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Green County celebrates 60 years of dairy queens

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 11 June 2015

Green County dairy queens

In the heart of America’s Dairyland, one little county has made a big impact on the dairy industry for going on 60 years.

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Each year in June, 13 young women hailing from local communities in Green County are selected to represent the area’s rich dairy heritage. The rolling landscape of this southern Wisconsin region is dotted with cheese factories and dairy farms, many with roots dating back to the 1800s. Here, dairy continues to drive the economy, industry and tourism.

The Green County dairy queen program selects representatives from 11 towns to serve a one-year reign as that community’s dairy queen. Additionally, two ladies are selected from this pool to serve as ambassadors for the entire county as the Green County Dairy Queen and Princess.

Once selected as queens, these young ladies sign up for much more than wearing a sparkling crown and sash. They devote a full year to promoting Green County’s dairy industry, agriculture and tourism.

One may find them passing out cheese, milk and ice cream at local events, educating consumers in grocery stores or promoting to groups of all ages – from elementary school children to retirees. One of the annual highlights is a trip to the Wisconsin State Fair, where the queens interact with inner-city day-care kids.

For nearly six decades, the queens program has served as a platform for young women to proudly represent dairy’s rich local history.

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Lisa (Hoesly) Behnke reflects on her days as the 1979-1980 Green County Dairy Queen, recalling, “I flew in an airplane for the first time as a dairy queen, was on television, spent lots of time with our award-winning cheesemakers, did monthly radio and newspaper reports, and attended many community festivals and meetings – always with a cheese tray.”

More recently, she watched her two daughters don the banner and tiara as Green County Dairy Queens. Morgan was crowned in 2009 and Taylor in 2012. That’s quite the legacy, considering Behnke’s mother was also a queen herself.

Throughout a dairy queen’s reign, she puts in countless volunteer hours, but as Pam Burke, program chair, says, “We always tell them they get out of the program what they put into it.”

For many, the reward is personal growth. Each opportunity to stand up and speak to an audience or interact one-on-one with a consumer builds a portfolio of interpersonal and social experiences some may say are lacking in today’s youth. Poise and professionalism are part of the job description as the queens learn about proper attire and etiquette.

kelli Boylen

These life lessons live on. Freelance writer and former queen Kelli (Kaderly) Boylen calls on her experiences regularly.

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“Serving as the 1988-1989 Green County Dairy Princess not only gave me the public speaking skills I have used throughout my life, it also gave me the ability to explain our industry to those who have never experienced it,” she says.

For many former queens, the year of service solidifies their pride and passion for the dairy industry, in some cases inspiring life-long careers.

“I don’t think I’m alone when I say the experience of being a dairy queen cemented my desire to build a career around communications, the dairy industry and agriculture,” Behnke says, who later went on to be Wisconsin’s Alice in Dairyland. Today, she is the marketing and communications manager at AgSource.

Boylen’s reign shaped her in a similar way, not only as a professional in the industry but also as an advocate for educating others.

“I love working as a freelance writer for dairy and agricultural publications (using communication skills and drawing upon my farm background), but I also love helping members of the general public understand the importance of what dairy producers do every day,” she says.

The dairy queen program is directed and supported by the Green County Agricultural Chest, a grassroots dairy promotion organization that provides the queens with a $15,000 annual operating budget.

This dedicated volunteer group raises funds primarily during the summer months by selling homemade cream puffs, ice cream, locally produced cheeses and sandwiches at various events throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

Over the years, times have changed, and so have some aspects of the queen program. While the purpose and many of the promotional activities have stayed the same, gone are the days of limiting candidates to only the daughters of dairy farmers. Now, any young woman with ambition and appreciation for the dairy industry is eligible, regardless of whether or not she lives on an active dairy farm.

“We still get the group of girls from the farm, but we tend to get girls wanting to learn more about agriculture,” Burke adds.

After 60 years, the Green County Dairy Queen Program is still going strong, continuing to prepare young women to be more than just princesses; it trains them to be true promoters of the dairy industry. PD

Peggy Coffeen served as the 2001-2002 Green County Dairy Princess.

PHOTOS
TOP: Each year, 13 young ladies are selected to promote Green County’s rich dairy heritage and award-winning cheeses. Photo courtesy of Green County Ag Chest.

BOTTOM: Kelli Boylen, a freelance writer for Progressive Dairyman, got her start in agriculture communications by serving as the Green County Dairy Princess in 1988-1989. Photos courtesy of Kelli Boylen .

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