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Miss America helps Kenosha light up the season

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Miss America, Kenosha’s own Laura Kaeppeler, drew hundreds to hear her sing Friday night at the Civil War Museum as part of the “Lightin’ Up” festival and downtown activities.

Her performance immediately preceded the lighting next door of the official city Christmas tree outside the Kenosha Public Museum in HarborPark by Mayor Keith Bosman, aided by two children whose names were drawn by Santa Claus from among other entries.

Beforehand, Kaeppeler treated a packed house at the Civil War Museum to holiday standards.

Among those on hand were Indian Trail Academy French teacher Jeff Laurent and his wife, Jaymie, who accompanied six high school students from Chalons en Champagne, paired up with their host students here. The native French students arrived in Kenosha Nov. 18 along with 12 additional students and their English teachers from Chalons, Cecile Perraud and Sophie Collat.

Bringing students to Miss America’s performance and the tree lighting afterward was his wife’s idea, Jeff Laurent said. “They’re excited about all the Thanksgiving and Christmas things, and they wanted to see it,” he said.

Although she was pressed nearly against the rear lobby wall outside the main room hosting Kaeppeler’s performance, Perraud was nonetheless happy to be present.

“It’s great,” Perraud said. “The people are wonderful.”

Oh, and Perraud allowed that she and the visiting students were being shown a good time not only around town by the host families, but shopping, shopping, shopping on Black Friday, too.

Julie Harnik, of Chalons, and her host sister, Amelia Ruffolo, of Kenosha, both 14, were having a good time together at the Civil War Museum, too.

“It’s cool,” Ruffolo said, adding she liked having Miss America here. “I like that she remembers where she came from, that she doesn’t forget where she came from.”

Harnik especially enjoyed hearing Kaeppeler sing, and is looking forward to doing more shopping, especially at American Eagle.

Some folks squeezed into the far reaches of the hall and lobby outside the main room felt the venue was a bit too small to accommodate the turnout.

How many people the annual event will draw is difficult to anticipate, said Kris Kochman, the city’s community relations liaison.

She noted planning this year was largely completed by late September. It appeared at the time Kaeppler’s Miss America commitments were going to prevent her from scheduling an appearance here Friday. When her calendar opened just enough to be scheduled, the city, with support from Jockey, was able to plug Kaeppeler into the “Lightin’ Up” festivities, Kochman said.

The switch to holding the annual event on Black Friday this year instead of its traditional tie in with International Weekend, which takes place next week, came about after the Downtown Business Improvement District made the request to the city, according to Kochman.

“Now, we’re going to have it on (Black Friday) every year,” Kochman said.

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