THREE OAKS — Even with the crown on her head and the bouquet in her arms, Emma Whitlow could not believe she had just been selected Miss Three Oaks/River Valley 2018 as she took her first royal walk across stage on Sunday, Nov. 19.

“I was so shocked. I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. Is this really happening?’ I entered the pageant because it’s fun and not because I thought I would ever win it,” Emma said backstage, still showing her tears of joy and surprise.

Whitlow said she is looking forward to meeting the other community queens and learning all about the Blossomtime Festival.

The Mr. Three Oaks/River Valley crown went to Billy Long, the lone contender, who said he entered the pageant to “get out of my comfort zone.” He apparently reached his goal, being dubbed “Billy, the Man” before the curtains were even drawn.

In addition to Emma and Billy, the pageant’s Red Carpet-theme was rolled out for the other Three Oaks/River Valley royal court members including First Runner-up Anna Meyer, Second Runner-up Samantha Sokolowski, and Miss Congeniality Sarah Jackemeyer. All of the royalty agreed that meeting and bonding with other members of the Blossomtime Royalty were what they were looking forward to the most.

Also crowned Sunday in the River Valley High School Auditorium were Little Miss River Valley Olivia Moore and First Runner-up Ava Ledesma along with Miss Teen River Valley Allyson Rochefort and First Runner-up Madison Schrader.

Emma is a River Valley High School senior and the daughter of David and Heather Whitlow. She plans to attend Lake Michigan College to study early childhood development and then transfer to Cedarville University to earn a master’s degree in child education. Her long term goal is teaching young children in Third World countries.

A four-year basketball and softball player, Emma was named All Conference, All District and All State Honorable Mention in softball in 2016. Outside of school, she helps with the Three Oaks American Legion Veterans Day dinner and volunteers with elementary and middle school students at softball and basketball camps.

Billy is the son of Bruce Stark and Danielle Long. After graduation, he plans to join the Navy and pursue a law enforcement career. He has been voted Most Valuable Wrestler and was this year’s River Valley Homecoming King. During his rein, Billy will be helping to further the mission of Friends of Three Oaks and is eagerly looking forward to its upcoming Christmas parade and celebration on Dec. 2.

Anna, a senior at Bridgman High School, is the daughter of Anthony and Kimberly Meyer. She plans to attend Grand Valley State University to major in physical therapy and minor in communications. Her long-term goal is to be a rehabilitation therapist for children. An honor roll student and Interact Club member, Anna competed in DECA in which she won districts and advanced to the state competition. She was named All-Conference Runner-Up in soccer and was captain of the varsity volleyball team in her junior year and co-head captain this year. She also finds time to volunteer at her local church serving the children’s ministry.

Meyer said this year’s royal court members are already close, “so it will be great to get to know them even more.”

Samantha, a senior at Buchanan High School, is the daughter of Cliff and Angela Sokolowski. She plans to major in nursing and minor in agriculture with a long term goal of becoming a neonatal nurse and ultimately owning an Angus beef farm. She is four-year varsity cheerleader and active Herd Spirit team and sideline/competitive cheerleader. She is an award winning Berrien County Youth Fair participant, part of Future Farmers of America and volunteers in the community for the Apple Cider Century, Flag Day, Three Oaks American Legion, Lakeland Hospital and the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Berrien & Cass.

Sarah, a senior at Michigan Lutheran High School, was chosen Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants. She is the daughter of Mike and Susan Jackemeyer and plans to attend Calvin College to study elementary education while playing soccer. Ultimately Sarah wants to teach at a Christian elementary school and be an athletic coach. She is a four-year special honors student and was recognized for testing in the top three percent in the country on the PSAT/NMSQT. She volunteers at Lighthouse Attic, Paper Drive and Christ Lutheran Church Youth Group and is a camp counselor for youth sports.

Abby Houck, the fifth member of the royal court, is the daughter of Tracy & Rachel Roberts and an award-winning artist who would like to attend an art institute in either New York or Chicago. She is a four-year cheerleader who has received many spirit awards and coaches Rocket Football. She volunteers for the Coloma Lion’s Club and helps with softball field clean-ups.

Miss Teen River Valley 2018 Allyson Rochefort is the daughter of Erick and Amy Rochefort. First Runner-up Madison Schrader is the daughter of Mac and Melody Schrader. Both attend River Valley High School where Rochefort is a sophomore and Schrader a freshman.

The new Miss Teen said she couldn’t believe she won the title until she felt the crown on her head. She is looking forward to the Coronation Ball and bonding with her court-mate Madison.

“I’m just very honored … it was an amazing experience.”

Allyson plays trumpet in addition to softball and volleyball and had the honor of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Little Miss River Valley 2018 Olivia Moore is the daughter of Bryan Moore and Lori Moore and a fourth-grader at Prairie View Elementary in New Carlisle. First Runner-up Ava Ledesma is the daughter of Santiago Ledesma and Rhian Maurer and a student at Three Oaks Elementary.

Olivia said she’s looking forward to “Having a lot of fun on the float and seeing all the other new queens.”

Also participating in the Miss Teen portion of the pageant were Raven Sanford, Alexis Walton and Ariel Kener.

Little Miss contestants also included Addison Thornton and Emma Sanford.

The Roll Out the Red Carpet for Prancer-themed ceremony at River Valley High School was emceed by two pageant alumni: Zack East, now a local radio personality and manager, and Brittney Sherrill, an interactive marketing specialist at Four Winds Casino. The program opened with a rousing rap routine by Madelynne Keller, out-going Miss Three Oaks River Valley, with her entire royal court (First Runner-up Maggie Seifert, Second Runner-up Hailey Helmuth and Mr. Three Oaks/River Valley Ryan Chang) as back-up.

During her farewell address, Keller advised her successor that the upcoming year will be “what you make of it.”

“So go and make it memorable. I hope it not only changes your live for the better, but allows you to go and change others.”

In keeping with the Blossomtime Pageant theme of Rolling Out the Red Carpet, the stage carried a Prancer theme, in honor of the village’s royal Hollywood personality of the classic Christmas movie fame.

This year’s pageant marked the transfer of leadership to Chairman Terry Bronson, a 10-year member of the committee, who took over the reins for this year’s pageant from Gail Freehling, who stepped down after 25 years.

Judges for the Miss title were John Valenziano, a local Realtor; Stepahnie Carrier, staff member at Fusion Dance Center, and Maria Moen, an relocation consultant. Judges for the junior titles were Jodie Knuth, a registered nurse at Lakeland Hospital, Donald Ricker, a faculty member at Southwest Michigan College; and Courtney Knuth, a former Miss Berrien Springs. Tim Taylor and Adam Smego represented the Blossomtime Pageant. Pages were Angelina York, Autumn Ackerman and Clay Burk.

— David Johnson contributed to this report

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