5 Practical Gifts for the Twenty-Something Woman in your Life

Let’s face it, no one really enjoys opening up little trinkets or knick-knacks.  There’s plenty of “just because” moments or times that call for congratulations that we want to show our appreciation for someone, but what is the best gift to give?  When it comes to a twenty-something woman, there’s a handful of things you simply can’t go wrong with.

1. A candle – You can’t go wrong with a good smelling candle.  Stick with the rule of thumb that if you love it and don’t want to part with it, they’ll probably love it too.  Personally, I am partial to Bath & Body Works candles.  They are very potent and the scent lasts, worth every single penny!  Like buying local and supporting small businesses?  Check out Lake Life Candle!  One of my best friends recently left me a present to congratulate me for my accomplishments at Miss Wisconsin and it included the “Clean Cotton” custom candle pictured below (yes, please)!  P.S. You can never go wrong with fresh scents!2.  Starbucks Gift Cards – I know a common mentality is that gift cards are impersonal, but in reality most people who receive think they’re amazing and are extremely grateful for them.  The best kind (in my opinion)?  Starbucks.  It’s without the doubt the gift that keeps on giving, after all you’re literally providing the gift of life; that’s pretty fricken spectacular.  #BlessUp everyone who gave me a Starbucks card during Miss Wisconsin week.  If there’s another coffee shop, store, or restaurant they love, don’t hesitate to pick up a gift card.  It’s a simple errand on your part and they will exude sincere happiness (I promise).3. Alex & Ani Braclets – These simple bracelets are in high demand right now and for good reason.  Not only do most of them come in silver and gold options, but there’s a variety of charms to choose from and they support incredible causes.  For example, I received a gold one with a unicorn on it where part of the proceeds went to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.  How neat is that?  Millennials love any sort of philanthropic good that they can get their hands on, check out all the different kinds you can pick from here: Alex & Ani.  Oh and did I mention they’re super cute and stackable?  Just checking.

4. Bath & Body Works Items – If you know what scents they prefer, you’re already ahead of the game.  However, don’t fret if you aren’t sure what they like.  The perk of B&B Works products is that they can always exchange them for another scent.  Looking for a good one?  Try Rosé Champagne, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

5. Other Jewelry Items – This sparkly, statement necklace pictured below is from JCrew and can typically be found at their outlet stores.  I actually borrowed an identical one my roommate had for a year before she recently gifted me my own (thanks, Liv).  Jewelry is something “extra” women don’t tend to buy on a regular basis for themselves because let’s face it, it’s not needed.  So if you see something you like or know of a necklace or earrings they’ve expressed interest in, jump on it.  Bright tassel earrings are super fun and lively up any outfit, you can find some of my favorites at Target and Francesca’s.Hair Tie Bracelet – Yes, you read that correctly.  There’s metal bangle bracelets that have divots in them for your hair bands or pony tails.  Adding a little more class and glamour to the black, brown, or vibrant colored elastic band that typically stays on your wrist all day long (that is if you don’t lose it).  There’s plenty of options to choose from on Etsy:


Fifth and Final, That’s a Wrap

Hang on tight, work hard, embrace the moment, and trust in God’s timing.

And in what seems like the blink of an eye my seven year journey within the Miss America Organization is complete.  I am so incredibly honored to have finished as First  Runner-Up to our new Miss Wisconsin 2017, McKenna Collins and have won the Overall Evening Gown Award this year at Miss Wisconsin.  As I reflect on this experience I ask myself, how do I conceptualize seven years?  How does one sum up an elongated opportunity that has changed their life for the better?  Here goes nothing…

I started competing as a senior in high school with a desire to dance; to perform on stage and have fun.  At that time I had no idea the impact the Miss America Organization would have on my life.  At that time, I didn’t fully understand the scholarship opportunities that came with the job of a titleholder or just how desperately I would need those funds to help guide me through college.  At that time, I didn’t know the successes that God had in store for me and the frustrating lessons he would test my determination and compassion with; but as I look back on every experience I now know all those pursuits entailed intended purpose on His behalf.I competed in three local pageants before winning my first title on my fourth attempt as a sophomore in college.  That job, Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2012 lifted me up in a time of emotional disparity and struggle.  It surrounded me with caring people in the community that motivated me and showed me the correct career path I was intended to follow.  I then was blessed with the titles of Miss Seven Rivers and Miss Madison Capital-City as I continued to set high goals for myself and worked to positively impact the communities I served through my platform and volunteerism.  Over the course of those first few years, this program pushed me out of my comfort zone (well the minimal one that was there) and enabled me to soar to new heights I didn’t know were possible.  I placed as a Top 11 Semi-Finalist those first few years as I navigated myself through college and worked to discover my true and without even knowing in retrospect what was happening before my eyes.The title of Miss Harbor Cities 2016 changed my life in various ways, unique to what I’d experienced in the past.  I was finally at a point where I really grasped what the position of Miss Wisconsin entailed and knew that I possessed the necessary qualities to take on the job and do it justice. Jenny, Danielle, and Abbey, my directors held me accountable for my rehearsals, challenged me through countless interview practices, and allowed me to showcase who “Tianna Vanderhei” was.  After finally placing in the Top 5 and winning Overall Interview at Miss Wisconsin 2016, I knew I couldn’t step away without giving it one final shot.

Winning Miss Badgerland at the Miss Wisconsin Sweeps competition in late April granted me one, fifth and final chance to vie for the job of Miss Wisconsin.  With less time than I ever had to prepare in the past, I focused diligently on exercising, eating healthy, drilling interview questions, and getting wardrobe items finalized around my full-time career as a Multi-Media Journalist (which trust me isn’t easy).  I made a number of school appearances in the less than two months before Miss Wisconsin, held our 3rd Annual CMN Hospitals garage sale (and raised $900 for the kids), and situated my life as if I wasn’t returning to La Crosse.  A great deal of success starts from within, it stems from envisioning your dreams and believing in your own potential.  In fact, on autograph cards to kids I often write, “Believe in the power of your dreams!  You can be anything and do anything you wish!”  Because let’s be honest, sometimes we all need a little extra encouragement.  Before I knew it, finals night arrived and I was an anxious, hot mess.  I took a brief nap before we left the hotel for the auditorium and LOTS of deep breaths.  At that point I told myself it was all in God’s hands and it truly was.  I felt content and was hopeful of making Top 11 for the fifth consecutive year, with an opportunity to compete again in every phase of competition and for my family and friends to watch.

I was called ninth.  My heart still dropped when I heard my name and I rushed to the center of the stage to thank the judges and join the other semi-finalists; hugging each and every one of them as I made my way to the end of the line.  I took each phase of competition as it came on Saturday evening, focusing on strutting my stuff and having fun in swimsuit before transitioning my mindset to talent.  I’ve danced since I was five and will tell you I have NEVER danced the way I performed on finals night.  My turns were spot on (no pun intended), my moves were strong and fluid, and my emotional presentation was projected straight from my heart; I left every ounce of passion I had on that stage.  In fact, I started crying as I bowed on stage and gracefully ran off to the tan stage area gasping for air with a huge smile across my face.  Never, in all my years of dancing have I ever performed the way I did that night and for that I am thankful.Intermission came and passed and evening gown flew by and suddenly they were calling names for the Top 5 Finalists.  My heart was racing, just praying for my name and then I heard it.  My thoughts in that moment?  “Breathe, focus on the on-stage question, your heel is tangled up in your gown…untangle your gown! Smile!”

I was asked what the worst kind of discrimination is, an open ended question.  I talked about how with tensions being so high in our country it’s important to respect others values, morals, and viewpoints.  At a time when there is an intense political divide and we tend to see things as black and white, people need to realize there is grey area; stressing that we need to not discriminate against others views but rather appreciate their perspectives.  I felt at ease about my answer and the conversational aspect of how I responded to it; to not only the judges, but the audience as well.

Then, the awards came.  I’ll be honest as soon as April Haldeman was called as 4th Runner-Up and I heard Erin O’Brien’s name for 3rd Runner-Up I don’t remember much else.  I had to ask someone who was 2nd Runner-Up after the fact because I stood their spaced out praying.  Seven years.  It was a dream of mine for seven years, building consistently with each experience, title, and relationship I made.  It all culminated to that one moment in time, standing on that stage hand in hand with McKenna who just so happened to be my roommate that entire week in Oshkosh.And then, I heard “Miss Badgerland, Tianna Vanderhei.”  Disappointment, sadness, and frustration consumed me as I watched McKenna be crowned Miss Wisconsin 2017 and walk the runway.

I also felt an immense amount of gratitude, accomplishment, and optimism-knowing full heartedly that God has something greater in store for me.

There’s so many people that have positively impacted my journey and quite frankly my life over this elongated experience and I’m beyond lucky to have so many generous, compassionate, and supportive people in my life.Thank you to my roommate, dance drill sergeant, and cheerleader, Liv Mercer.  We did this together!  Thank you for helping me with interview, watching me practice walking patterns while you recorded and were adamant about me doing everything over and over again.  Mentally and emotionally you have been my rock this year; I couldn’t have gotten this far without you.  I’m so blessed to have you and your family in my life.Thank you to Ken and Deb Morrall and Caitlin Machol for pushing me even further out of my comfort zone all while encouraging me to embrace my true self.  You helped me envision myself on tha Miss America stage, encouraging me to see the picture than what was in front of me in Oshkosh; which in turn expanded my level of compete.  Thank you for your selfless devotion to this program.  All three of you (Caitlin not pictured but certainly present in spirit and preparations all the way from LA) have and with no doubt will continue to impact young women’s lives for the better.  Crown or no crown, you are now a part of my life-there’s no getting rid of me!Thank you to Lisa Horman and Amy Ryan, my very first directors when I was honored with the life-changing job of Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest.  We were rookies together and I’d say we did a pretty great job of tackling that year as a team!  Thank you to Abby Ryan, my Miss Seven Rivers director for your devotion to this program long after your days as a contestant concluded.  You make a difference in so many young women’s lives and it is sincerely appreciated.  Ron and Joe, my fabulous Madison Capital-City directors, you two carry a bright light with you that shines into all those you come in contact with.  Thank you for your years of guidance, laughs, and encouragement of not only your titleholders but any women who reach out to you.

Joel and Marilyn, your generosity and drive to help people further their educational aspirations is astonishing.  Thank you for always cheering me on and helping me, I received countless compliments on my new talent costume and felt incredible in it.  Love you both!PROST to my incredible Oktoberfest Royal Family (that includes my 2012 family and all those who have come before us and succeeded us).  I cried twice during the week in Oshkosh, once Saturday afternoon at rehearsal and Saturday evening before I left my hotel for the show when I received a video of my Festmaster, Brad Sturm along with a number of family members and grenadiers saluting me with an Ein Prosit.  You all came into my life at a very difficult time for me and uplifted me mentally and emotionally.  The best part?  Once a part of Oktoberfest, always a part of Oktoberfest.  It’s no surprise the support of the La Crosse community is unmatched, but there’s nothing like the love and encouragement fest provides.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for all that you do and for devoting yourselves to the community and the people within it.

Courtney Pelot, my forever Miss Wisconsin-if I had to determine the best thing I’ve taken away from this program it’s without a doubt the friendships I’ve made; especially you.  Late nights in my hotel room during Miss Wisconsin week 2016 turned into a wonderful bond between us.  I am extremely proud of you and all you’ve accomplished this year and am ecstatic I was able to see you representing our state in Atlantic City.  Time to just be Court and Tia, AKA Collectivo Coffee dates on State Street, copious amounts of Rosé, and Badger Football game day…bring it on!To my family…

“Family isn’t defined only by last names and genetic ties; it’s defined by commitment and love.  It means showing up when they need you the most. It means having each other’s backs.  It means loving one another in their darkest moments and times of defeat.  It means never giving up on one another.”

I don’t think any of us knew just how deep we were getting into the Miss America Organization when Morgan first started competing in the fall of 2007, but after 10 years I’d say mom, dad, Ridge, and Reece have a firm grasp of this scholarship program and the benefits it reaps.  To my grandparents, aunts, uncle, cousins, and family friends-you have no idea how much it means to me to have you there.  Thank you for your encouragement over the years, I love you all.

Ridge and Reece, you are without a doubt one of the greatest blessings in my life and in recent years have become two of my best friends.  Your maturity and selfless mentality constantly astonishes me.  Thank you for sitting through thirteen pageants (keep in mind that’s not counting Morgan’s competitions), cheering loudly, and giving the best hugs in moments when I’ve needed that supportive presence more than you know.  I love you both so much.Dad, I know how difficult it was at times to watch local and state pageants because of just how caring you are.  Anyone who knows you knows you wear your heart on your sleeve and that there’s a lot of emotions behind that sarcastic front.  I remember you saying to me one day, “Obviously I want you to do well, you’re my daughter, but I get so close with these young women and learn their stories and want them all to do well.”  I think that statement is a true representation of this experience as a whole and the people we’ve been fortunate enough to meet along the way.  From overlooking charges for dresses on your credit card, to heartfelt talks, to anxiously awaiting to hear my name as you sat on the edge of your seat in the audience, you’ve endured a full spectrum of emotions watching me compete.  Thank you for being a constant in my life, for teaching me not to take successes and obstacles too seriously, and for believing in me.  I love you.Morgan, what began with your desire to serve Wisconsin Rapids, fueled a fire within me to get involved with the MAO.  Despite arguing as siblings typically do and stressing that we are more unalike than alike, we found common ground and dreams within this process.  I know you wanted this just as badly, if not more (if that’s actually possible) than I did and it breaks your heart to watch your little sister’s dream dissipate and not be able to do anything about it; but it’s okay.  We’ve both achieved a lot thanks to this program and gained a great deal of scholarship money for school (#winning).  We, together have left an imprint on our communities that we’ve represented, the state, and this program and heck we should be proud of that.  I’ve been singing and dancing by your side since 1993 and I have no plans to stop any time soon!  This may be the end of this chapter, but we have plenty of other ones to look forward to like obtaining your new title, “Mrs.” in August.

Mom, I know we didn’t want it to end this way.  I was really hoping for more long car rides across the state with the best co-pilot a woman could ask for (in the Miss Wisconsin mobile of course), but as fate would have it…God laughed at our plans.  Nothing has tested my mental, physical, and emotional strengths or pushed me out of my comfort zone more than being involved in this program.  You have been ready at the drop of a hat to assist me with whatever I needed: to buy a new outfit for an appearance or a rather pricey gown for competition, to get me a water, pick up coffee, or purchase adhesive bras during Miss Wisconsin week when I ran into wardrobe issues, you name it!  You woke up at the crack of dawn some mornings to accompany me to appearances and never stopped smiling.  Long days filled with excessive trips to Starbucks and Marcel the Shell pep talks that left us laughing so hard we cried have fostered some of my fondest memories.  It may not have been in the greater plans for me to be Miss Wisconsin, however, this program has brought me closer to the people in my life that mean the most and strengthened our mother, daughter relationship immensely.  To my look alike, role model, and best friend –  love you more than I can ever express to you in words or actions and I’m very appreciative of all that you do not only for me, but for our family and others.  Here’s to conjuring up my next goal in life and fearlessly chasing after it together.  XOI am humbled to be named 1st Runner-Up to our poised, accomplished, and determined Miss Wisconsin 2017, McKenna Collins and look forward to seeing what things she achieves during her year of service.  Now McKenna, go win Miss America girl!  After all, it’s happened before!  But in all seriousness, back to my question…how does one conceptualize seven years?  I find ease in my firm belief that everything happens for a reason and timing is everything.  This is by no means a loss, but an exceptional lesson that cultivated over that lengthy time frame.  I find fulfillment in all the amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and the relationships that will last for many, many years to come.  Thank you to everyone who has believed in me, offered kind words, or affected my journey in some facet, without you none of this would’ve been possible.

Much love,

Just Tianna

Preliminary Competition: [✓]

So how does the competition work, you ask?  

For me, competition began on Wednesday morning when my private ten minute interview with the judges took place.  It felt amazing!  Started off focused on my platform logo and weekly blog posts highlighting aspects of my platform, “Let’s Talk: Skill Sets 4 Success.”  I was able to talk about President Trump and Ivanka being in Wisconsin Tuesday to talk about the workforce and blatant skills gap in our state and country and just how important it is to empower our youth in order to foster college readiness and success in their careers.  I also was able to talk about my struggles with academics in college and finding the right degree that fit with my interests and passions!  I am so at peace with how that chat went and wish (as always) I could’ve had more time to talk with them!Preliminary on stage competition began on Wednesday evening, with all twenty-six women taking the stage to compete in different areas.My group (contestants 14-26) participated in On-Stage Question and Swimsuit.  While the first group (contestants 1-13) competed in Talent and Evening Gown on Wednesday.  The energy and excitement were emanating backstage prior to the show and from the audience as soon as the curtains opened, still gives me chills!  I will admit, as soon as pre-show prayer wrapped up I had to wipe away tears as all of my emotions culminated in that moment.  Before I knew it the music cued up and the show began, leaving me little time to process things but rather embrace the adrenaline and go forth!

Picking my poison from the fish bowl…
The questions included current event topics ranging from healthcare, to Bill Crosby’s trial, to the Russian investigation.  I was asked if transgender individuals should be able to compete within The Miss America Organization.  How did I answer?  I touched on how this program promotes inclusion and opportunities and I believe I someone wants to compete, they should be able to do so.  However, currently it states in the contract a contestant must be female at birth so unless the Miss America Board chooses to change that in the future, it’s out of my indivisible control.
Thanks to The Roxy for an outstanding dinner on Monday and for sponsoring shirts!
I also competed in swimsuit on Wednesday evening, feeling oh so confident and sexy as I strutted across the stage in my blue suit from Everything But Water.  I would like to thank stadium stairs, extra protein and fresh fruit, and kale chips for my abs (ha)!  Remember, 80 percent of how you look when trying to tone up, look good, and most importantly feel good is what you eat!  Congratulations to Erin O’Brien on winning preliminary swimsuit and Gina Milliacca on winning talent Wednesday evening!Thursday, we (the contestants) got to sleep in a little bit, leaving the hotel a little before 9 a.m. to drive to Citgo and take a photo in our “Fueling Good” shirts they sponsored for the day.  If you aren’t aware, Citgo is one of the major sponsors of the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Program, providing Miss Wisconsin with gas money to utilize throughout her year of service. 

After the photo, we had dress rehearsal at the auditorium to walk through the entire show in wardrobe for Thursday evening.  Following that, we were able to go to lunch with our parents and give them a tour of the backstage area.Thursday evening I competed in Talent and Evening Gown.  My dance this year is a lyrical piece to a rendition of “Lean On Me” by The Tenors, an acapella group.  I chose this piece to represent my struggles and perseverance over the course of this seven year journey I’ve been on within the Miss America Organization.  I’m extremely stubborn and have had to learn that it’s okay to lean on others when I need that extra support, rather than constantly being the one exuding compassion.  This dance is for all of you: family, friends, and people within this program that have been a part of my experience.I’ll be honest, my dance didn’t feel incredibly perfect, but I nailed my triple at the start of routine and felt as though I radiated more emotion that ever before.  I laid it all out on the floor and that’s all I could have hoped for.  Congratulations to April Haldeman for winning preliminary swimsuit and Catherine Smith for winning talent on Thursday night!Today (Friday) we have our annual Swinging for Scholarships golf outing, a laid back afternoon and then the Miss Wisconsin’s Outstanding Teen Pageant later tonight!  Best of luck to all the ladies, especially my girls Savannah, Annie, and Sarah-rock it!

Let the Good Times Roll

Let’s recap Monday and Tuesday of Miss Wisconsin week since I finally was able to connect to WiFi on my laptop.  And have a moment to type out this post for that matter, we stay very busy in Oshkosh this week as contestants!

Monday morning we arrived just after 8 a.m. at The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Recreational Center on campus, spending a few hours there initially.  During that time we worked on opening number, closing number production, evening gown walking patterns, swimsuit walking patterns, and on-stage question (phew)!  We broke for lunch and met with Shriners and veterans from the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King.  We ride on the bus all week, aka “The Golden Cadillac” pictured above with “Miss Wisconsin” painted on the windows.While I was sad to not see or be able to connect with Sally Olson whom I had met last year and kept in touch with, I was delighted to meet Jim.  Miss Milwaukee Area, Haley Lynam and I were lucky to have lunch with him and learned that he served in the Korean War as a chef.  He’s traveled to countless places over the years, but loves Wisconsin.After his time in the service, he work as a chef at a hotel near Lambeau Field for 22 years, stirring up meals for visiting NFL teams when they were in town.  One day, he had a gentleman walk in and ask him to make him the best steak he could.  Any guesses as to who it was?  My man, the one and only Vince Lombardi (super jealous).We went back to UW-Oshkosh for rehearsal in the afternoon before getting ready for The Merchant’s dinner at The Waters.  This is a semi-formal dinner at a gorgeous restaurant on the water that allows us a chance to mingle with generous sponsors of the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Program and meet the judges in a more informal setting prior to interviews beginning.  The weather has been horrid and humid with storms and showers on and off, but a key quality of any titleholder (especially Miss Wisconsin) is one’s ability to “roll with the punches.” Shout out to The Roxy and the waitstaff for an incredible dinner.  The food was absolutely phenomenal and the cheesecake was so delicious I enjoyed two pieces (thanks April)!Post Merchant’s I hit the gym at the hotel, running a few miles before lifting.  I wasn’t able to fall asleep the best on Sunday night due to excitement so I figured a solid sweat session would help clear my mind and boost my alertness the next day (and it did).Tuesday, my group (group two) didn’t have interview so we departed around 8:15 a.m. for the auditorium to practice walking patterns on the set and talent run throughs.  All twenty-six of us convened in the afternoon for a picnic lunch provided by the Kiwanis Club of Oshkosh followed by a group rehearsal on stage in the late afternoon.  Thank you to the Kiwanis Club for keeping us energized and ready to conquer our day, your support is sincerely appreciated!

  • Interview, Wednesday morning
  • Wednesday preliminary competition: On-Stage Question and Lifestyle and Fintess in Swimwear
  • Thursday preliminary competition: Talent and Evening Gown

Like Sunshine and Summertime

It shouldn’t come as a surprise this is yet another post about a cold shoulder top, I’m a huge fan of them.  It seems like everytime I step foot into a store lately there’s a plethora of them in a variety of colors and I’m not complaining.  I love the simplicity of this white top, paired with a neckerchief from Express (which are trending right now).  It adds a little sassiness to the class of the cotton shirt.  It’s a MUST add to your wardrobe as the summer months approach!IMG_5354 (2)This white, lightweight cotton top I was able to snag at Francesca’s for $14.  In fact, I glanced at a few times one night and had to go back for it the following day (thankfully it was still there)!  Unfortunately, I can no longer find it online or in store, but I’ve linked some similar tops below for you to check out.  Also, no surprise here…there’s very similar tops available right now at my favorite store: TJ Maxx.IMG_5369Best part of the week?  My May BootayBag arrived in the mail!IMG_5334IMG_5339Check out BootayBag here: Meet Your New Bae…IMG_5373

Here are some more cold shoulder tops (all with fabulous price tags) that you might enjoy as well:

Stay stylish my friends,


Patriotic Floral and Blue Suede Bliss

Style is one of the four points of the Miss America Organization crown.  To me, its relevance is demonstrated by staying current with trends, but also taking into account what clothing best represents your own personality (and comfort is high on the list too).  It’s fun and exciting to experiment with new patterns, textures, and cuts of clothing pieces but it’s essential that in doing so you never stray away from who you are and the things that you like.

I typically describe my style as sexy, classy, and simple.  Trying to balance these three qualities can be tricky, however, I feel they’re three accurate adjectives to describe not only my daily wardrobe but my stage wardrobe within the Miss America Organization as well.IMG_5342IMG_5344This patriotic, floral dress caught my eye when I was making a quick sweep through TJ Maxx and I couldn’t pass it up!  Off the shoulder tops and dresses are very in for the spring and summer seasons and I love the dramatic neckline they create!

IMG_5361IMG_5375I had my eye on similar suede, bow sandals from DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse) for the past few weeks.  When I stumbled upon these Kenneth Cole ones (the only ones I could find in store at TJ Maxx) I was elated!  If you like those, here are some similar styles you might like:


Stay stylish and comfy my friends.


Embracing the Powers of Sisterhood

The Miss Wisconsin Class of 2017 was encouraged to share a previous titleholder whom they look up to.  Truth be told, I can’t choose just one.

Before I even started competing within the Miss America Organization there were a couple women I looked up to, after I began my involvement directly, that pool grew immensely.  While many women have trailblazed paths before me and exuded many characteristics that I have found admirable, there a handful of indidvuals whose influence has directly touched me.
First off, I remember watching Katie Williams Tomsyck on the Miss Wisconsin Rapids stage and thinking to myself, “I’m going to compete when I can.”  Katie competed for the job of Miss Wisconsin many times and ultimately never achieved that goal, but she undoubtedly left a legacy within the MAO that will continue for years to come.  She carried herself with poise and grace, prepared full-heartedly leading up to state each year, and always presented an upbeat attitude.  She encouraged me (and my sister) to compete in Miss Wisconsin Rapids and continues to empower me in various ways.  Thank you, Katie for your positive impact-whether it be directly or indirectly your dedication to this program is inspiring.My big sister Morgan Vanderhei is another previous titleholder who I admire in more ways than one.  She only ever vied for Miss Wisconsin Rapids and did so a total of four times (might I add) because she wanted to represent our home town greater than anything else.  She worked her butt off and persevered through all the bumps along the way.  I’ve seen few titleholders devote as much time and energy into their communities as I witnessed my sister do during her year of service.  She wore the crown and sash as a badge of honor, with an overpowering desire to help those around her, connect with children, raise awareness about her platform, and support CMN Hospitals.  Morgan, thank you for setting an exemplary example of what it means to be a titleholder and for continuing to support me along my journey.

Raeanna Johnson was one of the first Miss Wisconsins I met after earning my very first title, Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest.  She inspired me instantaneously, possessing the courage to share her family’s struggles with her brother and how that affected her.  If you’ve seen her speak, you also have witnessed the captivating presence she presents whenever she has a microphone in her hand.  Rae, thank you for being a positive role model, for being unapologetically yourself and for sharing your knowledge with me over the years.

My first year at Miss Wisconsin I was lucky enough to spend the week with Miss Paula Mae.  We were in the same preliminary group and I happened to be right next to her in placement for opening number (so I got to vibe off of her impeccable dance skills).  I vividly remember the first time I met Paula earlier that year at a local pageant.  She was rows away from me greeting someone and I was immediately drawn to her vivacious personality.  That kind of presence that takes over a room the moment she walks in, grasping peoples’ attention with a genuine smile and exudes utmost compassion that shines from within.  It’s no surprise she went on to become Miss Wisconsin 2013 and if you know her, you’d surely agree with me.  Paula, thank you for being a positive light in so many peoples’ lives and for never being afraid to be yourself, but more importantly HAVE FUN.Although I’ve spotlighted a handful of women, there’s countless others I could go on and on about.  Tracy Wursterbarth, Kimberly Larsen Sawyer, Tara Pizer, Kate Gorman, Stephanie Klett, trust me folks…there’s many women who have been involved in this program who have impacted me in profound ways (but you probably don’t want to read a blog post for thirty or more minutes).  The fact of the matter is, titleholders empower one another and aim to help younger women who are currently or hope to compete some day.

Ladies, thanks for leaving big heels to fill; that’s what this program is all about-sisterhood with a servant’s heart.