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Hopefuls seek Almond Blossom Festival queen crown for 2012
Lauren Westra

Editor’s note: profiles of the other five Almond Blossom queen hopefuls appeared in Wednesday’s Bulletin.

RIPON – It’s been 50 years since Ripon launched a weekend-long celebration marking the start of the almond growing season.

And 10 young women are vying for the chance to wear the crown and sash representing not only the community but the event that has become a regional draw – attracting thousands to the small-town parade and full-scale festival.

Here are profiles of four of the remaining five contestants that hope to secure the Miss Almond Blossom title the last weekend in February.

Lauren Hogan

The music-loving Ripon Christian junior keeps herself busy with a full schedule of academic and after-school activities that cater to her strengths as a stand-out student and band member.

Hogan has received the President’s Award for Academic Excellence as well as the United States Achievement Academy Award for Outstanding Student in Music, and she holds the First Chair as the French horn player for the ASCI Honor Band.

But when February rolls around, she’s all about the Almond Blossom Festival and how it brings the community together.

“I grew up here, and I love the fact that it’s a close-knit, Christ-centered community with lots of churches,” Hogan said. “You really see everybody come out and come together on that weekend, and it’s great to watch.”

The daughter of Mike and Kristen Hogan got her first glimpse into the Miss Almond Blossom pageant when her brother’s then-girlfriend, Camila Sweaney, was making her run towards the title, and knew then that it was something that she’d be interested in participating in.

She’s hoping to grow as a person through the experience, and hopes that it helps her in her bid to secure a spot at Fresno Pacific University and go on to become a high school music director.

“I think it’ll help me become more confident, and help me in talking to people,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Taylor Clarke

It wasn’t the fashion show or the chance to ride in the annual Almond Blossom parade that interested this 17-year-old Ripon High School student.

She just wants a chance to represent the community that she grew up in and to be a positive influence on the young girls that look up to the Almond Blossom Queen the same way that she did.

“I want to represent the city in a positive way, and to be a role model that the young girls can look up to – the same way that I did when I was young,” Clarke said. “I’ve lived on the same street for as long as I can remember, and I love Ripon because it’s a safe community. I want to get involved and learn about how I can make changes.”

Clarke – the daughter of Todd and Shelley – is currently the Senior Class President at Ripon High School and has a full plate of extracurriculars that include debate, Interact club, Girl’s League, Student Council, GSA and CSF.

She’s involved with Relay for Life, Marissa’s Closet and various cancer fundraising efforts and hopes to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the fall and major in Communications – harboring ambitions to become an activist for civil rights.

And it’s the activities over the course of the four-day February weekend that Clarke really enjoys – functions that draw people back to town.

“I like seeing people come out and all of the people that come back to visit family and friends,” she said. “The parade is always the part that I loved – the floats and the people lined up along the route. It’s just great.”

Leslie Lopez

It’s all about friends and family for this Ripon High School Senior.

For the majority of her life Lopez has called Ripon home – moving to the small town when she was only three – and has grown to love the small, quaint and inviting nature of the “Almond Capital of the World.”

And it’s hard for her to list just one part of the annual Almond Blossom Festival – now in its 50th year – as her favorite.

“I love the carnival, the parade – everything. It’s a chance to hang out with friends and family and that’s what I enjoy,” she said. “I used to see the Almond Blossom Queen in the parade and I’d think to myself that I’d be there one day. I’m grateful to get the chance to do that now.”

An avid soccer player, the “energetic, funny and compassionate” – as she listed on her application – contestant plans on attending either Delta or Cabrillo College next year. She has ambitions of pursuing dentistry or dental hygiene.

While it’s the crown that she’s chasing, the experience itself will present itself with more than enough for the daughter of Stephanie Lopez to walk away a winner.

“I think that it’s going to be a good experience and I’m looking forward to meeting and getting to know the other girls,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll get to build some friendships out of this.”

Lauren Westra

Most of the time Almond Queen contestants have friends or classmates that participated in previous years to thank for their involvement.

Lauren Westra has her mother.

The lifelong Ripon resident grew up watching the queen contestants riding down Main Street during the parade with her mother – Debbie Page – who participated when she was finally old enough.

It didn’t take much urging to get Westra to sign up for something that she’s always wanted to do, and she says she’s looking forward to the experience of getting the opportunity to represent a community that she adores.

“Everybody here is just so nice. You know everybody just walking down the street,” she said. “My grandpa owned a business and we used to go hang out in his shop. It’s something that I’ll always remember about growing up here.”

The Ripon High senior – who is currently a captain in JROTC, the vice president of Peer Helpers and the treasurer of the Buddy Club – plans on attending Kaplan College and becoming a sonogram technician.

She has been active in mission trips to Mexico and San Francisco and enjoys spending time working special needs kids – a love that stems from having a brother with autism.   

And when it comes to the Almond Blossom Queen contest, Westra says that she hopes to get as much out of the experience as possible – networking with people in the community and building relationships with other the other contestants.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” she said. “I really want to make the most of this opportunity, and I’m glad that I’m here.”