In 1974, Sturgeon Bay boy competes for Alice in Dairyland title

Robert Johnson
Special to USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Jewelers Association partnered with the Alice in Dairyland program to create a 14 karat yellow gold tiara featured eight native Wisconsin gems, most notable is the 21 carat amethyst, surrounded by a pair of citrines, amethysts and golden beryl.

As readers wander through the archives of the Door County Advocate, it is easy to find stories that alarm, amuse, shock or simply entertain. The headline “Chris no Alice” that ran in April 1974 was just such an eye-catching item.

Becoming Alice in Dairyland is an excellent opportunity for a Wisconsin girl to represent her state. Traveling the width and breadth of Wisconsin, she has an opportunity to meet thousands of interesting people and help promote the many food products Wisconsin produces.

Alice in Dairyland is required to be between the ages of 19 and 24 and a resident of the state for at least one year prior to the contest. Judging is done on the basis of personality, poise, photogenic qualities and appearance. The successful candidate that is selected as Alice in Dairyland becomes a full-time paid employee of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture for one year.

In 1974, officials did a double take when one particular entry arrived in the mail. Chris DeGraff, a blond, blue-eyed wrestler and son of “Pudge” DeGraff of Sturgeon Bay, had sent in an application to represent the state as Alice in Dairyland. Officials must have been a little mystified as to the application. In 2019, it wouldn’t have been surprising, but in 1974, it was a first.

Actually, the application had been entered as a joke by two of Chris’ female friends, but it didn’t continue as a joke as Chris was intrigued by the role of a representative. To Chris, it seemed that the main criterion considered in picking Alice in Dairyland was a good personality and that sex really didn't make a difference.

While many people may have considered it a beauty contest, Chris considered the role much more than that. Suddenly, the applicant process became a bit of a challenge to the strapping, young wrestler. It may have started out as a joke, but he continued because he wanted to.

“It was fun while it lasted," he told his dad "Pudge" DeGraff, a well-known local woodcarver. “But, there’s no getting around it. They are looking for a female.”

Chris, the only male contender to vie for the Alice title in the contest's 30-year history, had been, to date, its most widely publicized contestant. It may have started as a joke, but Chris, to the surprise of no one who knew him, followed through. He gamely waited his turn at the interviewer’s table in Green Bay and answered the routine question, and he wasn’t surprised when he was eliminated.

“After all,” said one interviewer, “a lot of pretty girls were eliminated too. Actually, what most people don’t realize is that this is not a beauty contest but an application for a job with the State of Wisconsin. You do not apply for a state job as a joke.”

Chris admitted that he was not championing male rights particularly, but little did he realize at the time that he was just a few decades before his time.

Chris wrote in a letter to the Advocate editor, “When things started coming to a head about a month ago, I really wasn’t sure if I should continue. I thought about it and I came up with one main reason, and that was because it would be good publicity for the whole program, which it was. Right now more people in the state are probably aware of just exactly what Alice in Dairyland is, due to all the publicity.

"Before it all happened most people probably thought that the Alice contest was a beauty contest and nothing more, but I think now people have a better understanding of what it really is. I know that now I certainly know more about Alice than I did before. So now that it’s all ended, I’ve got mixed emotions; in a way I’m sorry that I’ve been eliminated, because it could have been a lot of fun, and I’m sure I would have met a lot of great people. On the other hand, I’m glad it’s done with.”

It’s a fun and interesting moment in time. Looking at it from a distance of 45 years ago, the story can bring a smile and a chuckle, but who knew that decades later a situation like this would no longer be taken as a joke. Chris returned to his studies at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, wiser and having experienced a most entertaining adventure.

From the pages of the Door County Advocate of years gone by.