Czech-ing it out

Kessler encourages youngsters to enter annual pageant

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Current Czech Oklahoma royalty is, from left, Princess Maylee Chapman, Queen Madelyn Novosad, Junior Queen Emily Cole and Prince Liam Fraser. New royalty will be crowned in October. (Photo provided)

By Dorian Quillen
Contributing Writer

The deadline for those wanting to enter the 2018 Oklahoma Czech Royalty Pageant is fast approaching and the time to enter is now, according to Debbie Kessler, pageant director.

The pageant is sponsored by Oklahoma Czechs, Inc. and will be held at the historic Yukon Czech Hall on Sunday, September 30. The deadline to enter is August 15 and applicants may request an entry form and contest rules and requirements at okczechslovakpageant@gmail.com.

The Czech Royalty Pageant is an honorary tradition of the Oklahoma Czech Festival, which is celebrated annually on the first Saturday in October and attracts more than 50,000 visitors to Yukon.

Winners of the 2018 Oklahoma Czech Royalty Pageant will hold the titles of Oklahoma Czech Queen, Junior Queen, Prince and Princess. The newly crowned royalty will receive valuable gifts, as well as make many public appearances across the state as they promote their heritage.

Kessler takes over for long-time pageant director, Janice Van Brunt, and has a longstanding family connection with the event. The 1980 Yukon High School graduate has been in the pageant herself and all her children have been Royalty members.

“All my children and grandkids participate in the Oklahoma Czech Folk Dancers,” she said.

“We’re there in the thick of it, so it was kind of natural for Janice to seek me out and she knows I love a good pageant,” Kessler said.

Kessler is assisted by former pageant participants, Dannielle Risenhoover, 1997 Queen, and Jamie Mason, 1997 Junior Queen contestant. The same year, Kessler’s son served as Prince and both her daughters were in the pageant, but little did she know that some 20 years after meeting the two women, they would all join forces to direct the 2018 event.

The two serve as assistant directors to Kessler, who sees the next generation moving the pageant forward, including using new marketing efforts across a variety of social media platforms.

The approach seems to be working, as last year the pageant had eight contestants, while this year already, 19 contestants have requested applications. For Kessler, the pageant is more than just a local effort.

“It’s a way of boosting Yukon and keeping Yukon in the limelight and people from all over the state get to come and celebrate our history and be an honorary Czech for a day,” Kessler said.

“The pageant is also a way to reach out to kids,” she said. “It’s really less of a competition and more of a fun event where kids see how special their heritage is,” Kessler said.

“When I see kids of all ages in pageants, I’m so proud of all of them for their interest in preserving their great heritage.”

The primary purpose of the royalty, according to Kessler, is to represent the Oklahoma Czechs, Inc. and to promote the annual Czech Festival.  Traditionally, this is done through attending parades and statewide events, as well as representing Yukon in the national pageant. In addition to these obligations, this year’s royalty has demonstrated a desire to serve their community.

“How many kids ask to do community service these days?” Kessler said. “They’ve helped at a community fundraising dinner, worked at the Oklahoma City Food Bank, and modeled in a charity fashion show, and the year isn’t even up yet,” she said.

“I am so proud of them for taking the initiative to go above and beyond, and we hope this begins a new tradition for our future royalty,” Kessler added.

What started in 1966 as a celebration of Yukon’s 50th birthday, has evolved into an annual recognition of the area’s rich Czech-Slovak heritage and for pageant director Kessler, that’s the way she likes it.

“I live and breathe and sleep it,” she said.