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Dinner launches Almond Blossom Festival
The 2009 Almond Blossom Queen candidates pose for a photo. Pictured in the back row from left are Camila Sweaney, Alexsandra Peralta, Kamie Goforth, and Kate Ballatore. Pictured in the front row from left are Michelle Ambrose, Kimberly Stegner. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL
RIPON – After 18 years of humbly serving the community they love, Soroptimist International of Ripon is now getting an abundance of gracious thanks.

Hundreds of residents gathered at the Ripon Community Center Thursday night for the 47th annual Almond Blossom kick off dinner and the start of the Almond Blossom Queen campaign.

The focus, however, was mainly on the group that has chaired the Almond Queen competition for the last 18 years and made countless lasting impacts on a community that would no doubt be different without them.

And as the central theme of the 2009 Almond Blossom Festival, the Soroptimists will undoubtedly be dominating the landscape – from the Almond Blossom Queen competition that they run every year to the Fashion Show they also sponsor.

The group’s first ever President-elect, Judy Tvedt, is being honored for her almost two decades of service as the Almond Blossom Parade’s Grand Marshal.

“I think that it’s a great honor – I was a little bit overwhelmed when I found out that I was being honored,” Tvedt said. “I absolutely love everything about the Almond Blossom Festival – from helping the girls go through their steps to the fashion show.

“It defines the community of Ripon.”

In just over a month, current Almond Blossom Queen – also referred to as Miss Ripon – Mary Bell will be handing over her crown to one of the seven young ladies who braved the crowds from behind the lectern to recite their speeches about various aspects of Soroptimist International.

According to Bell, the year-long stint as the community’s representative goes by quickly, so whoever gets the nod from the judges – whether it’s Camila Sweaney, or Kate Ballatore, or Kimberly Stegner, or Alexsandra Peralta, or Kamie Goforth, or Michelle Ambrose, or Courtney Netjes – she says should take advantage of every moment they get.

“It’s a lot of work but it’s a lot of fun and it goes by way too quickly,” Bell said. “You definitely have to be yourself and love serving your community, but you have to take the time to take in the experiences you’re having because one minute you’re getting crowned and the next minute you’re crowning someone else.

“It’s a special feeling that goes by very quickly.”

Whoever dons the sparkled crown at the Coronation Ceremony on Feb. 26 will be the 47th Almond Blossom Queen picked to represent the “Almond Capital of the World” for a 12-month stint.

The next Almond Blossom event will be the Soroptimist’s annual Fashion Show on Wednesday, Feb 18, inside of the Ripon High multipurpose room. The event will feature Almond Queen contestants as models, as well as Soroptimist members and people from the community who want to strut down the runway.