After a week of Watercade events, rehearsals and getting judged, six girls stood on the stage of Bernie Aaker Auditorium and held hands while waiting to hear who would be crowned the next Miss Litchfield Sunday evening.
Emcees Tiana Schwiem and Josh Keller first announced evening wear category winner as Litzy Rodriguez and Miss Congeniality Cecelia Toenjes. After a two-hour stage event and judging period, the crowning moment arrived. Previous royalty Miss Litchfield 2018 Brianna Larson and Princess Laura Shoutz crowned two princesses first, Abby Johnson and Ellery Jones. Afterwards a new Miss Litchfield was chosen: Toenjes.
Toenjes, whose volunteer platform involves getting kids active, said she had always been around the Miss Litchfield events and did not want to miss her opportunity to wear the crown.
“I always wanted to do Miss Litchfield ever since I was little,” she said. “My mom was a choreographer and my Nanny was a commodore, so I was around the program quite a bit. Later I started marching band so that was my focus. This year, when they opened it up to marching band kids, I jumped at it. I didn’t want to miss an opportunity I would regret.”
Johnson said she did not have quite as much experience with the program as Toenjes but decided to go for it after prodding from former Miss Litchfield Larson.
“Brianna and I were really close before hand and she stopped me in the hall one day when they were promoting it, and she said that she saw I had the qualities for it. I said, ‘You know what? I’ll do it for you Bri,” Johnson said.
However, as Johnson learned more about the program, she began to seek the crown to promote the community service aspects of the role.
“I’m so excited to get into the hands-on experience to help out,” Johnson said.
Jones said she aspired to be a part of Litchfield Royalty ever since she was young for the sparkly crown and pretty dresses but as she matured realized the role was about so much more.
“It’s a great opportunity to give back to the town that raised me, so I’m really glad I got crowned so that I can take the steps and help everybody with their volunteer platforms and give back,” Jones said.
All of the girls felt a passion to give back to their community as part of the journey to wearing the crown. Johnson said even if she did not get the crown, she promised herself she would still give back to her community. One of the best parts of the program is being able to give back to others in a specialized way, Toenjes said.
“Crown or no crown, you want to give back,” Toenjes said.
While the girls may have crowns now, the weight of the crown is still sinking in.
“We’re royalty now,” Johnson said. “We’ve been candidates for the past so many months and to think that we are royalty now is so surreal.”
Enjoying Watercade as a candidate gave the girls a new perspective to their new roles. Jones said going through Watercade as a candidate puts her into the position of the past Miss Litchfields she saw throughout her childhood.
“It was an awesome opportunity to get to go through the candidacy will all six of the candidates,” Jones said.
While only three could be crowned, the new royalty said they have received so much support from the other candidates and from neighboring royalty through the new connections they have made. Johnson said there were so many good candidates this year and she saw something in each one.
“I was asking myself, ‘How was I chosen,’ out of all the candidates, but I’m so grateful,” Johnson said.
To Toenjes, the candidacy process has brought so much appreciation and realization to how much support there is for the Miss Litchfield program.
“The amount of text messages of support I got (Sunday), my phone was blowing up,” she said. “It’s crazy seeing support not even from just people in your community but friends you’ve met as a child and all these different messages from people. It’s just crazy the amount of support. I can’t stress that enough.”
Toenjes said experience is different from anything she’s ever done.
“Speaking at school presentations or speech, you’re surrounded by a couple of people that you know and you’re always talking with those people and you know they won’t judge you,” Toenjes said. “But for this, you’re putting yourself completely out there and you’re being judged ,so it’s completely different.”
As far as the year ahead, the girls are excited to make the year their own. Jones said whatever you envision, you get to shape it into what you want to do that year.
“I’m looking forward to all of the little things that people don’t think about like creating the playlist for the float and kissing babies,” Jones said.
Toenjes said the number one advice they received was to be themselves and have fun.
“We are going to make this year the best, and all of us are so committed,” Toenjes said. “We are going to try to make every event that we can go to because we want to spend as much time getting out there and volunteering.”