by Stephen Wagner
Though I had seen Yvonne Longenecker at the Keystone International Livestock Expo, and another ag event I can’t recall, I missed her coronation at last year’s dairy pageant. At KILE she caught me up on her likes and dislikes and educational ambitions. She’s a foodie! “I love food,” she said in no uncertain terms. Jump forward to the latest edition, the 62nd Dairy Princess crowning.
Before the pageant, from across the room, I saw Longenecker moving about, chatting with Ag Secretary Russell Redding and chumming with fellow county princesses.
I asked her if, deep down, she might be even a little glad to see her reign come to an end. “How does it feel?”
“Bittersweet,” she said. “It was a wonderful year, but it’s time for someone else to take over and continue the work.”
The word “bittersweet” reminded me of the second verse of Dolly Parton’s song “I Will Always Love You” – “Bittersweet memories/That’s all I’m taking with me/Goodbye, please don’t cry…” and so forth. I’ll tell you more about the crying shortly; it all ties in.
Master of ceremonies Kirk Sattazahn reminded us as he opened the pageant program that “the European Society of Cardiology says if you consume dairy products you have a lower mortality rate. You will live longer if dairy is in your diet.” In his characteristic way, Sattazahn then talked about the 2018-19 crop of contestants using, as only he can, pinpoint turns of phrase to capture the personality of each county princess. For example, of Berks County Princess Samantha Haag, he said, “She’s the only dairy princess I’ve met who is anxious to get her pesticide license.” That could be because she is learning to manage her grandfather’s 14-acre orchard, or possibly because of her twin interest, horticulture.
Brooke Emery of Alexandria, Huntingdon County, will represent the state’s dairy industry at events across the state for the next year as its 62nd Pennsylvania Dairy Princess, which includes its 6,650 dairy farm families. Dairy is the state’s top agriculture industry sector, contributing nearly $14.7 billion to the economy and supporting more than 52,000 jobs across the state. A senior at Juniata College in Huntingdon, majoring in Pre-K to Fourth Grade Education, she is in the National Society of Leadership and Success, Juniata Instructors of the Future, and is a choreographer for the dance ensemble. A longtime exhibitor at the Huntingdon County Fair, she has shown Satin rabbits, Hereford beef cattle, crossbred swine and Boer goats, and secured champion showmanship honors multiple times.
First Alternate Princess is Berks County’s Samantha Haag of Mohrsville. The 20-year-old lives near her family’s seventh-generation dairy farm where she grew up. She is the wholesale and office manager for Way-Har Farm Market. Second alternate is Blair County Dairy Princess Kara Stultz, 17, of Williamsburg. She lives on her family’s 210-acre, 100-cow family dairy farm and is a senior at Central High School.
Contestants were judged on public speaking, dairy industry knowledge, poise and personality. Each contestant prepared a speech, presentation, radio spot, poster display and recipe promoting milk and dairy products; submitted a scrapbook of promotion activities; took a quiz on dairy promotion knowledge; and was interviewed by a panel of four judges.
“Agricultural leadership programs like this have a tremendously transformative power, equipping youth with a greater understanding of our industry, a more powerful voice in advocating for agriculture and a set of skills that are directly transferable to whatever life brings their way,” said Secretary Redding. In addition to Emery, Haag and Stultz, the four other selected finalists were 19-year-old Gabrielle Swavely, Centre County Dairy Princess from Pennsylvania Furnace; 19-year-old Jill Palmer, Fulton County Dairy Princess, of Warfordsburg; 16-year-old Kerstin Cohick, Cumberland County Dairy Princess, of Newburg; and 23-year-old Bridget McConn, Washington County Dairy Princess, of West Alexander.
Other award winners included Wyoming-Lackawanna Dairy Princess Emma Lock, 20, of Nicholson; Bradford County Dairy Princess Emilie Cole, 17, Troy; Luzerne County Dairy Princess Toni Traver, 16, Noxen; Lancaster County Dairy Princess Danae Gockley, 17, Mohnton; Tioga County Dairy Princess Camryn Moyer, 16, Roaring Branch; Perry County Dairy Princess Anna Brubaker, 21, Ickesburg; Susquehanna County Dairy Princess Mary Catherine Chidester, 16, Montrose; York County Dairy Princess Heather Gibson, 21, Red Lion; and Mercer County Dairy Princess Christa Ealy, 17, Sharpsville.
Gabrielle Swavely was voted Miss Congeniality by the other county princesses. She received the honor in memory of Cochranville, Chester County, dairy farmer and princess program supporter Horace Prange. The 2017-18 Huntingdon County Dairy Princess Katrina Bliss, 18, of Huntingdon, was honored with the Tina M. Shultz Award. The award recognizes the princess who has done the most effective job of serving her area as dairy princess. The 2017-18 Mercer County Dairy Princess Jocelyn Snyder was presented with the inaugural Jan Harding-Ruslavage Perseverance Award. Named in honor of the long-time Pennsylvania Dairy Princess and Promotion Services board member, the award recognizes a princess who is a leader in county dairy promotions, excels in dedication to the program and perseveres through personal challenges and adversity in order to represent the dairy industry. Yvonne Longenecker received the William C. Nichol Appreciation Award and a $1,000 scholarship, which is awarded to the state dairy princess in recognition of her dairy promotion efforts throughout the year.
As suspense mounted leading up to who would comprise the next court, the 2017-18 court (Gretchen Little, Casandra Blickley and Yvonne Longenecker) said their farewells. The man sitting next to me noted that he had never seen so many tears in his life as from this group of princesses. And tears transcended passing the torch to the point of other princesses having to circulate among their comrades to hand out tissues.
“I’m so happy,” said Emery in her winning remarks, “but I just can’t talk now.” Thus endeth the pageant.
Bittersweet memories mark passing of the torch
by Stephen Wagner