National Cherry Queen
By Kristy Kurjan
Her closet is filled with cherry-themed attire. She prefers a natural wave to the traditional elbow-elbow-wrist-wrist-wrist. And, according to her, there is nothing better in the world than cherry pie. She is Maria LaCross, the 2010-2011 National Cherry Queen, who wraps up her year in the limelight this July as a new queen is ushered in.
Winning the title of National Cherry Queen last year was a dream come true for LaCross, as both the cherry industry and National Cherry Festival are close to her heart. She was born and raised on a cherry farm in Cedar. This down-to-earth gal has not only represented our regional fruit over the past year, but also enjoys eating them every day.
As a cherry advocate, one of her main goals is to show people how easy it is to incorporate cherries into their lifestyle. I am truly crazy about them, she said. I eat dried cherries on salads, add them to oatmeal, and put cherry concentrate into my drinks. I have started to play around with them even more in the kitchen, such as using them in quesadillas and with chicken or pork dishes.
Who hasnt wondered what is would be like to be queen for a year? For LaCross, who splits her time between the roles of full-time teacher and National Cherry Queen, her days are busy and rewarding. The spokesperson position comes with an enormous amount of obligations; from meetings, to school carnivals, to pageants, to other festivals and expos. She is often required to speak or present awards. The role also requires travel as an ambassador for the National Cherry Festival, the Grand Traverse region, and the cherry industry.
In October of 2010, LaCross traveled to Washington, DC for the White House Fellows Conference. While there, she had the honor of presenting a pie to the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Other appearances included The Fruit & Veggie Expo in Grand Rapids, the Curwood Festival in Owosso, and the Lilac Festival on Mackinac Island. She also maintains a blog, appropriately titled, the Queenly News.
The 2011 National Cherry Festival week is one of the busiest times of year for the queen. Her week kicks off with a pancake breakfast at the TC Elks Lodge, where she and the current candidates will be serving breakfast. Throughout the rest of the festival she will attend multiple events including; The Princess Tea, a fashion show, and the bittersweet Coronation Ball.
EDUCATOR & ROLE MODEL
LaCross knows that wearing the crown signifies that she is a leader in the community. I know that young eyes are usually on me, or at least on the crown, and I take that responsibility seriously. I am also a role model for young women, especially those interested in becoming the National Cherry Queen, she said. I am an example of someone who has gone after what she wants in life.
With a degree in English from Michigan State University, she teaches 9th & 10th grade English and yearbook in Traverse City. Lucky for LaCross, the roles of queen and teacher compliment each other.
As a teacher, I am comfortable encouraging and educating the public, she said, and as the National Cherry Queen I have become even more comfortable getting up in front of a crowd, giving speeches, and relating to all types of individuals.
LaCross said that the hardest part of the job is juggling a full-time teaching schedule with her queenly obligations. Despite difficulties, she said it has pushed her to be proactive and responsible. I have been lucky to have the support of my employer as well as the festival, she said. The best part has been fostering relationships with the individuals involved in the festival, the Queens Program and making so many memories along the way.
ROAD TO ROYALTY
This July, young ladies from all over Michigan are competing for a chance to become the 2011/2012 National Cherry Queen. The queen selection process takes place in two phases; Selection Weekend, in May, and the Final Queen Competition. During Selection Weekend, contestants go through a rigorous interview process and are required to give a speech. This phase narrows the initial group of candidates down to four finalists who advance to the final stage.
The last phase of the competition takes place July 2-9, during the National Cherry Festival. The top four contestants serve as court members for the current queen. They attend numerous festival events throughout the week, during which, they are secretly judged. At the end of this demanding process there is a final interview and a new queen is announced. In addition to the title, $12,500 in scholarships are awarded.
How does LaCross feel about passing on the crown?
It will be bittersweet for me, but I will be very excited for the next young woman to become queen and to see her have these incredible experiences, she said. Her advice to future contestants is to be yourself, and spread your enthusiasm for cherries, the festival, and the community as much as you can! Enjoy the process, because just by putting yourself out there you have already accomplished so much.
After a year of hard work she comes away with a lifetime of memories, new friends, and once in a lifetime experiences. On July 9, when a new queen is crowned, LaCrosss days with the National Cherry Queen Program are not completely over. She plans to continue to serve as a member of the Queens Committee, which supervises the competition.
I think more than anything, I have learned what an amazing community we live in. The people in this community are hard-working, enthusiastic, giving people, and it has been an honor representing this area, said LaCross. I have so many memories that I will always cherish, and I have definitely made life-long friendships with former queens, candidates, and, of course, the wonderful women in the Queens Program. As her reign as the National Cherry Queen comes to an end, LaCross shares with us her parting words of wisdom; Eat cherries every day!