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A tradition 50 years strong

The crown wasn't made of diamonds, and the sash wasn't silk. There were no television cameras, and the only flashbulbs and paparazzi were my own parents and their camera.

It was 1994, the occasion was the Tri-County Fair Queen contest, and on that special summer night I was named "Fair Queen."

It's been 15 years and I've done a lot of living since then. The tiara is still shiny, but it's missing a rhinestone or two. The sash is still ragged around the edge where a wayward market lamb decided to snack on it. Yet I keep them because they represent a time in my life when anything was possible.

In the grand scheme of a lifetime of experiences, being the Tri-County Fair Queen isn't as life-altering as say, being named Miss America. But, it ranks right up there with the best moments of my lifetime that's for sure.

You see, I was a part of a proud local tradition that this year marks its 50th anniversary. Being queen was an experience that I wouldn't trade for anything, and I know the other women who have held the title would say the same thing today.

This coming weekend former queens and their attendants will gather in Herington, Kan., to reminisce and watch the crowning of the next fair queen and her court.

It will be incredible to see 50 years of tradition in one room. Many of these women have gone on to great careers and others have watched their own daughters, and some their granddaughters, go through the program. The Latzke family has one such queenly pedigree, my older sister was the 1987 Tri-County Fair Queen, and our mother went through the program when she was a 4-H member herself.

What's even more remarkable is that an institution that strong doesn't just happen overnight. For the past half of a century, the people of the Tri-County area have supported their little fair and their queen contest with their time, their talents and their treasures. They did so because they believe in 4-H, and in the young members of Marion, Morris and Dickinson counties.

Sure, some may say that fair queen contests are sexist and outdated and a little too quaint for the modern world. But, I think of all the wonderful women who were queens before me, and all of the wonderful ones after me, and I can't say I agree with the opposition.

The contest gives young women the chance to feel important and special--if even for only a little time. The program allows bright young women the opportunity to be role models for little girls and shows them that their actions are more important than they realize. Afterall, I remember as a little girl looking up to the fair queen and her court and wishing and hoping that someday I too would get to wear a pretty crown and ride in a convertible waving to a crowd.

This little fair queen contest celebrates the 4-H accomplishments of these young women and gives them a chance to promote a worthy program across three counties throughout their reigning year.

What's more tiara-worthy than that?

Sure, it's a little fair, and a little contest. In the grand scheme of things it's not much to the outside observer.

But, for the people of the Tri-County area, those rhinestones sparkle just as bright as diamonds and their 2009 Fair Queen will be just as special as this year's Miss America.

It's a tradition that we all hope continues for another 50 years.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at jlatzke@hpj.com.

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