August 14, 1974
Summer is Fair season with the Santa Barbara County Fair finishing up and the Mid-State Fair opening.
The front page of the then Telegram-Tribune shows that 1974 President Richard Nixon had just resigned (five days earlier) and now President Gerald Ford was beginning to face his first challenges.
Also on the front page was Sheree Twisselman, 17, crowned Maid of San Luis Obispo County. She was one of twelve contestants.
Quoting from the article in 1974:
Miss Twisselman graduated in June from Paso Robles High School as salutatorian of her class. She enjoys sports and is an expert horsewoman. She will attend Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo this fall where she will major in biological sciences and she plans to become a pharmacist.
The expert horsemanship should come as no surprise, it is a rare equestrian event at the fairgrounds that does not have at least one member of the Twisselman family entered. The family has been involved in cattle ranching in the county for several generations.
Larry Jamison made the photo.
A July 19, 2009 article in The Tribune by Patrick S. Pemberton covered the recollections of previous winners and the history of beauty pageants.
MORE THAN FAIR MAIDENS
BEING CROWNED QUEEN OF THE CALIFORNIA MID-STATE FAIR SETS THE STAGE FOR FUTURE SUCCESS
Patrick S. Pemberton
When Paulette Pahler entered the first queen pageant at the California Mid-State Fair in 1969, her main goal was to simply get through it.
A shy girl, she lived on a ranch in little San Miguel. She spent more time riding her horse than primping for pageants. She didn’t really consider herself the fair queen type. “The worst thing was putting a bathing suit on and getting up on the stage,” said Pahler. “I thought, ‘This is really not me.’ “
Yet, when it was over, Pahler was shocked to learn that she had been named Maid of San Luis Obispo County — the title Mid-State Fair queens were given back then.
“I remember being surprised when they announced the third runner-up, the second runner-up, and the first runner-up,” she said. “Because I thought maybe I’d place. But I didn’t think I’d win.”
When this year’s California Mid-State Fair Queen is announced Wednesday, it will continue a 40-year tradition. While winning the Mid-State Fair competition no longer leads to a spot in the Miss California contest, local queens become local celebrities.
“They’re the symbol of the fair,” said Patti Lucas, director of the Mid-State Fair pageant.
The fair queen is like an ambassador — the one who meets and greets visitors, introduces fair acts and waves during parades. And those who have won the honor say they’ll never forget it.
The pageant tradition
The American beauty pageant goes back to 1855 when showman P. T. Barnum introduced a pageant in his traveling circus. Later, newspapers held beauty contests. And in 1921, the Miss America contest — the premier beauty pageant in the United States –was born in New Jersey.
Mid-State Fair winners used to go on to compete for Miss America, but Lucas said the fees associated with that contest were too expensive, and the fair dropped out. So Miss California Mid-State Fair has no chance to compete for state and national levels.
“It ends here,” Lucas said.
Yet, the Mid-State Fair competition has grown. When the contest first began, contestants were drawn from their hometowns, where initial contests were held. (Pahler was the Maid of San Miguel before competing at the county level.)
Today, all women between the ages of 17 and 22 can apply for the Mid-State Fair contest if they are current residents of the county and have never been married. Beginning in April, accepted applicants are then trained on modeling, interviewing and makeup. A professional also critiques them on talent.
“This is supposed to be entertainment,” Lucas said, “so it’s nice to have somebody professionally help with that.”
The talent show wasn’t even added until 1986. For Jacky Coon Eshelby, that posed a challenge.
“My crowning achievement at the fair was when I had the grand champion lamb,” she said of her 1984 victory. “That was where my heart and soul was.”
Because she didn’t sing or dance or play an instrument, she wound up creating a skit mimicking Lily Tomlin’s Edith Ann character — an obnoxious 5-year-old with a penchant for tall tales.
“My dad built me this very big chair,” she said.
Apparently, the routine was a hit with judges–and Eshelby became the Maid of San Luis Obispo County for 1986.
“My little brother told everybody that because I was the maid, I had to go around and clean everybody’s houses.”
Eventually, the Maid of San Luis Obispo County was dropped in favor of the more regional title, Miss California Mid-State Fair. And by 1990 the contest had intensified, with winners going on to compete at the state level.
While Tracy Nix had competed in Tulare County pageants in the past, she didn’t have dreams of becoming Miss California.
“George Strait was coming to the fair that year, and I really wanted to meet him,” she said.
After winning in Paso Robles, Nix did go on to compete for Miss California. And she did well, finishing as the second runner-up.
But the competition, she said, was intense.
“I competed against 90 girls,” she said. “And talk about being a little out of my element. Those girls had been competing since they were very little. A lot of them had agents, several of them had managers. I mean, it’s a business.”
‘Every girl’s dream’
Like many contestants, Paso Robles native Destini Cavalletto said she entered the pageant for fun.
As an FFA competitor, she was only allowed to show livestock until a year after high school. By the time she was a senior at Cal Poly, she wanted to get involved in the fair again, so she decided to vie for queen.
Leading up to the 2003 fair, she was trained how to interview, walk on stage, and dance for an opening number.
“The whole stage experience was all very new to me,” she said.
While she was casual about the contest when she entered, after investing much time into it she became nervous as the winners’ names were read.
“In that moment, it really does become pretty important to you,” she said.
By that time, the fair was no longer involved in the Miss California contest, so Cavalletto’s pageant contests would end. Still, at the Mid-State Fair, the queen became a celebrity, often surrounded by little girls wanting to touch her crown, take photos with her or get her autograph.
“In a sense, it’s kind of every girl’s dream to be a beauty queen,” she said.
After the pageant
For Miss America winners like Phyllis
George, Vanessa Williams and Mary Ann Mobley, beauty pageant success translated to careers in the entertainment industry. While Lucas couldn’t think of any local winners who went on to become celebrities, local queens have gone on to successful careers.
After her fair victory, Pahler, now of Templeton, studied to be a teacher at the College of Notre Dame in Belmont. After 10 years as a teacher, 10 years as a reading specialist and 10 years as a principal, she now is the director of student services for Paso Robles Public Schools.
As a teacher, she said, she never brought up her queen experience. Yet, students often would.
“It’s still a small town,” Pahler said. “Kids would come in and say, ‘Guess what my mom said?’ ”
Eshelby went on to study ag business at Cal Poly, getting a master’s degree in ag economics at Oklahoma State. The onetime marketing director for the fair now teaches in the fair management program at Cal Poly. While the program is unique, she said, managing a fair is a lofty job that requires 15 months of planning each fair.
“You don’t just work on a fair for two weeks and then — voila — you get a fair,” said Eshelby, who still works at the fair part-time as a special projects coordinator.
While Nix received her Cal Poly degree in journalism, she wound up in social work. Today, she’s a child forensic interview specialist for the District Attorney’s Office. Typically interviewing 200 suspected young crime victims a year, Nix recently interviewed children in the case of Tami Underwood, the Atascadero woman who kept her granddaughter locked in a closet.
The children she interviews are typically victims of physical or sexual abuse.
“You have to be able to relate to children, and they need to feel comfortable around you,” she said. “And they need to trust you.”
After earning her agriculture business degree, Cavalletto became vice president of operations for a local marketing firm. After the recent birth of her first child, she stepped down from that position to spend more time parenting. She now does sales and marketing for Vintage Traditions, which, among other things, promotes local golf courses and hotels.
Left with memories
While being queen didn’t necessarily make careers, past winners say it did help build self-esteem and communication skills.
“It helped me come out of my shell,” Nix said. “I have no fear of speaking in front of large crowds now. And I really attribute that to being in the pageant system.”
But even more important are the memories.
Queens usually leave the experience with several mementos — photos, sashes signed by celebrities who performed at the fair and, of course, the crowns.
“One of my daughters was Glinda the Good Witch one year for Halloween, and she wore it,” Eshelby said.
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THIS YEAR’S MID-STATE FAIR PAGEANT
The 2009 Miss California Mid-State Fair Pageant will take place at 6 p. m. Wednesday — the fair’s opening day — at the Budweiser/Culligan Fort Frontier Stage.
Nine contestants, ages 17 to 20, will compete in five categories: interview, platform, talent, swimsuit and evening wear. In addition, each contestant will select an issue that they’ll promote during the fair.
The contest will be judged by two entertainers, two business people and a school administrator/past queen.