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Almond Blossom Festival honoring SSJID & water
Ripon 16 court DSC 2119
Reigning Almond Blossom Queen, Amanda Neeley, is seen at top over the queen candidates. They are, from left in the bottom row, Megan Harlan, Kylie Varelas, Nalani Alhambra; second row, Kaydee Cruz-Sampson, Clair Weaver; top row, Michelle Pappas, Emily Hodges and Mireya Garcia. - photo by GLENN KAHL/ The Bulletin

Eight queen hopefuls presented speeches Thursday night honoring the South San Joaquin Irrigation District whose general managers – past and present – will serve as grand marshals for Almond Blossom Festival parade on Feb. 27. 

The speeches were all about a variety of issues concerning water and controlling energy sources to droughts and their side effects with the 16 and 17-year-old candidates sustaining the interest of their audience at Spring Creek Country Club following the festival’s theme: “Where “Water Flows, Almonds Grow.”

Chairman for the queen contest, Laura Roots Spence, said that the chamber has added some new and fun events for the candidates including volunteering at the Second Harvest Food Bank in Manteca’s Industrial Park for four hours sorting foods that were going to be delivered to the less fortunate in the region.

“This was a great opportunity for the girls to work together and to get to know each other a little better.  All the girls worked tirelessly and it was a great bonding experience for everyone,” Spence said. “The girls spent a very long Saturday learning how to be a lady and having etiquette training. . .  During the first half of the morning they learned how to professionally do their hair and makeup with Ms. Dolly from Toni & Guy.  This was quite fun as we were able to learn all kinds of tips from them,” Spence added.  

That Saturday afternoon the candidates were at Spring Creek Country Club’s dining room with Cindy Barton who taught them the proper way to set a table, passing food at the table, how to sit and how to walk.  Late in the day was spent with Angelica and Chayce with Gamez Photography teaching the girls how to act in front of a camera both still and video.  

Next Wednesday at noon the candidates will be hosted to lunch at Spring Creek by the members of the Ripon Rotary Club.

The first candidate to speak was Claire Wever, daughter of Douglas and Linda Wever.  A junior at Ripon High Claire’s speech was on the “History of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and SSJID Today.” 

The second speaker was Michelle Pappas.  Michelle is the daughter of Michael and Melissa Pappas.  She is a senior at Ripon High School and her speech was entitled “El Nino and its Effects.”

The third candidate to take to the lectern was Megan Harlan who is the daughter of Jim and Teri Harlan.  She is also a senior at Ripon High and her speech was on the “California Drought” and its effects.

The fourth candidate to speak was Nalani Alhambra who is the daughter of Melvic and Annette Alhambra speaking on the topic, “Water Treatment.”

The fifth speaker was Mireya “Yeya” Garcia who is the daughter of Isaias and Susana Aranda.  She is a senior at Ripon High and was speaking on the topic of “Agriculture/Irrigation Water.”

Kylie Varelas was the sixth candidate to speak to the crowd of some 150 guests.  She is the daughter of Kristi Duran, a junior at Ripon High, and speaking on the “SSJID Power Plant.”

The seventh speaker of the evening was Emily Hodges who is the daughter of Jason and Gina Buffalow.  A senior at Ripon High, her speech was on “Solar Energy.”

Kaydee Cruz-Sampson was the final speaker of the night.  She is the daughter of Francisco Perez and Gloria Sampson.  A senior at Ripon High, her topic was “Renewable Energy/Windmills.”

Helen Cataeno was responsible for the flowers the girls wore and the centerpieces on the dinner tables.


To contact Glenn Kahl, email