• WHAT: 52nd annual Almond Blossom Festival
• WHEN: Feb. 21-23
• WHERE: Ripon’s Mistlin Sports Park
• INFO: For information or applications for the parade, Almond Blossom Fun Run or to be a vendor go to the Ripon Chamber of Commerce site at www.riponchamber.org. You can also drop by the chamber office at 929 W. Main St., Ripon, or call 599-7519 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Lauren Bitters knows what it’s like to walk down the runway of the Ripon Almond Blossom Fashion Show.
It wasn’t long ago that Bitters was an Almond Blossom Queen contestant herself. That gave her the privilege of donning the latest fashions and strutting down the catwalk for a community that she’s proud to call her home.
And now she’s the one calling the shots.
On Thursday, Bitters stood near the entrance of the Ripon High School multipurpose room clutching the evening’s program while people flooded in for their seats. It’s the first time since she left her job at the Ripon Chamber of Commerce for a full-time position at Diamond Pet Foods that Bitters has taken on a task related to the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival, let alone running one of the season’s landmark events.
She was in charge of taking the girls to the two boutique stores – Blush in Ripon and Bedazzled in Escalon – to outfit them for the evening. And she got to serve as somewhat of an unofficial mentor in the process.
Bitters loves the Almond Blossom Festival. And getting to play a role in a major event, she said, is an honor.
“It’s an event that is so close to my heart,” she said. “There’s so much tradition that goes into the Almond Blossom Festival – people come back from college for the weekend to spend time with their friends and family. It’s an unofficial holiday in Ripon.
“It’s something that everybody looks forward to. Everybody knows where to go to have fun, and that makes the weekend something special for those that come back just for it.”
Each of the seven young women vying for the title of Miss Almond Blossom 2014 – Kaylie Schaeffer, Desirey Ormonde, Francesca Arnaudo, Alyssa Sikkema, Krista Tyhurst, Jessica Carmona and Kaitlyn Bradley – made three passes during the event. Whoever gets crown on Feb. 20 will carry the title through the weekend and then become Miss Ripon for an entire calendar year. They will then represent the Ripon Chamber of Commerce at events throughout the Central Valley.
For outgoing Miss Ripon Anna Fassler, the event Thursday night was another bittersweet moment as she took another step towards the end of her year-long run. Fassler joined Bitters and the rest of the girls on their trips to the local clothing stores. She viewed the opportunity as a chance to serve as a mentor to whoever will get to wear the crown and sash when the coronation ceremony takes place in two weeks.
“It’s been a lot of fun getting to know all of the girls – they’re all serious about the representation part of the job that they’re shooting for,” Fassler said. “People seem to think that it’s just a beauty contest, but you’re working to represent your community, and to see that they’re all dedicated to that is fantastic.
“Knowing that my term is going to end is definitely something that I’m not looking forward to, but I’m excited for whichever girl gets to step into the position.”