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Seven seek crown for 47th Almond Blossom Festival
Kate Ballatore


• WHAT: 47th annual Ripon Almond Bosom festival
• WHEN: Feb. 27, Feb. 28 & March 1
• OTHER EVENTS: Fashion show is Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. in Ripon High multi-purpose room. Tickets are $10.
• MORE INFO: Call the Ripon Chamber of Commerce at 599-7519 or go on-line to .

RIPON –  Seven hopefuls are seeking the crown as the 47th annual Ripon Almond Blossom festival queen.

They include Camila Sweaney, Kate Ballatore, Kimberly Stegner, Alexsandra Peralta, Kamie Goforth, Michelle Ambrose, and Courtney Netjes.

The festival is the last weekend in February.

Profiles of four of the candidates have already appeared in the Bulletin. The remaining three profiles follow:

Kate Ballatore

As a lifelong Ripon resident, Kate Ballatore has always enjoyed the Almond Blossom Festival.

And this year she gets a chance to be a part of it.

Ballatore – a Ripon High junior – is one the seven contestants participating in the 47th annual Almond Blossom Queen Contest that officially started last Thursday with the Almond Blossom kick-off dinner.

“I always looked up to the queen candidates when I was younger,” Ballatore said. “Now that I’m a junior, I figured I’d sign up and be a part of what I used to love watching.”

Kate – the daughter of Kelly and Mike Ballatore – is active with the Ripon High varsity cheerleading squad, and showing her pigs at the San Joaquin County Fair with other FFA and 4-H students.

Being a Ripon resident for her entire life is something that Kate says she’s proud of and that she enjoys the unique community.

“I like the small town feel of the Almond Blossom Festival, and how you can go to the store and see people that you know,” she said. “You don’t get that very many places.”

Once she completes her senior year, Ballatore plans to attend a four-year university where she will major in speech pathology with hopes of using her degree in an educational setting.

And the benefits of being involved with the Almond Blossom Queen contest are already evident to Ballatore.

“I’ve already made some new friends, and I think that I’m going to have a great time,” Ballatore said. “I hope that there’s a little girl out there that I can inspire that will one day want to be an Almond Blossom Queen herself.”

Alexsandra Peralta

Having older friends involved in the annual Almond Blossom Queen contest gave Alexsandra Peralta an early dose of what it would it be a candidate herself.

And this year that’s exactly what the Ripon High senior is going to do.

“I had one of my friends tell me that she had such a good time, I figured it would be something that I wanted to try,” Peralta said. “I thought that it would be a way to get involved in the community and get to meet a lot of new people.”

Alexsandra – the daughter of Ron and Janine Van Gronigen – is active in Ripon High’s JROTC program as well as the track and field team, and enjoys running in her spare time.

She also harbors an interest in children – volunteering annually for Toys for Tots program – and has plans to attend a four-year university and major in kinesiology so that she can eventually become a physical therapist.

As for why she wants to represent the town she lives in, Peralta is quick to reply.

“I love the small town community feel,” she said. “I really like the closeness that you feel with the other people.”

Peralta hopes that being involved with the Almond Blossom Queen contest – a tradition that spans almost 50 years – will allow her to mature before she sets out on her life’s conquest.

“I home to become a little bit more self-confident and learn more about myself,” she said. “I definitely want to work in the area of public speaking, and am looking forward to the entire experience.”

Courtney Netjes

 Courtney Netjes wasn’t really thinking about being an Almond Blossom Queen Candidate for 2009.

That all changed when friend Alexsandra Peralta convinced her that it would be fun to compete together. She agreed, submitted her paperwork, and is now gearing up for the month-long process.

“I thought that it would be interesting to do – that you’d get to meet a lot of great people,” Netjes said. “So far it’s been great.”

Courtney – the daughter of Mark and LaDonna Netjes – is currently involved in the Ripon High JROTC program, and when she isn’t involved in her schoolwork or her cadet responsibilities enjoys going down to Pismo Beach or going snowboarding.

And like many of the other contestants, Ripon’s quaint nature is one of the reasons why they enjoy spending their formative years there.

“It has that small-town feel to it that you don’t get other places,” Netjes said. “You get to know everybody in town, and it’s just a nice place to be.”

As far as what she expects to get out of the experience of being an Almond Blossom Queen, Netjes is banking on learning some valuable life lessons that she can take with her after graduating in the spring.

“I want to be more confident going out in public,” Netjes said. “I think that this experience will help me with my public speaking skills, and that’s something I’ll always be able to use.”