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Dear Hoopeston,

Thank you for one of the best weeks of my life.  Every single person I met in Hoopeston is the nicest person I have ever met.  From the moment we arrived in Indianapolis, we were all greeted with such warmth and kindness by the chaperones, we all instantly felt like royalty.

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(If you’ve never been to the Sweetcorn Capital of the World, you have to go.  Hoopeston is a town of about 6,000 people, established in 1871. In honor of its agricultural roots, Hoopeston has been celebrating the end of harvest with a National Sweetcorn Festival since 1940.  The Hoopeston Jaycees organize an incredible festival every year, famous for it’s free hot buttered sweetcorn.  It is the BEST sweetcorn you will ever taste.)

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I loved my host family the Noslers. Dave and Debbie spoiled us rotten and even hosted a fun party after the preliminary competition.  My roommate, Elissa Taylor from Maryland, is one of the most talented women I have ever met.  Her vocal performance was amazing.  All of the host families open their homes and their hearts and made the experience so special.

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Thank you to my glamorous chaperones Christy and Heidi!  They picked us up each morning, kept us organized, and delivered us to exciting destinations all over Hoopeston.  The car rides were fun daily tours.  They also gave us valuable advice on which rides were the best on the midway and which ones might make you woozy.  (Life lesson for future Sweethearts:  definitely listen to the chaperones.  We jumped on the crazy awesome ride they warned us about, and of course they were absolutely right.  We wobbled off the ride super dizzy.)  Thank you to Head Chaperone Angie Totheroh too!  Happy harvest!

The Crabtree Family puts so much love into our week. They worked especially hard this year with their committee to continue a time-honored tradition.  Thank you Cliff, Michelle, and Katelin for everything you do to sustain this treasured program.  Thank you to Co-Director Dana Kuntz and Choreographer Pam Hibbert for an amazing show.  Thank you to Callie Lankford for your hard work as Chairman of the 73rd National Sweetcorn Festival!  And thank you to the Hoopeston Jaycees and Jaycee President Bradley Hardcastle.

One of my favorite mottos has always been, “The person having the most fun wins.”  I can promise you, all of us had the most fun. The people of Hoopeston rolled out the red carpet…every gathering and every meal was amazing (you’ve heard about the casseroles, but they are even better than you can imagine)!

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Photo credit:  Alabama Sweetheart Elisabeth Chramer (the next Miss Alabama USA!)

We met the sweetest people and I learned so much about the history of Hoopeston, the traditions of the festival, and life in a farming community.  Did you know you can hire a farm manager to help with planting and cultivating crops?  Do you want to know what makes sweetcorn taste so good?  The kernels have a high natural sugar content if harvested at exactly the right time (when the kernels are moist, soft, and sweet).  This is also called the milk stage, if you poke a sweetcorn kernel, the juice inside is milky.  Sweetcorn is rich with health-benefiting antioxidants, minerals, vitamins (high in fiber, niacin, folate, and vitamin A), which is good to know because I ate ALOT of delicious sweetcorn at the festival.

On Friday we met with the judges for Private Interview. It was a fast, high energy, challenging interview. The judges were fantastic. They had done their research and we talked about New Hampshire, politics, STEM education, technology, figure skating, the politics of figure skating, and so much more. The time flew by. I can honestly say it was one of my favorite interviews ever. I am so grateful to have had that wonderful experience with the National Sweetheart Judges:  Leanza Cornett, Dr. Glenn Harman, Carrie Lakey, John A. Morris, and Brenda Vaughn.  Thank you for donating your time, expertise, and passion for pageantry!  And thank you to the Judges Committee:  Denise Scharlach, Anita Reutter, and Tara Scharlach.  The judges selected an incredible National Sweetheart. Florida’s Victoria Humphrey is a total sweetheart, a beautiful dancer, and she has been accepted to FIVE medical schools. It was an honor to share the stage with Victoria and the twenty-seven state Sweethearts.

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After Interview we went to explore Downtown Hoopeston.  We visited some of the wonderful sponsors, did a little shopping, and saw the giant tractors.  We also had a fun photo shoot with Joe Whiteko.  Joe is a HUGE part of the Sweetheart experience. He’s been a member of the Sweetheart Family for many years and takes the most beautiful photos capturing all of the fun adventures.  Thank you Joe!  We are “friends forever!”

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Saturday was a gorgeous sunny day for a parade.  I was a mermaid to represent Hampton Beach State Park and my costume was covered in seashells, sea glass, pearls, stones, a seashell crown, and even a sparkling tail.  There were so many fun interactions and shout outs, “Hi Kat, I like your pretty tail.”  “Hey New Hampshire!” “Are you mermaid Elsa?”  “New Hampshire has an ocean?”  At the end of the parade route we jumped off of our Corvettes and gathered to watch all of the bands, troops, cheerleading squads, dance teams, animals, church groups, tractors, politicians, Miss Hoopeston 2016 Holly Morgeson, former Miss Hoopestons, and visiting royalty go by. It was a postcard perfect parade.

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Before long it was time for the competition.  We didn’t have our phones backstage, so I didn’t realize how many people were watching the webcast.  Thank you to everyone in Florida, Maine (thank you for the flowers Rob, Missy, Spencer, Max, and Joey!), Massachusetts (so happy you found the webcast Grandma & Grandpa), New Hampshire, and Ohio who sent love and support.  Thank you to Kimberley Haas at the Union Leader, Ron Cole at Foster’s Daily Democrat, and Aaron Lapierre & Karen Kiley at Townsquare Media for the social media support.  Happy Birthday Aaron…I loved your awesome blogs!  http://shark1053.com/dovers-kat-howland-goes-for-the-gold-this-weekend-at-national-pageant/

Thank you to everyone who encouraged me to participate.  It was everything you promised and so much more.  Chris, it meant the world to me to have you there in Hoopeston.  Mom, I’m so happy we could share the incredible Sweetheart experience.  Over the past year I’ve learned that life is a little like a roller coaster, you never know how the ride is going to turn out.  So hold on tight, enjoy each thrilling second, and remember that what’s really important is choosing the right people to share the ride with.

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I will always cherish the beautiful experience of meeting the wonderful people of Hoopeston and bonding with the incredible Sweetheart Class of 2016 while representing New Hampshire on a national stage.  Hoopeston, you are a community like no other.  I love you.

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With love and honor,

Kat Howland, New Hampshire Sweetheart 2016

P.S. Could someone please send me some Scotcheroos?  Or the secret recipe?  They were delicious!

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