As journalists, we are part of a strange phenomenon. The nature of our job is to witness and report; we talk to people, we listen, we watch, we learn and we share everything we take in with our viewers and readers. We are storytellers.. but sometimes, the stories we feature, the people we share with the world, are souls we never got the chance to meet.
This photo will be part of my memory for the rest of my career. One moment, frozen in time, showing the touching relationship between a proud dad and his teenage daughter, his eldest child. Her name was Kylie Jo Remmereid.
Kylie died in a terrible car crash in November of 2011. Investigators believe the car was going too fast; it crashed and rolled. One of Kylie’s best friends was driving; she suffered a traumatic brain injury, and another friend in the car badly injured her arm. They were three beautiful girls, surrounded by love and the promise of an incredible future.. and everything changed in one moment.
I will never forget Kylie’s father’s sheer strength talking to us in the weeks that followed. If you have a moment, please CLICK HERE to watch our story with him from January of 2012. Despite their unimaginable grief, Todd Remmereid and his wife, Kimberly, worked to organize a fundraiser for their daughters’ two friends in that car.. including the girl who was driving that night. In a way, Cassi Collier’s family also lost their daughter.. she survived, but with massive brain damage. Cassi spent months at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, then moved to Omaha’s QLI to continue therapy. To ANYONE driving a car, and to all parents of teens getting behind the wheel, I can’t encourage you enough to CLICK HERE and listen to Cassi’s message in our story.
These families will NEVER stop sharing their girls’ story, hoping that everytime YOU get behind the wheel, you remember these three, smiling faces. Unfortunately, the dangers that accompany driving are more present than ever.. we rush and forget to put on seatbelts, we keep our eyes on the phone instead of on the road.. we take out our frustrations on the strangers going too slow or not driving how we think they should.
Claire Holsinger never met Kylie or Cassi. In fact, the Scottsbluff High School senior lives on the other side of the state. Still, she too has joined the fight for safer driving, hoping to make a difference and maybe, save a life.
“Over my four years in high school, there have been so many car related deaths in our small community. Many of those teenagers could have been survivors if they had worn their seatbelt,” Claire told me recently. “January 10, 2013, my next door neighbor, Alexis Wheeler passed away in a car crash. Alexis was only 19. When I heard the awful news of her death, it changed my life forever. I made it my goal to make every single one of my friends and family members to buckle up.”
Claire was only 14. When that tragedy hit so close to home, Claire had already seen that she could make a difference for any cause she believed in. Just a few years prior, she was selected to be a Little Sister for the Miss Scotts Bluff County Fair pageant. Claire watched all of the ‘big girls’ in her hometown volunteer, dazzle on stage, and go on to compete at Miss Nebraska.. including future Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan.
“It was always a dream of mine, to participate in a pageant. I grew up around pageants most of my life because my dad was the longtime photographer for our local pageant, Miss Scotts Bluff County Fair,” said Claire. “This summer, I decided just to go for it. I had developed a talent, I had participated in Speech and DECA, so I took a chance and competed. I wasn’t expecting any kind of title, I just wanted to see what would happen.”
Claire won the title of Miss Old West Balloon Fest.. and in THIS moment, secured an avenue to make her voice heard on an issue she cared so deeply about.
“My platform is ‘Seriously, Seatbelts’,” said Claire. “I knew something needed to change, and making this my platform was a step towards the right direction. I take seatbelt safety incredibly seriously, and I get very angry and upset when others don’t buckle up. Not doing so is so selfish, [because] by not buckling up, one is affecting their friends and family. It takes 3-5 seconds, buckle up. It could save your life.”
Claire now takes part in events across Western Nebraska to promote her platform, and to connect with children.
“I really want to be a first grade teacher, so I love kids,” said Claire. “I try my best to be very personable and relatable. I’ve also learned through pageants to be more sure and confident of my beliefs and thoughts, because they are mine and I need to own them.”
Claire is taking part in all this (and learning from it!) in addition to activities at Scottsbluff High including Drill Team, show choir, musical, varsity cross country, varsity soccer, National Honor Society and Tri-M (Music Honor Society).
Even with state champion trophies and fancy crowns, Miss Old West Balloon Fest stays grounded thanks to her family, especially her mom.
“My role model is my mother, Stephanie,” said Claire. “She tries so hard to help me succeed in everything I participate in. She is super funny, even though she thinks she’s even funnier. She always gives me cute, quirky gifts, like a coconut hair mask, because it made her think of me. She always puts the family’s needs before hers, but she is slowly learning how to make her things a priority, too.”
Funny how things come full circle. Here’s another photo capturing a beautiful relationship between a parent and child. I’m sure Stephanie Holsinger will be one of the proudest in the Miss Nebraska crowd in North Platte, watching her daughter compete for the coveted state title. Perhaps she’ll have a few tears in her eyes.. maybe she does now reading her daughter’s words (I would!) There is simply no limit to the depth of a parent’s love. Hundreds of miles east, the Remmereid family still shares photos of Kylie on Facebook. More than four years since her death, they are still proud of their beautiful girl. They’ll honor her yet again April 16th, bringing together hundreds of people to remember Kylie and to spread the word about safer driving.
Claire Holsinger wants to share that message as Miss Nebraska.. for her own family, for future drivers, and for the people she’ll only know about through their families’ stories.
In loving memory of Kylie Jo Remmereid, 1995-2011
To follow Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2016 Claire Holsinger, CLICK HERE to follow her on Facebook. You can also contact Claire about events and appearances at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Miss Old West Balloon Fest Pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page. You can also find more information via the Scotts Bluff County Fair Pageant HERE on Facebook, and HERE on their website. For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by phone at 308-783-2940 or at 308-635-8615.
To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!