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WISCONSIN DELLS

The 39 contestants competing for the honor to serve as Wisconsin's Fairest of the Fairs went through three days of interviews and activities before the finals on Wednesday night.

The competition is a part of the Wisconsin Association of Fairs convention each year, and the winner serves as the official ambassador of Wisconsin's county and district fairs, as well as the official hostess of the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis.

Gloria Kesler of the Calumet County Fair will serve in that position in 2016. The first runner-up was Sydney Endres of the Lodi Ag Fair; second runner-up was Emily Watson of the Walworth County Fair; third runner-up was Jenna Franseen of the Racine County Fair; and fourth runner-up was Emma Wagner of the Marquette County Fair.

Judges for the contest were Stacie Christel, Bob Meyer and Gail Zastrow.

Other contestants included Barron County Fair, Amber Johnson; Brown County Fair, Heather Duquaine; Central Wisconsin State Fair Ashlynn Kirk; Clark County Fair, Kaitlin Artac; Dane County Fair, Mariah Martin; Dodge County Fair, Karoline Twardokus; Fond du Lac County Fair, Valerie Kramer; Grant County Fair, Kami Schuler; Green County Fair, Whitney Disch; Iowa County Fair, Tayler Bowser; Jefferson County Fair, Olivia Peter; Juneau County Fair, Amber Bellows; Kenosha County Fair, Lauren Feltner; Kewaunee County Fair, Rebecca Steinhorst; LaCrosse Interstate Fair Kaytlyn Larson; Langlade County Fair, Ashley Brown; Manitowoc County Fair Cheyenne Mueller; Northern WI State Fair, Harmony Dement; Oconto County Fair, Jenna Herzog; Outagamie County Fair, Brittany Vanden Heuvel; Polk County Fair, Kayla Johnson; Richland County Fair, Keely Liska; Rock County Fair Abigail Martin; Sauk County Fair, Marlee Bonham; Shawano County Fair, Shianna Gracyalny; Sheboygan County Fair Elizabeth Widder; St. Croix County Fair, Shelby Weiske; Trempealeau County Fair, Shylana Goplin; Vernon County Fair, Megan Bakkum; Washburn County Fair, Mckayla Olson; Waukesha County Fair Danielle Decloux; Waupaca County Fair Kayla Mischke; Winnebago County Fair Carley Chapin; and Wisconsin Valley Fair, Anissa Walters.

The event included grueling interviews as well as group discussions in which judges evaluated the participants' contribution to the discussion.

The process is a challenging and emotional experience for the contestants, who have a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Two of the contestants were high school seniors, the majority of the contestants are enrolled in college and a few had already graduated from college. All of them share a passion for agriculture and fairs.

Dodge County was represented in the contest by Karoline Twardokus. She is the daughter of Dale and Kathy Twardokus, Town of Herman, and had a very stressful three days of interviews due to her family losing their dairy barn and numerous cows and calves following a barn fire the night before the convention began in Wisconsin Dells. Although she fought back tears often during the three-day interview process, the Fairs Association organizers and the other Fairest contestants were very supportive of her throughout the event.

Just prior to the final interviews on stage, there was a moment of silence for Crawford County's fair ambassador, Bridgette Achenbach, who lost her life in a car accident in May. The Prairie du Chien High School graduate was enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Former fairests on hand

In honor of 50 years of the Fairest of the Fair selection in Wisconsin, former Fairests of the Fairs were invited to attend. There were 31 former Fairests on hand at the event, many of them traveling from other states to be there. They were introduced on stage at the banquet just before the naming of the new fairest.

Connie Platts McCallister, Walworth County, was the first state Fairest in 1967. She said the job and the selection was much different at that time, and she visited two fairs and served at the 11-day State Fair in West Allis.

By contrast, Deanna Schlies, 2015 Fairest, reported she attended 29 fairs during her reign and about 20 other events around the state promoting fairs.

Earlier Fairest of the Fairs were crowned at the State Fair. In 1971, Missy Courtenay Stepanek served a shorter term when the Fairs Association began crowning the state Fairest at the state convention in January.

Many of the former Fairests said they remember the parades at State Fair and riding on a wagon pulled by a six-horse hitch through the State Fair Park. They also remember the opportunity to introduce popular entertainers on the State Fair stage, including Bob Hope, Kenny Rogers, Charlie Pride and others. They said they particularly enjoyed visiting with children at the fair and serving as a role model to youth.

Many of the former fairests attending the event his week travelled from out of state to be there. Many of them reported they are still involved with their local fairs.

Former fairests in attendance were Connie Platts McCallister of Minnesota, 1967; Pattie Lee Grantin Gros, 1968; Courtenay Francis Stepanek, 1971; Ceryl Hummer Livesay, 1973; Bonnie Bagstad Anderson, 1977; Faye Wink Klessig 1978; Clare Folger Boyle, Massachusettes 1981; Dawn Stein Kapka, 1986; Kim Nettesheim Flitoph, 1987; Ann Morris Beier, 1988; Kay Simmet Pickar, 1990; Angie Hafemeister Molkentin, 1991; Michelle Bielke Priebush, 1992; Sue Adams Bett, California, 1993; Courtney Ott booth, 1996; Angela Smith Kargus, Virginia, 1999; Hayley Barker Jordan, 2000; Allison Gonske Rick, 2001; Jill Makovec, 2002; Amber Swenor, 2003; Kimberly Schoessow Rusch, 2006; Sheri Nelson Sutton, 2007; Claire Carroll Dupont, 2008; Melissa Ploeckelman, 2009; Natalie Salkowski, 2010; Alexis Nickelotti, 2011; Richelle Kastenson, 2012; Steffani Koch, 2013; Kaitlyn Riley, 2014; and Deanna Schlies, 2015.

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