They keep their crowns and sashes on display in their bedrooms, at least when they’re not wearing them. Such is the life of pageant queens.
Three Franklin County ladies were named queens in the fourth annual Butterfly Dreams Pageant held Saturday, Nov. 11, at De Smet Jesuit High School in Creve Coeur.
Stephanie Walck, 15, Robertsville, was crowned Junior Teen Queen;
Cassie Killmade, 18, Washington, was crowned Teen Queen; and
Betsy Holtmeyer, 28, Washington, was crowned Junior Miss Queen.
If you watched the St. Louis Thanksgiving Day Parade this year, you may have seen them. All three rode on the Butterfly Dreams float in the parade.
A nonprofit organization that provides “events and pageants for individuals who are differentlyabled,” Butterfly Dreams was one of only two official charities of the parade.
The three Franklin County queens said the experience of riding in the parade was thrilling. They also are prepared and excited for more similar opportunities to promote and celebrate Butterfly Dreams.
This year’s Butterfly Dreams was the first pageant for Stephanie, who entered at the encouragement of her ninth-grade special needs teacher at Living Water Academy in Wildwood.
Now a sophomore who is homeschooled, Stephanie smiled when she heard her name announced as the Junior Teen Queen.
“She was very excited,” her mom, Julie Walck, recalled. “She gave two thumbs up.”
All of the participants receive a crown, and one overall winner in each age category is named queen.
Both Cassie and Betsy had competed in other pageants before, including the 2013 Miss Amazing Pageant where Betsy was crowned Miss Amazing Junior Miss Queen.
To date, Betsy has won five pageant crowns.
Both Stephanie and Cassie said they plan to enter more pageants in the future. The pageant made them feel special, and it was a lot of fun, they said.
Founded by Syndi Sills in memory of her brother, Paul Jr., who was born with Down syndrome in 1960 and competed in (and won) pageants with her before he was killed in a car accident, Butterfly Dreams provides an opportunity for people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities “the chance to reach their goals and expand upon their life skills, like making friends, overcoming fear, embracing courage, and learning how to communicate their passions across to others.”
The pageant includes five age categories for girls and women (preteen, junior teen, teen, miss and senior miss) and two age categories for boys and men (junior gents and senior gents).
The only cost to participate is an unwrapped toy that each contestant brings to donate to Toys for Tots, said Julie Walck. Butterfly Dreams provided everything else — makeup artists, hair stylists, food and more.
“Every contestant has a pal, someone who is next to them throughout the pageant,” said Walck, noting Stephanie’s pal was a junior from Fox High School. “It’s a very well organized and age appropriate pageant.”
The pageant included a choreographed opening number, which all of the contestants participated in. There also were talent, evening wear and interview segments.
Stephanie’s talent was modeling. She walked across the stage striking several modeling poses.
Cassie, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, performed a Rainbow Dance with the help of her pal.
Betsy performed a ribbon dance to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
The talent portion was fun, but the interviews, which were held in a private room with three judges, were a little nerve-wracking, the ladies admit.
“It was tough,” said Stephanie, “but it wasn’t scary.”
The judges asked questions about their interests and hobbies, where they work or would like to work someday, as well as their goals and dreams.
Stephanie said her dream is to be an actress on TV.
Cassie, a senior at Washington High School, shared that she would like to work at the movie theater one day.
And Betsy told the judges about her work at Empac Group in Washington.
Probably for every girl and lady who has ever entered a pageant, finding the right dress to wear is important.
During the orientation for the Butterfly Dreams Pageant, contestants are given access to racks of gently used formalwear that has been donated to see if there is one they like and that will fit them, said Walck. Or contestants are welcome to purchase their own dress.
Stephanie wore a knee-length black and white dress that had sparkles on it.
Cassie wore a black dress with pink embroidery and spaghetti straps.
“It made me feel pretty,” she said.
Betsy wore a knee-length dress in sky blue.
‘Choose to Engage’
Now that they have won a queen title in Butterfly Dreams, Stephanie, Cassie and Betsy can participate again in the future as princesses, but they cannot win the queen title again.
That’s OK, said Julie Walck, noting there is a good chance Stephanie will participate again in Butterfly Dreams, and they may look for more pageants like it.
The experience was positive and eye-opening, said Walck.
“Until you are in the special needs community, you don’t think about it,” she commented. “When it happens to you, it’s a whole new world, and you can choose to become engaged in that or not, and you’ll find as your individual with special needs gets older, it’s very important to become engaged in the special needs community and relate to other people with Down syndrome.
“And what you’ll be most surprised about is the ability. I think a lot of times we sideline people and we make up our mind about what we think their abilities might be and their level of intelligence, and that is so wrong,” said Walck, noting she was probably guilty of that herself at times. “But this pageant has really opened my eyes.”
For more information on Butterfly Dreams, people can go to www.butterflydreams.org.