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Mirror, mirror on the wall: River Falls Fairest has beaten them all

Kimberly Schoessow won the title Fairest of the Fairs at January's Wisconsin Association of Fairs Convention in Green Bay.

She began her duties right after that as an ambassador for fairs and the dairy industry. The position won't allow her to be a sleeping beauty all summer.

She goes on a whirlwind tour of Wisconsin's fairs the Monday after graduating from UW-River Falls on May 13.

"I can't believe it's here," Schoessow said of graduation.

Schoessow grew up on a farm near Mequon, but has lived in River Falls for the past four years of college.

She will soon leave with a communication degree that emphasizes agriculture. Schoessow knows her way around a dairy.

She said she'll miss the social network of the university in River Falls and the close-knit community.

"I feel like I fit in," said Schoessow of River Falls.

One object of being Fairest: Visit as many of the state's 75 fairs as possible.

She's working through spring break this week, sending out pitch letters to fair boards from the Wisconsin State Fair office in West Allis.

Schoessow plans to write her own press releases and mostly takes responsibility for publicizing her position.

She gets help from the Fairest coordinator, Jen Puente, as well as a small stipend.

Along with her crown comes the responsibility of serving as a spokesperson for Wisconsin's Association of Fairs and as official host at the 11-day state fair. Schoessow will also appear in parades, fair-related events and at dairy breakfasts during dairy month (June).

She said duties depend on the fair she's attending. Some may want her to help hand out ribbons, hold an auction, greet people, present awards, get the crowd into the entertainment or chow down in a cream-puff eating contest.

The Fairest doesn't even know yet what fairs she'll go to, that's what the spring-break letter-writing campaign yields.

Last year's Fairest visited a record 36 fairs - including the St. Croix County fair - traveled early 17,000 miles, made a total of 92 appearances and generated about $100,000 worth of media value.

Schoessow stays on the circuit from roughly mid May through the end of September.

How it started, works

As Schoessow grew up, she belonged to 4H and saw the Fairest often.

"She was like a role model to me, and my Mom encouraged me to do it, too," she said of competing against about 40 other young women for the Fairest title.

She competed during the fair association's convention, putting in three long, full days of contest activities.

Contestants dress professionally and get judged in several areas: Poise, professionalism, public speaking ability, attitude, maturity, personality and appearance.

Judges form an overall impression after having a seven-minute interview with each contestant, holding interviews with groups of six contestants, asking each woman an impromptu question and hearing a one-minute radio commercial that each one makes about the state fair.

"It's like a three-day interview," Schoessow said. "They want to see if you're calm under pressure and professional."

She said the impromptu question was "How would you improve the fair?"

Judges narrowed down the field of 40 to a group of 10 then asked another question, and after that another question to thin the crowd to five. Before Schoessow knew it, there were only two women on the stage.

"It's so amazing," she said. "It seemed surreal."

She's the first winner not from Madison in several years, and now she's set to travel the Fairest circuit wherever it takes her. She can bring a friend or family member along as an escort if she wants, because she'll be driving many miles.

"The escort's job is to keep to me on track and on schedule," she said. "A lot of times people want to talk or take pictures."

Schoessow said it's easy to fall behind with everything that happens. It's also good to have someone along for company during all those miles of driving.

Schoessow said Milwaukee car dealership Russ Darrow gives the Fairest of Fairs a vehicle to drive for up to about 7,000 miles. After that, she's back to her personal auto, with mileage reimbursement, for the other 10,000 or so that she may end up driving..

She said it will be nice to be based out of West Allis about 20 minutes from her Mequon home. She'll continue looking for a job in her career field but has to tell potential employers that she won't be able to start until after she's fulfilled her Fairest duties at the end of September.

If Schoessow gets a job anywhere near the Twin Cities, she said she'd definitely look at moving back to River Falls. She hopes River Falls people will say hello if they see her at a fair, too.

Embarking on the Fairest journey, the young woman knows her days will be filled with appearances, broadcasts, publicity and cream puffs; agriculture, livestock, awards and entertainment. A huge binder that last year's Fairest prepared will help Schoessow anticipate what's next.

She realizes it's a sacrifice: A super-busy summer schedule, giving up spring break and not being able to look for a job right away. Schoessow smiles and points out that it's a good trade.

She'll give up a full summer but won't ever have to wonder what it might have been like to be Fairest of the Fairs.