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Neeley will reign over 53rd festival
Amanda Jean Neeley reacts to being named as the 2015 Miss Almond Blossom Queen on Thursday night. - photo by HIME ROMERO


• WHAT: 53rd annual Ripon Almond Blossom Festival 

• WHEN: Today through Sunday

• MORE INFO: Call the Ripon Chamber of Commerce at 599.7519 or go to

Amanda Neeley was crowned Thursday as the 2015 Almond Blossom Queen.

Neeley will serve as Miss Ripon after the three-day festival that starts today ends. She was crowned by the 2014 Queen Jessica Carmona at the packed Ripon Community Center.

Sarah Hall received her crown as first runner-up. Kylie Stevens was named Miss Congeniality in a vote by the entire queen’s court. Stevens was unanimously elected by her peers in the contest for her pleasant personality, her disposition and for being friendly and sociable. 

Neeley looks forward to attending a university in either Georgia or Tennessee, hoping to major either in social work with a minor in human services or possibly going into the open field of Special Education. She hopes to pursue a career in the humanities to specifically mentor to the needs of people with disabilities.

Each member of the court was escorted to the stage by a uniformed member of the Ripon High School JROTC. Taking the queen candidates on their arms, the drill team members ascended the center aisle with military precision delivering their charges to the stage.

The eight princesses who will join Neeley during the weekend festival and in the parade include Kylie Stevens, Kaitlyn Batterton, Graise Franco-Carreno, Daelyn Dabney, Mariah Riveria, Sarah Hall, Jenna O’Brien, and Aubrey Lien.

Stevens plans on attending St. Mary’s College in Moraga where she is joining the Women’s Rowing Team. She will major in Communications with aspirations to become a firefighter after receiving her degree. She is now involved in a daily regimen of rowing practice

Batterton has already enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and will be attending the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. She will be studying foreign language and train to become an Airborne Crypto Linguist with plans on serving her country for some 20 years.

Carreno plans to attend San Francisco State with plans to major in Creative Writing, hoping to become a writer.

Dabney is looking toward a degree in Psychology. She has been inspired toward that major since she has enjoyed helping others work through their daily issues to overcome obstacles in their lives.

Riveria is focusing on either UC Santa Cruz or Washington State University. She is hoping to become proficient in designing websites and creating software for the corporate world.

Hall is looking toward a BA in Kinesiology followed by a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy. Her first two years of basic classes will find her at Delta College in Stockton. 

O’Brien is hoping to attend Fresno State University after completing her Associate in Arts Degree at Modesto Junior College. She is currently working on her Fire Science Degree and would like to follow that up with a secondary degree in Elementary Education.

Lien said she has an open mind as to where she would like to attend college aiming for a major in Communications, reaching for her dream to become an anchor for FOX News.

Carmona told the audience of her memories from throughout the past year. There were few dry eyes in the crowd as the Santa Clara University freshman told of her love of the Ripon community and how she has appreciated the many people who have supported her during her reign.

“This is such a bitter-sweet moment for me,” she said. “I could not be more excited for the new queen and for her to her coming year of incredible experiences and adventures.”

Carmona said that one thing that was very special for her was being able to meet and interact with the youth of the community. It always made her day to be asked to take pictures with them and see their big smiles when they spotted her crown and sash. 

“I remember one time a little girl made her parents take her home to get her own crown so that we could take a picture together with both of us wearing our crowns — or the times they asked for my autograph or for us to dance together.”

She noted that she has attended contests in other communities that she couldn’t help but compare to Ripon, realizing that Ripon has something special as a community.

“If you go anywhere else, any other town, you won’t find the sense of community that Ripon exhibits,” Carmona said. “You won’t find the traditions that are deeply rooted in our history. Our community has a huge heart — it’s our traditions that set us apart. This small town has so much love, so much personality and so much heart.”

The queen candidates are responsible for selling a minimum of 1,000 raffle tickets at $1 each to help pay for the festival. O’Brien sold over 1,500 tickets by herself.

Neeley received $1,000 for winning the crown and runner-up Hall received $500. Of that money, half or $750, came from the Ripon Soroptimist Club and an equal amount from the Ripon Chamber of Commerce.

Queen Bee Loren Bitters served as mistress of ceremonies Thursday night. She also mentored the month of leading the candidates through a series of educational classes that taught the girls from how to walk in heels, as well as learning the manners that would be expected of them as they were hosted to dinners and lunches by local service clubs, presenting themselves properly at a Spring Creek country Club Fashion Show and the development of a two page essay titled “What I could contribute to Ripon as Miss Almond Blossom.

The essay was composed in less than two hours by each of the girls using only index cards for notes. 

Judges for the contest included Dana Ferreira, scheduler and field representative for Congressman Jeff Denham; Victoia Krippner, director of development for the Modesto Symphony Orchestra; and Julie Mayfield, vice president with Bank of the West and vice President of the Hughson Chamber of Commerce.

The “secret judge” was revealed at the end of the evening: Alex Buckley, microbiologist at Diamond Foods. Buckley was in the shadows during the entire process over the last month.