By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
This Sunday afternoon’s Oklahoma Czech-Slovak Royalty Pageant is not a beauty pageant.
It is a heritage pageant.
Those are the words of pageant director Debbie Kessler as the annual pageant day nears.
Yukon Czech Hall, 205 N Czech Hall Road, will host candidates for 2019-20 Oklahoma Czech-Slovak Royalty this Sunday, Sept. 29. The public is invited to attend the 4:30 p.m. pageant and watch the competition among candidates for Queen, Junior Queen, Prince, and Princess. Admission is free.
“The pageant is all about our state history, our Yukon history, or family history and about passing our heritage and culture on to the next generation for them to preserve,” Kessler said. “As we make new friendships and build on existing friendships, our heritage family grows.”
There is one queen-elect, four junior queen contestants, four prince contestants, and seven princess contestants.
Queen-elect: Oklahoma City’s Emily Cole, 17.
Junior Queen: Yukon’s Bella Fontenot, 12; Yukon’s Aspen Hein, 13; Oklahoma City’s Addison Schweinberg, 12; and Edmond’s Kinzey Shirazi, 14.
Prince: Yukon’s Royce Fontenot II, 10; Bethany’s Rex Gering, 7; Sparks’ Connor Imhoff, 7; and Shawnee’s Zane Martin, 8.
Princess: Del City’s Hailey Erwin, 6; Yukon’s Anastasia Fontenot, 6; Bethany’s Sophie Gering, 9; Oklahoma City’s Josie Jedlicka, 6; Mustang’s London Lippencott, 6; Yukon’s Kennedy Myrick, 6; and Yukon’s Lola Mae Yanda, 10.
While six of this year’s 16 royalty contestants are from Yukon, Kessler emphasized this is a statewide pageant.
“We’re trying to branch out and get interest from more areas of the state,” she said. “I’m trying to study and locate the different areas where Czechs settled, where there will still be quite a few people of Czech descent. I’m trying to reach out to those areas, like Okarche and Enid.”
Although the annual pageant is this Sunday, the new royalty won’t be announced until the 54th annual Oklahoma Czech Festival the following Saturday, Oct. 5 in downtown Yukon.
“They have to wait all week long,” Kessler said. “That’s kind of hard to do!”
Winners will be crowned during a ceremony that starts at 4 p.m. in the large tent outside the Czech Building at Fifth and Cedar. A coronation ball will conclude annual Czech Day festivities that night back at Czech Hall.
Kessler, then Debbie Holmes, competed in the Oklahoma Czech Queen Pageant in 1978 and 1979 when the competition was in August and the winner was announced that night. She is a 1980 Yukon High School graduate.
A BUSY YEAR OF REIGN
Throughout their year of reign, the 2019-20 Oklahoma Czech-Slovak royalty represent and promote the Oklahoma Czechs, Inc, and the Oklahoma Czech Festival at parades, festivals and other events around the metro, the state and even in other states.
“We try to attend as many parades and events around the state as possible,” Kessler said. “As we branch out, we’re trying to go to events that are a little farther out.”
The royalty participates in service projects such as serving at the annual Groundhog Day Dinner at Yukon’s First United Methodist Church. They also collect items from the wish list at Toby Keith’s OK Kids Korral and visit with the children and their families at the Korral near the Oklahoma City Children’s Hospital.
Czech-Slovak royalty members also visit Yukon Public Schools’ elementaries to share Yukon’s Czech history and a bit of Czech culture and traditions with students.
“We want to try and give back more than we have in the past,” Kessler said. “We want to be more involved in the community so we’re looking for ideas.”
The current Oklahoma-Czech Slovak royalty will pass their crowns on Oct. 5 at Czech Day. Last year’s royalty is Queen Jerusha Brown of Oklahoma City, Junior Queen Jayden Mason of Stillwater, Prince Garrett Vause of Tulsa, and Princess Molly Pruett of Prague.
“This year’s royalty has been a busy group,” pageant director Kessler said. “Collectively Queen Jerusha, Junior Queen Jayden, Prince Garrett, and Princess Molly have traveled to seven different states to participate in 21 parades and attend 10 ethnic festivals and seven ethnic pageants.”
This has included a national Miss Czech-Slovak Pageant in Wilbur, Neb., where Oklahoma’s queen earned first runner-up.
Oklahoma’s current royalty also has worked four service projects, covered seven Christmas events and several other events across the state.
The reigning royalty still has several visits to Yukon elementary schools on the schedule before Czech Day.
The royalty becomes close and “very tight” during their year-long reign, the pageant director added.
“When you spend that kind of time with each other, you get close,” Kessler said. “That is what this group has done. We have become family. A royal family.”