PEQUOT LAKES -- When the lights were dimmed and the stage emptied after the 2004 Miss Pequot Lakes-Crosslake Scholarship Pageant Saturday, it may have been the final curtain call for the 22-year Pequot Lakes tradition.
The Pequot Lakes Woman's Club, which has sponsored the scholarship pageant since it began in 1982, voted last week to no longer sponsor the pageant.
Joanne Johnson, a Pequot Lakes Woman's Club member, said Monday that one of the primary reasons was because it was becoming difficult for members to go out and raise funds for the pageant scholarships because of advancing age of the club's members, who are in their 60s-90s.
"The fund-raising is a big part of this, and I hate to say it, we're getting old," said Johnson with a laugh. "It's hard to get people involved. We just don't have the volunteers to do the fund-raising."
In addition, John and Caroljean Weise, Nisswa, who have been pageant directors since 1983, have decided to retire.
"I'm very hopeful somebody will take it over," said Johnson. "It's an excellent program. It not only provides financial support for college, but I think the pageant gives the girls an opportunity to grow and mature. I really think there is an advantage for these girls who run for the pageant. And I think it gives them an opportunity to come out and being able to meet the public. It's just a growing experience for these young girls and I would like to see it continue. But if you can't do it with all the gusto it takes, you best ought not do it at all. And that's where we are."
The Weises said they will meet with Sertoma Club members in the Pequot Lakes area this week to discuss what it takes to host the pageant. The club has expressed interest in learning more about the program.
Unless another organization or group of volunteers takes over the pageant, Caitlin Kennedy was crowned the 2004 -- and last -- Miss Pequot Lakes-Crosslake on Saturday.
The Weises have had a long history with pageants. John Weise, a long-time Nisswa barber, became interested in pageants after he started volunteering to sweep the stage after the former Miss Brainerd pageants. Then for nine years, Weise traveled throughout the state as a field director for the Miss Minnesota Pageant, while his wife served as a pageant judge.
"It was a learning experience," said John Weise. "I learned everything there. When you go to pageants, you see live entertainment on stage. That's the biggest part. It gets in your blood."
Caroljean Weise taped a string of lights on the runway in the Pequot Lakes Auditorium Friday night in preparation for Saturday's pageant. She and her husband, John, have been active volunteers with the Miss Pequot Lakes-Crosslake Scholarship Pageant for 22 years, but decided to retire as pageant directors this year. Bobbi (Shaw) Richards, a 1989 Miss Pequot Lakes who has served as pageant choreographer for the past few years, has taken over as pageant director. (Dispatch Photo by Nels Norquist)
Then in 1982 a Pequot Lakes Realtor asked woman's club members if they were interested in starting a scholarship pageant. That year Heidi Bost was crowned the first Miss Pequot Lakes. The first pageant was organized by Vonnie Tweed and Betsy Johnson, woman's club members. The Weises helped with this pageant and then took over the director responsibilities in 1983.
The Weises for many years traveled with Miss Pequot Lakes as her entourage to various pageants, parades and festivals. The Weises donated the crowns and Caroljean Weise made the sashes. For many years, they made sure the annual pageant ran smoothly. For fun, the couple also travels to area pageants just to watch them.
But being pageant directors has been a lot of work. Caroljean Weise had a heart attack last March and a stent was put in. She had surgery again in October and two additional stents were inserted into her arteries. After 36 years of being involved with pageants, the Weises made the painful decision to retire.
"It's hard. It's in your blood and you hate to give it up," said Caroljean Weise.
"To do a pageant, you have to give 100 percent," said John Weise. "You can't give 80 percent, you just can't."
"It's better to make decisions like this when things are going good than to step back when things are falling apart," added Caroljean.
Many of the Pequot Lakes Woman's Club members who volunteer each year to raise funds and run the pageant have been volunteering for as long as the Weises. They, too, felt they were becoming too tired to continue.
The Weises and the Pequot Lakes Woman's Club decided jointly not to announce at Saturday's event that it could possibly be the final pageant.
"That would be distracting from the pageant," said Caroljean. "We wanted everyone to enjoy the pageant as it is and it really isn't part of the pageant itself."
"I think it needs younger, more energetic people who have different ideas and have the energy to go around and do all this collecting and fund-raising," said Johnson. "At the last pageant, I was really sad. It's been such a part of our lives for such a long time and it was sad to let it go. It was sad because at the pageant I saw all these little escorts, and we were just getting the escorts up to being candidates."
"It should be a group with young blood in it," echoed Caroljean. "It's been good for the community. Our girls have been good P.R. for the community."
John Weise said most pageants have gone on without a hitch. However, he's been to pageants that didn't run as smoothly. At one pageant he attended, the pageant director forgot the crowns locked in his office. After a 20-minute delay to retrieve the crowns, the pageant went on as scheduled.
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