, included Courtney (Ott) Booth of Forest Junction, the 50th Alice, who was an intern with the Wisconsin State Farmer, and Natalie (Parmentier) Killion of Green Bay, the state’s 56th Alice and a member this year’s host committee.

Program beginnings

The presence of Donald Wilkinson, past Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture, also reflected much of the history of not only the Alice program, but also the history of Wisconsin agriculture.

Wilkinson, now age 95, began his career with the department in 1948 as a public information officer, and helped launch the Alice program.

“Agriculture was changing a lot at the time, and we needed a way to define Wisconsin and our products,” he recalled. 

“From Lewis Carol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ came Alice in Dairyland, as the title of the young woman who would communicate the beauty of the state and its leadership role in the dairy industry.”

Wilkinson and his wife, Betty, served as early Alice chaperones, traveling throughout the state and nation. Highlights included riding in the 1952 Tournament of Roses Parade, meeting Hollywood celebrities and U.S. presidents.

“One of the reasons for the long-standing success of the Alice in Dairyland program is the education, dedication and enthusiasm of the candidates chosen each year,” he said.

O’Leary bids farewell

As a part of every finale program, the retiring Alice has the opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months and offer words of encouragement to her successor.

That time came for Ann O’Leary, Wisconsin’s 69th Alice in Dairyland, whose love for agriculture began at age 9 when she walked out of the show ring with her dairy calf and a blue ribbon. 

“I met my first Alice when I was a junior in high school, and after that meeting, I knew I wanted to become Alice in Dairyland,” she recalled. “And one year ago my dream came true, and my adventure began.”

Before recounting some of the highlights of her adventure, O’Leary said, “It has been my honor and absolute joy to serve as Wisconsin’s agricultural ambassador, traveling the state and promoting our hardworking farm families.”

Her memories include wading into a pond of 10,000 trout on Wisconsin Aquaculture Day, watching the faces of young girls light up when they spied her tiara at State Fair, and hearing the cheers of fourth-graders when they learned she brought them cheese.

“While each experience and interaction over the year left an impression on my heart, the biggest feeling I’m walking away is pride – pride in our state’s agricultural community,” O’Leary stressed.

“Whether it was chatting with a retired farmer, or high schoolers hoping to continue their family’s legacy, the passion and dedication they expressed was second to none,” she said. “After every event my heart was full of admiration for those who work in agriculture, and their endless efforts of feeding, fueling and clothing us.”

O’Leary thanked her family for their support during the past year. “My mom always kept me looking my best, and my dad was my ‘professional purse holder,” she said. “My brother, Bob, has been my biggest role model. Thank you for helping instill my love of agriculture and for inspiring me to pursue my dreams.”

As her successor embarks on her own adventure as Wisconsin’s 70th Alice, O’Leary advised, “Take as many photos as possible because you will want to remember every single moment. Jump right in without looking back, try not to blink, and soak up every moment.”

O’Leary presented the Friend of Alice Award to Green Bay radio and television ag reporter Mike Austin. 

Ben Brancel, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), also praised O’Leary for her work in promoting Wisconsin agriculture.
 
“Ann has experienced the rigors of this one-year marketing position, first hand, as she traveled throughout the state promoting Wisconsin agricultural products and the many facets of our state’s agriculture to a wide range of people, including television and radio audiences, newspaper readers, youth and community organizations, school presentations and on social media,” he said. 

“During the past year, Ann has given hundreds of speeches, attended 250 events and led four media campaigns. She has spent time visiting students in more than 165 schools, educating over 10,000 students,” Brancel related.

“She maintained a high level of energy and enthusiasm while crisscrossing the state to share the story of Wisconsin agriculture. She met and reached out to many people,” said Brancel. “Many commented on what a pleasure it was to have her attend their event or visit their classroom. She left everyone with a smile and a great attitude.”

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