As Miss America 2012, Kenosha’s own Laura Kaeppeler has been showered with accolades for her physical beauty, attributes as an accomplished vocalist, her commitments to helping children, her grace, integrity, humility and authenticity.
Thursday night, she was again the beneficiary of high praise, this time from those closest to her, as they showered compliments upon Kaeppeler as she was honored by The Rotary Club of Kenosha-West as “Outstanding Kenoshan 2013.”
The fundraiser banquet benefiting St. Joseph Catholic Academy, Kaeppler’s high school alma mater, and The Laura Kaeppeler Foundation, which she created to fund music scholarships for girls, drew several hundred people to UAW Local 72 headquarters hall on Washington Road.
Her mother, Sue Kaeppeler, was the first to address the audience, describing how her daughter’s reign, which ended in January, took her coast to coast, put her in front of huge crowds, and allowed her to meet with members of the military and their families — sometimes where combat veterans were hospitalized with horrendous injuries. But, Sue Kaeppeler said, her daughter without fail always made time for the children, whether they came to see her or she to see them.
“I believe the best memories are the times she served others,” Sue Kaeppeler said of her daughter’s time as Miss America. A teacher, Sue Kaeppeler credited her daughter’s schooling first at St. Therese Catholic School, then St. Joe’s and finally at Carthage College, for helping to build the foundation that led to Laura’s success.
Now, the elder Kaeppeler said, “it’s fitting that she is paying it back through academic scholarships through The Laura Kaeppeler Foundation.”
In an evening that featured proclamations from Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman, County Board Chairman Jeff Gentz and a host of politicians — from aldermen to state legislators to Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Ron Johnson, in person or by their representatives — there were also musical presentations and performances. The latter included Carthage voice Professor Gregory Berg debuting a song he authored, “The Very Best Kind of Beautiful.”
Twin sisters Rachel Cicchini and Angela Cicchini Vitkus, two of Kaeppeler’s closest friends at St. Joseph, shared memories both emotional and humorous about their times together in high school, including their apparent misadventures as members of the softball team.
“One thing is certain: Our friendship with Laura will never change,” Rachel Cicchini said.
Kaeppler sat on a raised chair center stage, poised throughout, often displaying her now-familiar radiant smile and hugging each of the speakers in turn.
But when it came time for her to address the audience, her voice cracked several times while thanking her parents, her sisters, her grandmother, those who have supported her from childhood through college and beyond.
In thanking contributors to her foundation, she said without the $65,000 she earned in scholarships, college and the musical studies which honed her vocal skills would have been out of reach financially.
Before treating the audience to three songs, she left little doubt where her hometown stands in her life.
“No matter where life takes me, I will hold Kenosha’s spirit in my heart,” Kaeppeler said.