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Coming out of their shells in contest for crown
Working to stage the 52nd annual Almond Blossom Festival is the Ripon Chamber of Commerce team of, from left, Laura Spence, Excecutive Director Tamra Spade, Chairperson Lauren Bitters, and Laurin Sephos. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

There’s magic in the air in Ripon.

The search is on to find the perfect young lady to wear the crown of the Almond Blossom Queen to reign over the upcoming annual festival and to serve as Miss Ripon for the remainder of the year.

Seven smiling and anxious young ladies are struggling with their inhibitions now and through the next six weeks of judging that started with one-on-one interviews prior to the festival kick-off dinner at Spring Creek Country Club. They followed that with speeches to a large audience. Next up is the Feb. 6 Fashion Show with everything culminating with the Coronation on Feb. 20 at the Ripon Community Center.

They are all on their toes. The key word in the acceptance of their roles is “lady” in terms of what is being expected of them in optimum character.

The girls know they are being judged every minute with the contest seeking the most spontaneous, mature and bubbly individuals to represent the community.

Many of the girls were selling raffle tickets to the guests during the social hour at 6 p.m. that preceded the 7 p.m. dinner.  Those monies are going toward college scholarships for the top three placing candidates in the contest in addition to supporting the costs of the upcoming fashion show and for the flowers needed for the coronation event at the Ripon Community Center.

It’s hard to imagine the thoughts going through the heads of the candidates in the Cinderella-like experience that must put thrills in their hearts and a continuing excitement in their souls.  Lauren Bitters is filling the all-important role of leading the girls through their excitement-packed days in the interim.  Lauren has a history of volunteering for the festival over many years – always making a positive difference with her demeanor.

Soroptimist Debra Emig served as mistress of ceremonies at the dinner,  introducing the girls and their assigned speeches.  Others at the podium earlier in the evening were chamber President Janell Zuidevaart and Executive Director Tamra Spade, who along with Bitters and Emig, make an outstanding leadership team.

The teen hopefuls went before an unusually large crowd at the Spring Creek Country Club when they spoke on the positive and historical aspects of the Ripon Grange that is being spotlighted by the festival for its 2014 year.

It was heartwarming to see Grange Grand Marshal Manuel Luis, who will be leading the line of march for the late February parade, literally all but melt as candidate Jessica Carmona spoke on his mastery of leading the Ripon Grange in the community from its infancy.

The festival’s selection of its Miss Almond Blossom goes beyond the average expectations of many other communities in setting requirements for their candidates reaching far above the bar. They sign contracts and agree to proper dress, demeanor, courtesies and expecting mature attitudes to be reflected throughout the community as they go about meeting citizens and selling raffle tickets. The girls will be special guests of the Soroptimist and Rotary clubs in Ripon during the coming weeks where they will speak candidly about their experiences and expectations in the contest.  They will also be given a tour of the state-of-the-art Diamond Dog Food Plant.

It was nothing short of awesome watching the girls at the dinner with the support of their families sitting at tables in the audience.  It was also a thrilling experience for all of them as they concluded their speeches – most with a sign of relief.

With flutters in their hearts as they are new to the public stage, they are getting quite an education in the process of interacting with the public and with the business community.  .

The festival dates back more than 50 years. It has been responsible for countless life-long memories for its participants.  This year’s bevy of princesses vying for the Ripon crown are among the best in recent years with additional guidance and support of the Soroptimist Club.  We wish them all well in their pursuits of the proverbial glass slipper.  A special note of thanks goes to McManis Winery for its unsolicited support in hosting the social hour prior to the dinner.

The dire need for volunteers to help with all facets of the festival was voiced by Chamber President Janell Zuidevaart from the microphone at the end of the dinner.  Blue Diamond Almonds operation’s manager stepped up immediately on hearing the need and offered his employees’ assistance in support of the chamber’s search for volunteers – their donation this year to help with the event.