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A tale of two (or three) princesses: Fillmore County Dairy Princesses

Fri, Jun 4th, 2010
Posted in Agriculture

It was the best of businesses, it was the worst of businesses, some might say, but for the young women representing the dairy industry in the role of Dairy Princess, it's a business that is near and dear to their hearts. To run for a position as dairy royalty, girls must have a family member working in the dairy industry; many have grown up on dairy farms. To former princesses Beth (Aarsvold) Olson and Yvonne Freese and current princess Stephanie Drinkall, representing the dairy industry and promoting the benefits of dairy products is an honor as well as a personal mission: all three grew up on dairy farms. Freese and Olson are still involved with the dairy industry today.

The first Minnesota State Dairy Princess, or Princess Kay of the Milky Way, was crowned in 1954. In 1965, the iconic heads carved in butter, one of each Princess Kay finalist, began making their appearance at the State Fair. In the years since, Fillmore County Dairy Princesses Bridget Hendrickson Jacobson and Kelsey Olson gained the title of top dairy royalty in the state in 1992 and 2001 respectively. Beth Olson, who grew up on a farm outside Peterson but represented Winona County as a princess, ran in 1977 and was crowned Princess Kay the same year, an experience which she described as "an honor." "I was very proud to represent the hardworking dairy farmers," she remembers. At the time, the Princess Kay competition consisted of personal interviews, a commercial, and answering a question in groups of three. In Olson's case, the girls were asked, "Which is more important: heredity, or environment?" Olson chose heredity, noting that while an environment can be changed, heredity cannot. Freese also has fond memories of the Princess Kay competition she participated in. "I was super nervous. Everyone knows what they're talking about and really wants to support dairy," she says. "Most girls' parents are dairy farmers. You want everyone to do well- they're already doing a great job as princesses back in their own counties, and you meet a lot of nice girls." Judging consisted of three events: a speech written by the contestant, a personal interview, and a mock radio interview. Freese compares the radio interview to a newspaper interview, where questions mainly relate to information the public might like to know. For her, the personal interview was the most fun. The judges, who are more "laid back," asked questions about the candidate's farm and views. Freese advanced as one of the twelve finalists for Princess Kay, also earning the experience of getting her head carved in butter.

Current Fillmore County Dairy Princess Stephanie Drinkall, who also served as Little Miss Milkmaid as a third grader and as Dairy Attendant last year, also has many fond memories of her years promoting the dairy industry. As Little Miss Milkmaid, she attended parades and handed out dairy products in banks and grocery stores with her sister, who was Dairy Princess at the time. Her favorite memories of her year as Dairy Attendant include interacting with the public and competing in the Princess Kay competition. One of the funniest parts of the competition for Drinkall was an etiquette seminar she attended. The session was designed to teach the attendees how to be ladies, "like the 1950's...there was no PDA [Personal Display of Affection] was really funny," Drinkall remembers. She also notes that growing up on a dairy farm has taught her life skills and allowed her to grow closer to her family through the teamwork and shared experiences that living on a farm bring. She would love to increase the number of people involved in dairy today, explaining that as farms have grown in size, the number of smaller farms has decreased. Fewer girls are involved in the Dairy Princess program. Of the ten girls who ran for Little Miss Milkmaid with Drinkall, she was the only one to run for Dairy Princess ten years later. But Drinkall also emphasizes that she is grateful for the support of Fillmore County, thanking everyone for "letting me to be able to serve as their good will dairy ambassador."

When asked for her favorite part of her 2009-2010 reign as Fillmore County Dairy Princess, Freese enthusiastically responds, "All of it!" Meeting new people from ages 3 to 98, educating the public on the importance of eating dairy products, and the great experience in general all top her list. As a soon-to-be sophomore at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, she admits that it's harder to be directly involved with her parents' dairy farm as when she was living at home. However, her farm background has made her a target for people's questions about farming, even at college. "Lots of people just don't know how it works...once you're recognized as a farm kid, other people ask questions," she said, noting that it's almost rare to have grown up on a working farm for other students her age. "[Being a dairy princess] is something I'll remember for the rest of my life."

Olson agrees. Her favorite memory of being princess is the thirteen days she spent at the Minnesota State Fair as Princess Kay, teaching children how to care for the animals and showing them her crown. Being a dairy princess "made me more outgoing," helping her with public speaking skills and preparing her for a career as a dairy farmer. In fact, at the 50th Anniversary of the Princess Kay program in 1994, Olson was the only former princess still dairy farming. She's also still involved with the dairy princess program itself, judging contests and emceeing Winona County Dairy Princess events. Though she agrees that fewer girls are involved with dairy these days, she also thinks that the Dairy Princess program is doing well and reaching a wide audience. Princess Kay seems to be more active in promoting awareness of the health effects of eating dairy products. And, what happened to her ninety-pound butter head? After it suffered a smashed nose on the ride home, the Aarsvolds cut it up and gave it away, promoting the use of dairy products in their own way.

The princesses also love the dairy products themselves. Freese thinks especially highly of milk and yogurt, noting that she almost craved yogurt for awhile during her freshman college year. "I like it a lot," she says. A good quote by someone representing an industry as Dairy Princess.

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