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Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler of Kenosha stood holding hands with Miss Oklahoma, each staring into the others’ eyes as they awaited the judges’ decision and the announcement that would change their lives forever.
When host Christopher Harrison announced Kaeppeler’s name, tears of joy flowed, her mascara ran and the reigning Miss America 2011, Teresa Michelle Scanlan of Gering, Neb, placed the crown atop Kaeppeler’s head.
Kenosha is now home to Miss America.
Minutes before she was crowed, Kaeppeler answered a question about whether pageant representatives should be involved in partisan politics. Her answer was a diplomatic one saying that Miss America represents everyone.
“Miss America represents everyone, so I think the message to political candidates is that they represent everyone as well,” Kaeppeler told judges and the live audience from the stage in Las Vegas. “And so in these economic times, we need to be looking forward to what America needs, and I think Miss America needs to represent all.”
Kaeppeler, 23, a graduate of St. Joseph High School and Carthage College, took to the stage at a various levels of competition wearing a white bikini in swimsuit and a black beaded evening gown she likened to the Duchess of York Kate Middleton’s wedding dress.
Miss Oklahoma Betty Thompson came in second, while Miss New York Kaitlyn Monte placed third.
Kaeppeler wins a $50,000 scholarship and gets the title for one year.
She won Tuesday night in the talent competition with her rendition of the classical aria “Il Bacio,” which she also performed Saturday night. Miss New York and Miss Oklahoma were also preliminary talent winners.
Kaeppeler, who was Miss Kenosha in 2010 and second runner-up to Miss Wisconsin that year, is among the dozen of repeat entrants this year at Miss America who won their state title on their second attempt. Kaeppeler won the state crown as Miss Southern Wisconsin.
Kaeppeler’s platform was unique, as she advocated as a mentor for children of incarcerated parents.
Kaeppeler, who graduated with a degree in music with emphasis on vocal performance from Carthage, had originally chosen a music-oriented platform. But she changed her platform knowing that she could make a difference another way.
“I have personal experience with this,” she told a group of retired educators last summer. “One of the things these kids feel is they’re very much alone.”
When she was still in high school, her father was sentenced to a year in federal prison for a white-collar crime. In Wisconsin, more than 40,000 men and women are serving time in prison, she said.
“A lot of times teachers don’t know because the kids don’t want to talk about it themselves,” she said.
Kaeppeler was not available for comment late Saturday.
While in Las Vegas prior to Saturday night, Kaeppeler was able to speak about her pageant platform. However, she was not among the eight finalists for the Quality of Life award which honors contestants who heavily promote their platforms in their respective states.
The new Miss America will spend the next year touring the country to speak to different groups and raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network, the Miss America Organization’s official charity.
Teresa Scanlan of Nebraska won Miss America last year at age 17 to become the pageant’s youngest winner ever.
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