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Ox Cart royalty program discontinued

Hopeful candidates await their turn to take the stage. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)

If the face of the queen in this year’s Ox Cart Days Parade looks familiar, that’s because it is the same face you saw in last year’s parade. Queen Haley Turany and her court — Princess Kayla Zaun, Little Miss Madilyn Carlson and Junior Miss Rachel Gust — will be taking their final courtseys in this year’s Grand Parade Sunday, Aug. 17, marking the end of an era in Star Prairie.

“The Lions Club has been sponsoring the royalty program for more than 40 years. The current court is on through Ox Cart Days this year, and that will be the end of the Lions Club sponsorship of the royalty program,” said Chris Boardman, Lions Club member and longtime royalty program mentor.

According to Boardman, there hasn’t been a lot of community outcry following the announcement to end the program last March. Star Prairie is just the latest community to join the growing ranks of local towns large and small deciding to discontinue their royalty programs. Once as much a part of treasured summer traditions as county fairs, tractor pulls and sweet corns roasts, royalty programs have had a tough time competing against multiple other opportunities, including sports and academics, vying for interest of girls between the ages of 8-18.

“The number one reason is, we just don’t see the interest we used to see. It’s been steadily declining over the past few years. I just received a notice from a neighboring town saying that they decided to keep on last year’s court because no one ran this year,” said Boardman. “Last year between the three categories, we had 13 candidates.

“Years ago we’d have as many as 30. A few years ago we had seven court positions and now we are down to five. The middle category, the juniors began to dwindle first followed by the older category, the queens. When you get down to five girls for three positions, you consider putting all of them on court but then the expenses go up.”

The enormous amount of volunteer time and resources required to support the program also weighed heavily in the difficult decision club members had to make.

“We don’t have a lot of members in our club. It costs a substantial amount of money to pay for the upkeep of the float, recruiting businesses to sponsor the banquet, organizing all of the parades, and organizing the Queen’s Tea to welcome in the new court. Last year, we also made several presentations in schools to talk about the program and answer questions. It’s a 365-day-ayear commitment,” explained Boardman.

Another factor contributing to their decision was the relatively few young women the program benefited, five or six, in comparison to the amount of time and resources the club committed. That has led the club to research alternative programs that would impact more children and be a more effective use of their time and money.

“We are focusing on a new program, which will be more community friendly and reach a larger group of young people. We hope to be able to announce what the intent of that program is by the banquet,” said Boardman.

Within the Lions Club, the Queen’s Committee was responsible for managing the royalty program.

According to Boardman, becoming a princess was a lot of work and required a serious commitment of time, energy and to a certain degree, money on behalf of the princess and her parents. Expenses included things like wardrobe and travel, while time commitments included fundraising for the Queen’s Tea and taking turns pulling the float.

Being selected as a queen, princess or little miss meant obligating yourself to appear in as many as 25 parades a year, assorted holiday events and other Lions Club events. Balancing appearances with a part-time job, maintaining good grades in school, and other extracurricular activities was a serious challenge acknowledged in a contract all candidates had to sign. Setting a good example and promoting Star Prairie were expected of all court members for their year on the court. Members of the Queen’s Committee also acted in the capacity of mentors to court members.

“When you get kids together, you always have issues. Committee members were available to the girls to help facilitate solutions,” said Boardman.

To wear the crown, candidates for queen and junior miss also had to survive personal interviews and submit written biographies to a set of judges. They also had to present a letter of recommendation from a community member other than family.

“I believe there’s just too many other activities out there for them and that they don’t want to be tied down to one for 12 months. It is a huge commitment for the girls and for the parents. We’ve been very fortunate. The majority of parents have always been very committed,” said Boardman.

“It was a tough decision, very very difficult. Somerset dropped their program several years ago and tried to rekindle it this year but they could not get the participation. It is not a political decision at all. Our club strongly believes community is important, but spending this much energy for this small a return is not a good return on our investment,” said Boardman. “It’s bittersweet for me. I’m happy I won’t be tied to it 365 days of the year, but I’m very sad for the fact that I developed some wonderful relationships with some of the girls and their parents and that was a lot of fun.”