Note to readers: Natalie Ostgaard, who passed away earlier this year, was a staff writer and photographer at the Crookston Daily Times for many years. She was also a big proponent of the Miss Crookston Scholarship Pageant, with all three of her daughters, Aryanna, Cyrina and, this year, Gabriela, competing in the pageant.

    Note to readers: Natalie Ostgaard, who passed away earlier this year, was a staff writer and photographer at the Crookston Daily Times for many years. She was also a big proponent of the Miss Crookston Scholarship Pageant, with all three of her daughters, Aryanna, Cyrina and, this year, Gabriela, competing in the pageant.   

    Natalie wrote the following column in 2008, and Ann Graham, on behalf of the Miss Crookston Committee, asked that it be published again today, with the following introduction:   

    "The Miss Crookston committee would like to express our gratitude to Natalie, who as a Times reporter and as a friend, promoted and supported our local pageant.  We are grateful for the opportunity to share her thoughts with you again.   

    “We have had the pleasure to have her three lovely daughters as contestants in our pageant.    

    “We are happy that Natalie also knew that it is a fun, wonderful learning experience.   

    “Please take a few moments to enjoy Natalie's perspective of the pageant.     

    “With love and fond memories...The Miss Crookston Committee.”   

    Another Miss Crookston Pageant has come and gone, the 32nd in 72 years. There have been gaps in production years, the longest being from 1969-1983, but it's been going strong for the last 18 years. Given the success it's enjoyed and the dedicated network of volunteers who work hard to put it on, it appears the pageant is here to stay.    

    Even cynics such as me who aren't big fans of “beauty” pageants have to admit this one is fun to watch and reflects positively on the pageant circuit. But, of course, Miss Crookston, with the swimsuit competition noticeably absent, is not like a lot of other pageants.    

    While there's probably never been an "ugly" girl crowned Miss Crookston (or Miss Minnesota, Miss USA, Miss Universe, etc), those associated with Miss Crookston - and most other pageants - would take offense at calling it a "beauty" pageant. Beauty has little to do with it, they maintain, as the contestants are judged by other criteria such as talent, poise, public speaking ability and personal interview, among other things.    

    This appears to be true when taking into account the seven Miss Crookston Pageants I've covered. While all the contestants impressed me, I generally agreed with the judges' choices for evening gown, onstage presence and talent competition winners. For some reason, these girls usually stood out in their winning area. As far as the personal interview portion goes, the audience can't really tell who's best at that because the judges interview each contest separately before the pageant. But we trust their picks because, well, they are experts in the area of pageants, mostly by experience.    

    I personally hesitate to use the word "ugly" when describing human beings, although I have occasionally used not-quite-as-harsh synonyms of it. So don't take offense when I say there's never been an "ugly" girl crowned a pageant queen. In my book, there's never been an "ugly" contestant. In fact, I think they've all been quite attractive.   

    And how could they not be? A tomboy with two left feet who decides to enter the pageant would, by the night of the show, be so transformed that her friends and family would barely recognize her. I've seen girls who have rarely (if ever) worn makeup, a dress or curled their hair sashay onto stage looking positively glamorous in a flowing gown with an updo and wearing just enough makeup to leave them radiant but not overdone. It's kind of like the Style Network's "How Do I Look?"   

    This is where the beauty aspect comes in. Although contestants are not technically judged on it, they feel and look pretty inside and out. Oozing all that charm and elegance can't help but move their confidence up to the highest level and score points with the judges.    

    That brings me to Reason Number 1 to enter Miss Crookston. For at least one whirlwind week out of your life, you'll feel like model, a princess, like you belong on the pages of a fashion magazine or at the very least, extra special. You're showered with gifts, flowers and lots of attention.    

    It's not the same as prom, where you're one half of more than a hundred glammed-up couples. Instead, you're one of a dozen or so girls who get to shine locally not merely for a few hours but for several days and, if you're really lucky, for an entire year.    

    The week or two before the pageant, when contestants are busy visiting residents at nursing homes, partaking in photo shoots, intensely practicing for the show, being interviewed by the media, attending recipients in their honor and doing all sorts of pageant-related things is Reason Number 2. No matter how many or what kinds of school- or non-school-related activities you're in, they'll never equal the experience of being in the Miss Crookston Pageant. Most all of the contestants through the years, when asked why they entered, have said it was because of the whole experience. They'd heard from previous contestants that it was a great experience.    

    The girls participating in each year's pageant develop a different sort of bond, a sisterhood, even if they don't hang out in the same circles. Any one of these girls will tell you that intense rivalry between contestants that you see in the movies is purely drama.    

    Then there's the scholarship aspect, Reason Number 3. The official name is Miss Crookston Scholarship Pageant for a reason. Thousands of dollars worth of scholarships are awarded to contestants each year. It's a competitive process, as well it should be, and winners work hard to earn them. This gives the contestants a taste of how vying for scholarships works, as they'll probably be going for many more in the coming year.     

    When I was around that age, there was no opportunity to vie for the title of Miss Crookston, not that I would have even entered. Being a mouse in the corner was much more my style. But it's a great thing for those who want that opportunity. I encourage any girl of eligible age who's looking for a chance to boost her confidence and communication skills, get to know her some of her peers better and get glammed up for an evening, who isn't deathly afraid of people, performing onstage or speaking her mind (to a point) to enter next summer.    

    I have yet to hear one regret from a former Miss Crookston contestant, and I know a lot of them.