My Fair Lady queen crowned at Columbia County Fair
Columbia County RSVP crowned a queen to be not just the 2022 My Fair Lady, but the Fairest Lady.
Carla Bodenhamer was named the Fairest Queen at the pageant on the first day of the Columbia County Fair and Rodeo.
The 33-year tradition honors senior women who volunteer in their communities.
In previous years, a princess was selected to represent each of Columbia County's five main cities. Those princesses found out they would compete in the pageant ahead of time and were able to prepare answers to questions.
This year, the five princesses were drawn from a basket with the names of the former My Fair Lady princesses and queens in attendance.
Carla Bodenhamer was crowned My Fair Lady queen in 2018. She lives in Rainier, where she volunteers at the Rainier Senior Center. Her hobbies include cooking, baking, gardening, reading and clamming on the coast.
She said her favorite part of the My Fair Lady experience was going around the county to meet volunteers.
"I had no clue that there were so many people doing so many things in our communities," Bodenhamer said.
The contestants were also asked what their first proclamation would be if they were a real queen.
"I would have a carnival for children where they didn't have to buy a bracelet or pay a thing for it — it would be free," Bodenhamer said.
Joanne Bernard of Rainier was the first name called to be a 2022 princess. Bernard was representing Rainier when Monica Cade, who runs RSVP, started in 2013. Bernard rode her Harley motorcycle in parades, Cade said.
When she joined the pageant court, Bernard was a member of the Rainier Garden Club, secretary for the Columbia County Chapter Oregon Hunter Association, and enjoyed gardening, crocheting, crossword puzzles, and spending time with family, at the casino or traveling.
Now she likes to do "as much as my body will let me do," Bernard said.
Asked where she would most like to wear her crown, Bernard said she would wear it to a family reunion. "It's time they found out I'm a real queen," Bernard said.
Patty St. John was the 2018 princess from St. Helens. She volunteered with her kids' teams and clubs as they grew up, like t-ball and Girl Scouts, and has continued working with kids for three decades. She currently mentors and tutors elementary aged kids and volunteers at the front desk of the Columbia County courthouse multiple days a week.
St. John said the question of her favorite place to wear her crown was difficult. "It's hard to say. I wear my crown four out of seven days a week, and I wear it everywhere," St. John said.
Renee Swartz, a 2021 princess, serves on the board of the Clatskanie Senior Center and friends of the library. She also volunteers at the Turning Point thrift store.
She said her first proclamation if she were a real queen would be that no family would go without heat in the winter. "I think you should always have a warm house and a warm bed to sleep in at night," Swartz said.
Claudia Oblack represented Vernonia on the 2016 My Fair Lady court and was crowned queen. She is a volunteer EMT for the Mist-Birkenfeld Rural Fire Protection District.
"My proclamation would be that everybody would have the joy of blossoming flowers in the garden," Oblack, an avid gardener, said during the pageant question period.
Oblack said her favorite part of the My Fair Lady court experience was "the sisterhood of the princesses as we traveled to different parades and met different people… The lasting friendship is what was really important to me."
My Fair Lady will continue next year
Monica Cade has run RSVP, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, for nearly 10 years, but the program is now changing shape.
Though the program receives federal funding, longtime sponsor Columbia River Fire & Rescue decided earlier this year that it was costing the fire district too much money. CRF&R pulled its sponsorship, but the federal funding process means that those funds can't be transferred to a new sponsor and a new sponsor can't apply for funding for two more years.
United Way of Columbia County, a nonprofit led by Claire Catt, volunteered to take over the program. Columbia County allocated money in its latest budget to help continue operations until federal funding comes back.
"It's going to be a huge belt-tightening, because it's nowhere near what the federal government was giving every year. But all we have to do is hold it together for two years, then United Way can apply for those federal funds," Columbia County Commissioner Henry Heimuller said at the pageant.
Commissioners and United Way leaders weren't initially sure if the My Fair Lady pageant would continue, given that the program will have sharply reduced staffing and funding for the next couple years. But at the pageant, commissioners confirmed that the pageant would continue next year.
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