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Dinner marks start of 50th year of Ripon festival
Queen candidate Ashley Bloemhof addresses the gathering. - photo by HIME ROMERO

RIPON – Graelyn Pope stepped up to the lectern, looked around, and took a deep breath.

And then the Ripon High School junior delivered a joke-filled speech outlining the history and the happenings over the last decade of the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival – the community event that she hopes to be representing when the final judging in the annual Almond Blossom Queen contest wraps up next month.

It was a nerve-wracking endeavor for somebody who says that she doesn’t even like getting up and speaking in front of her own class – let alone a packed banquet room at the Spring Creek Country Club on the night of the annual Almond Blossom Kick-off Dinner that took place Thursday.

But as one of the five categories that each contestant is judged on, Pope said she had to ready herself to face that fear.

“I was afraid of getting up and speaking in front of this many people – I don’t like doing it in front of a class of 30 let alone a room with 200 people,” she said breathing a sigh of relief. “But I think it went well. I’m looking forward to the fashion show now, and I’m looking forward to overcoming more fears that I have and getting closer with the other girls that are a part of this.”

Thursday proved to be one of the most important single days for the Almond Queen contestants who were scored not only on their respective speeches – which touched on the history of the festival that is now entering its 50th year as well as the people instrumental in getting it started like Clementine Mulholland and Grand Marshal Francis “Bud” Bodeson – but also the personal interview they had with the judges prior to the start of the event.

Also giving their historical oratories were Lauren Westra, Taylor Clarke, Lauren Hogan, Jenavieve Kisst, Michaela Dole, Jessica Apfel and Ashley Bloemhof. Bailey Taberna – also an Almond Queen hopeful – missed the event because of a medical emergency and will give her speech at the fashion show on Feb. 9.

And Ripon Soroptimst Debra Emig – who will serve as a mentor and guide to the young women throughout the nearly two-month long process – thought that the fact-laden speeches carried a little something extra for those who showed up for the official “kick-off” to the 50th annual Almond Blossom Festival.

“I think that this is event is a nice way to start things off,” she said. “A lot of people come and hear topics that they know a little bit about and it brings them back a little bit. We had one of the former Almond Blossom Queens that was mentioned here actually here tonight, and those are the kinds of things that make this event kind of special.”