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Kenosha welcomes home Miss America

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BY JILL TATGE-ROZELL

jrozell@kenoshanews.com


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In true homecoming style, Miss America Laura Kaeppler arrived on stage at St. Joseph Catholic Academy Saturday on a parade float as the pep band played and cheerleaders rallied the crowd.

The auditorium was filled with friends, fans and former classmates eager to get a glimpse of Kaeppler, who has been on a whirlwind of travel engagements since being crowned in Las Vegas in January. This marked her first trip home.

“I just can’t tell you how special this is to be home,” Kaeppeler told the estimated 700 people at the pep rally.

Principal Robert Freund said six years ago he had the honor of handing Kaeppeler her diploma. On Saturday he honored her with a brick in the Walkway of Excellence at the school.

“I can’t express how proud we are of the grace, the dignity and the poise with which you carry yourself ,” Freund told Kaeppeler as she sat on a red throne atop the float, surrounded by the four runners-up from Arizona, Oklahoma, New York and California. “You are an ideal role model for all our students.”

A poster tribute to Kaeppeler will be displayed near the auditorium where she sang both in high school and on Saturday. Kaeppeler sang “God Bless America” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

And the crowd sang to Kaeppeler as the band played, “Happy Birthday,” and a seven-layer cake from Paielli’s Bakery was rolled onto the stage. Kaeppeler turned 24 on Friday.

Full court

Miss America’s homecoming celebration is one of the rare occasions Miss America is present with her entire court. In this case, many are from warmer climates.

“The snowstorm we got last night was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” said Miss Arizona Jennifer Sedler, who was third runner-up.

Kaeppeler’s mother, Sue Kaeppeler, said the entire court joined them for lunch at their Kenosha home Saturday. She told the audience of the vow of support the women made to each other as they prayed prior to the naming of Miss America and recalled the excitement of the moment.

“When they announced her name, we were flushed with emotion,” she said.

A bright spot

Mayor Keith Bosman said the city cheered as well and that Kaeppeler winning Miss America gave Kenosha something to be happy about during difficult times. But, he wasn’t referring to the economy or Saturday’s jump in the price of gas to $3.79 per gallon. He was referring to the disappointing losses by the Green Bay Packers and the Milwaukee Brewers.

“We needed a pick me up,” Bosman said. “And did we get it!”

After the rally, Kaeppeler and the runners-up signed autographs. Many in attendance purchased shirts that read, “I’ve been Miss’d.”

Kaeppeler will be back in Kenosha March 15 to perform at Carthage College.

A chance meeting

Elizabeth and Catherine VanKammen, ages 10 and 8, met Miss America Laura Kaeppeler by chance at a movie theater last November.

They didn’t know she was Miss Kenosha or that she would soon compete for the national crown. They just thought she was a nice lady who agreed to watch over them when their dad went to get some concessions.

“She was really friendly,” Elizabeth said, adding they were at the midnight double feature of the last two Harry Potter movies.

The sisters eventually realized who they had encountered and watched every second of the Miss America pageant to cheer on Kaeppeler.

On Saturday, they and cousin Genevieve VanKammen recalled the movie experience with Kaeppeler, during an autograph-signing session at St. Joseph Catholic Academy.

“I reminded her to read those Harry Potter books on her long plane flights,” Elizabeth said.

Signing autographs

The trio were among hundreds who stood in line to get autographs from Kaeppeler and the four runners-up after Kaeppeler homecoming show Saturday.

Also eager to share a few words with Kaeppeler was Donna Jaworski, who hoped to share with Kaeppeler some of the things they have in common.

For instance, they both graduated from St. Joseph and Carthage College. Kaeppeler is Miss America and Jaworski, a former Kenosha County Fair Queen, is named after one — Donna Axum, Miss America 1963.

“I just wanted to meet her,” said Jaworski, who was lucky enough to be at the front of the line. “I think she is a wonderful inspiration.”

Gloria Ziarko of Kenosha bought tickets for herself and a friend to attend Saturday’s show because they both were teachers at St. Joseph and knew Kaeppeler when she attended there.

Ziarko had met Kaeppeler’s mother when Laura was an infant, and both families used to go to the same play area, and their children attended school together.

“I have great admiration for Laura and her mother,” Ziarko said. “It was an absolute thrill to see such a wonderful young woman who is totally beautiful on the inside as well as on the outside and who is so talented and hard working achieve this dream and goal.”

Great for Kenosha

Julie Feuerbach, Kenosha, said having Kaeppeler crowned as Miss America is also great for the city.

“It’s just amazing that she’s from our hometown,” said Feuerbach, whose son, Charlie, was taught by Laura’s mother in the fourth grade at St. Joseph.

Feuerbach recalled watching Kaeppeler on television when she was named Miss America.

“We were so happy for her,” she said. “Her talent is so amazing, and her platform is unique, but then again I guess we have a history of talented people from Kenosha.”

Patrick Puhr, Kenosha, bought a ticket for himself and his son, Benjamin Abrahamson, 11. Puhr said he taught Kaeppeler in fourth grade at St. Therese Church school.

“I’ve seen her grow up,” Puhr said. “She was a beautiful girl even as a kid. You could tell she would do something with her life.”

Puhr and his son also watched as Kaeppeler was crowned on television.

“We were both hoping and thinking as she continued to win different events that she really has a shot at this,” he recalled. “When she won, we both looked at each other because now somebody we know is known nationally and internationally.”

Watch her spech

Beginning Monday, Time Warner Cable television subscribers can watch Miss America Laura Kaeppeler’s speech at the Milwaukee Press Club’s Newsmaker Luncheon.

The speech will be available on the Wisconsin On Demand Channel 411.

Kaeppeler gave the speech Thursday.

Same birthdays

Strange coincidence: Laura Kaeppeler celebrated her 24th birthday on Friday. March 2 is also the birthday of Wisconsin’s only other Miss America, Terry Anne Meeuwsen of DePere, who was Miss America 1973.

Back on March 15

Kaeppeler will be back in Kenosha March 15 for a Homecoming Concert at Carthage College.

The performance is free and open to the public. General admission begins at 6 p.m. in the A.F. Siebert Chapel. The concert starts at 7 p.m.

Miss America’s schedule while in Wisconsin

Sunday

9 a.m.: Brunch at LaSure’s, 3125 S. Washburn St., Oshkosh. Tickets are $20 per person. Call Mary Lou Lewis at 920-231-9045.

10:30 a.m.: Meet & Greet at LaSure’s, 3125 S. Washburn St., Oshkosh. Admission is free.

12:30 p.m.: VIP Lunch at the Grand Opera House, 100 High Ave., Oshkosh. Tickets are $25 per person. Call Mary Lou Lewis at 920-231-9045.

3 p.m.: Gala Show at the Grand Opera House, 100 High Ave., Oshkosh. Tickets are $25 per person. Call 920-424-2350, 866-96-GRAND or email tickets@grandoperahouse.org

Monday

8 a.m.: Wisconsin Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the KI Convention Center, 333 Main St., Green Bay. For details, visit www.wigcot.org

7 p.m.: Singing national anthem at the Milwaukee Bucks vs. Philadelphia 76ers game at the Bradley Center, 1001 N. Fourth St., Milwaukee. Game begins at 7 p.m., to air on Fox Sports Network Wisconsin (Time Warner Cable Channel 31).For details, visit www.nba.com/bucks.

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