Prior to the start of the Washington Town and Country Fair Queen contest Wednesday evening, Natalie Ruether, Washington, had made plans with a friend to meet after the program so they could watch bull riding together.
Those plans didn’t work out, said Ruether with a big smile, as she sat down at Fricke Studio in Downtown Washington, after having her photo taken as the 2017 Fair Queen.
“This is a great thing instead,” she said, her new crown sparkling atop her head.
Joining Ruether on this year’s court are Taylor Schweitzer, Washington, as first runner-up; Amanda Vollmer, Krakow, as second runner-up; and Rachel Grayson, Washington, who was voted Miss Congeniality.
A total of 21 young ladies took part in this year’s Fair Queen contest.
Like so many Washington natives, Ruether, 18, has been a fairgoer her whole life, but she wasn’t ever one to watch the queen contest.
“I can’t remember the last time I watched it,” she said.
Still, after seeing the contest promoted on Facebook, Ruether, daughter of Gregg and Julie Ruether, Washington, decided it might be a fun way to spend her last summer before college and a great chance to earn some scholarship money. Plus, it would be a way to give back to her community, which is a mentality she was raised with.
The experience turned out even better than she had expected.
“I thought I might get a couple of friends out of it and learn a little more about the town, but oh, my gosh! All of the girls are so amazing! . . . It was never a catty competition. Everyone was always on each other’s side, always cracking jokes and having fun. It’s an amazing program,” said Ruether.
The queen contestants have been participating in a variety of events around Washington over the last two months, and Ruether said her favorite was volunteering at Empac Group working with adults who have special needs.
In all of the years that Ruether has been coming to the Washington Town and Country Fair, she has always remained a spectator at all of the contests, but as Fair Queen, she’s looking forward to getting involved, especially at the pig chase.
“I’m so excited. I’ve never done it before, but it’s right up my alley!” Ruether remarked. “I’m a country girl. I hunt and fish, so I’m super excited for this.”
Hearing her name announced as Fair Queen came as a shock, said Ruether, who thought second runner-up was the highest she could hope for. Her interview with the judges had gone well, she said, and she walked out feeling she had done the best she could.
“My mom always tells me to trust in God . . . so I was at ease going in,” said Ruether.
The judges asked her tough questions that took her off guard, like one about business ethics compared to work ethics.
“I couldn’t tell you how I answered that . . . I think a lot of (the interview) was seeing if you can think on your feet,” said Ruether. “I was trying to crack jokes the whole time, keep them interested.”
A 2017 graduate of St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, Ruether will attend Benedictine College this fall where she will work toward a degree in biology with a minor in nutrition. She is planning for a career in medicine, either as an emergency doctor or pediatrics.
Ruether was sponsored by The Competitive Edge.
Taylor Schweitzer, 19, was named first runner-up in the 2017 Fair Queen contest.
The daughter of Kathy Schweitzer, Washington, she is a 2016 graduate of St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, where she was a two-time state champion varsity cheerleader.
Schweitzer will be a sophomore at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Ind., where she’s studying communicative sciences and disorders. Her plans are to work with children as a speech-language pathologist.
A fairgoer her whole life, Schweitzer said the Fair for her has always been an opportunity to spend time having fun with friends and family.
A shy person by nature, Schweitzer admits entering the queen contest was outside of her comfort zone, but when she was asked by her employer and sponsor Bank of Washington if she would be interested, she decided to say yes, and she’s glad that she did.
“It was a good way to get to know more about the Fair and more about the community,” said Schweitzer. “And this was a great group of girls to spend the summer with! It was so much fun!”
Her favorite event over the last two months was an unofficial one — when the queen candidates worked with All Abilities Athletics playing with children who have special needs.
“Seeing those kids just light up playing with everybody . . . they were melting our hearts. They were so sweet!” said Schweitzer.
As a member of the queen court, Schweitzer is looking forward to the behind-the-scenes view of the Fair and all of the activities she will get to be involved with.
“There are so many different things you can do, and now we get to see everything. That’s so cool!” she remarked.
Like Ruether, Schweitzer said her interview with the judges included unexpected questions. She was asked to name two people she would want to have lunch with if she had the chance and why.
She didn’t have to think long before naming her first choice — Kate Middleton.
“I’ve always liked how she presents herself and the charity work that she does,” said Schweitzer, who after thinking for a moment, named Oprah as her second pick because of her sincerity and thoroughness in the subjects she speaks about and supports.
Second Runner-Up Amanda Vollmer, 19, Krakow, is no stranger to the Washington Town and Country Fair. For years she showed hogs here, but this time around she traded her boots and jeans for heels and a sparkling black evening gown.
“This is something I would have never thought I’d want to do,” Vollmer told The Missourian. “It’s totally out of my comfort zone, but I am so glad I decided to do it . . . It has been a great experience.”
Sponsored by Augusta Winery, Vollmer — who was the first contestant to walk on stage Wednesday evening — said her favorite moment over the last two months was the tour of Washington, because she learned so much that she never knew about her hometown. One example:
“That Krog Park is actually a cemetery! I did not know that!” Vollmer remarked.
Looking ahead to the next few days at the Fair, Vollmer is excited about all of the Fair food she’ll get to eat, and also about the activities.
“I’m really excited about going to the concerts and meeting people,” she said, noting she was most “pumped” about the Granger Smith concert Thursday night.
Her interview with the judges went well. She approached it as “a conversation,” rather than an interview.
“I think that really helped me calm down,” said Vollmer, noting she also made sure to take a moment to gather her thoughts before answering the judges’ questions.
Hearing her name announced as second runner-up came as a shock, she said. Although from where she was standing on stage (right next to the emcees), she thought she saw her name written on the paper before it was announced.
“But I couldn’t see for sure, and I didn’t want to get too excited, but then he said my name, and I thought, ‘Wow! This is amazing!’ And I was shocked! I’m so excited!”
The daughter of Vaughn and Lori Vollmer, Krakow, Amanda is a 2106 graduate of Washington High School. She is a nursing student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where she also plays NCAA Division II volleyball.
Her dream job would be to work as a CRNA, certified registered nurse anesthetist.
Being voted Miss Congeniality by her fellow queen contestants was such a moving experience for Rachel Grayson, 20, Washington, that she is surprised it didn’t bring tears to her eyes.
“I was shocked and very humbled that these 20 other girls chose me,” she said. “And I’m surprised I didn’t cry!”
Looking back over the last two months, Grayson felt like she had made a connection with each of the girls in the contest, especially when they broke off into groups at different events.
“I really got to know each of them individually, and now I’ll get to know these girls (on the court) even more, so I’m excited!”
Grayson, who was named Most Spirited Trumpet for the 2016 season with Marching Mizzou at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said participating in the Fair Queen contest this summer was more than just fun, it was a great bonding experience for her and her mom, Barb (Schelich) Grayson, who was the 1987 Fair Queen.
“Doing this has been amazing . . . It’s surreal to do this with my mom and talk with her about it!” said Grayson.
Having served on the Junior Fair Board for three years, Grayson knows her way around the grounds and already has a good behind-the-scenes understanding of all that goes on, but she’s looking forward to experiencing the Fair from the perspective of the queen’s court.
“I’m looking forward to just being in the environment of the Fair with the town, being an ambassador for the town of Washington, because that’s what I wanted to do going into this,” said Grayson.
Daughter of Scott and Barb Grayson, Washington, Rachel is a 2015 graduate of St. Francis Borgia Regional High School. She will be a junior at the University of Missouri-Columbia, studying textile and apparel management, and marketing and merchandising.
“Someday I want to lead a company or be a head merchandise buyer,” said Grayson, who was sponsored by Classic Comb Salon & Spa, Washington.
The 2017 Fair Queen and her court will each receive scholarships. As Fair Queen, Ruether will receive a $2,500 scholarship and numerous other gifts from area businesses.
Schweitzer will receive $1,000; Vollmer, $750; and Grayson, $500.
The 2017 Fair Queen and her court can be seen touring the fairgrounds through Sunday evening, Aug. 6.