ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. – “The worst that you’re going to hear is it’s not you, but you’ve made it to this point,” were thoughts running through Kate Wenger’s mind moments before she was crowned Mrs. Missouri America last month.
Wenger competed against five other women in the pageant Sept. 11. The cameras captured her shocked emotions once she heard her name called.
Although she was shocked, Wenger said she also felt very excited.
“I still am a little bit in disbelief sometimes,” Wenger said. “I’m a mom, I drive a minivan, I don’t necessarily see myself as someone who can wear a crown and sash, but I need to put that aside because it’s helped me learn a lot about myself too.”
Her family, including her three boys, were “extremely excited” when she was crowned. They watched it from home cheering her on.
In November, Wenger will compete in the Mrs. America Pageant.
Having confidence in herself played a major role throughout the Mrs. Missouri America competition.
“I am my own worst critic sometimes and I had to sort of set that aside and really tell myself ‘If you’re going to do this, you have to be confident in your ability,’ ” Wenger said.
“To compete, I had to think about who I am as a person, be confident in myself and be confident in my abilities, and when prepping myself, what is it about me, what do I want to accomplish, and how do I convey that to the judges and to the public.”
Leading up to the pageant, Wenger worked on her platform initiative that she would implement in the St. Charles County area if crowned. Wenger is a reading specialist at Bryan Middle School in the Francis Howell School District with a focus on dyslexia, so she based her objectives on early childhood literacy.
Wenger’s continued involvement in her community helped shape her literacy platform as she made connections and networked with organizations.
“My husband and I are raising our boys to really give back as much as we can, and so we were already heavily involved in the community in some aspects, but then just really going out there and making more connections and networking more, and just being involved in the community more especially from a literacy and educational standpoint,” she said.
The competition also included questions from the judges. One of the questions was “If crowned, what do you hope to accomplish?”
Wenger said that question was a tough one to answer.
“What do I really want to accomplish and what do I feel like I can accomplish are two separate things and for my answers, I tried to meld the two. You know, really make a compromise in my mind of what I want to reach and I feel I can attain.”
In addition to a platform initiative and questions from the judges, the pageant also involved swimsuit and evening gown rounds.
She called on some friends who are more experienced in pageantry for advice.
“I luckily have some amazing friends who helped me out with those things as I felt very clueless,” Wenger said.
Her favorite part of the competition was the camaraderie with the contestants and hearing their stories.
“Everyone was intelligent and poised, and kind-hearted,” Wenger said. “It’s hard to keep in the back of your mind like we are in competition with one another when you just want to be friends.”
Spreading awareness of dyslexia is her platform and she has been working with organizations in the state to plan events.
Wenger noted that schools have awareness days, but she would like to see as many schools and organizations as possible to incorporate awareness activities as well.
“I think a goal that I would have is that everyone, or as many people in the state, or in the nation could participate in a dyslexia simulation,” she said.
Another goal Wenger has is to expand the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library throughout St. Charles County and possibly have it widely available to the public statewide.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is an international book-gifting program where children can receive a book once a month from birth through 5 years of age.
“The words and the vocabulary that children are exposed to in their first five years of life can have a huge impact on their background knowledge and their success in life as well,” she said.
Wenger mentioned that there are states and the District of Columbia that have the program already available.
“If we could get people in the state on board to have it go statewide, that would be absolutely amazing,” she said.
Mrs. Missouri Pageant was Wenger’s first big-league pageant.
In 2004, when she was 19 years old, she was second-runner up in the St. Charles County Fair Queen Pageant.
“We were just girls right out of high school just wanting to make a difference in our county,” Wenger said.
The following year in 2005, she was crowned first-runner up and Miss Congeniality. It was during that time she was first was introduced to the Mrs. America organization because the emcee that year was a Mrs. Missouri American winner who also was from St. Charles County.
Wenger said it is not widely known that there are pageants for married women.
“As I grew up and went on, I kind of kept that in the back of my mind that maybe that’s something I’d want to accomplish or be a part of,” she said.
Wenger announced on her personal social media about crowned achievement to her friends, family, and coworkers.
What she did not expect was her students to find out before she could tell them. When Wenger went to work, she was greeted with signs and support from students and teachers.
She brought her sash and crown to show to her students. The first question that she was asked by one of her students was “Is this like Toddlers & Tiaras?”
“I said ‘It’s a pageant, but it’s not like that, it’s a little bit different,’ ” Wenger said with a laugh.
“It was actually kind of a great learning experience for some of them so they could build that background knowledge about what pageants are, and so we were able to discuss similarities and differences.”
Some of her students who have reading difficulties thanked Wenger for having a literacy awareness platform.
“That really warmed my heart when they said that,” Wenger said.
Wenger has advice for those of any age wanting to achieve their dreams. This advice was given to her when she wanted to audition for the dance team St. Louis Ambush.
“I’m a working professional and I’m a mom and I’m a wife, and I thought, ‘how can I do this?’ And I was told ‘Don’t let anything hold you back,’ ” she said.
“It doesn’t matter what you have going on. If you can be your best self in the other aspects of your life, work towards your dream too. In general, for any age, if anybody would like to do a pageant, you’re worth it, do it.”
Mrs. America Pageant
Mrs. America Pageant will be Nov. 20 in Las Vegas at the Westgate Hotel. The contestants will be there throughout the week for rehearsals and preliminaries before the pageant.
In preparation for Mrs. America, Wenger is focusing on her community, thinking about how she will represent married women in Missouri, and being a voice for those who have reading difficulties and dyslexia.
“The main thing that I am focusing on is knowing who I am and how I can be the best representation because I really do want to be Mrs. America and how I can show everyone that I am the right person for the job,” she said.
Wenger added that she is looking forward to meeting the other contestants.
“At the heart of it, we all want to make a difference,” she said, which is “an extremely admirable thing about someone even if you’re technically in competition with them or not.”
“We’re all just wanting to leave a lasting impression and make the world a better place, so how can you not like somebody if that’s what they want to do?”