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Memorial Day

Early 2003. I was a student at UNL, and planned to meet my good friend Adrian for lunch. Many of you know him as KETV’s award winning anchor & reporter Adrian Whitsett; I’ve called him ‘friend’ since our high school days at Papillion-La Vista.

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Then, Adrian was enlisted in the Marines and had spent time across the US and in Japan. I don’t remember where we were or what we were doing that day back in Papillion, but I remember at one point, him telling me that he would probably be leaving soon. He couldn’t tell me where he was going or when, but just wanted to let me know.

March 20, I was lying on the couch in my parents basement swollen like a chipmunk after having my wisdom teeth removed, when network news broke in; the United States was invading Iraq. I pointed to the TV and said ‘hey!!’ and realized that was what Adrian was talking about.. he was there.

While I attended candlelight vigils for our troops and wrote Adrian letters from the comfort of my Omaha apartment, my friend was on the front lines of a war-torn, unstable country thousands of miles away. He eventually lost hearing in one of his ears from firing high-power weapons; he cleaned himself in the 120-degree+ Iraqi heat with Wet Wipes; he saw and experienced terrible things most of us will never even think of. Adrian came home that August. Thousands of brave Americans did not.

Army Pvt. Kenny Nalley of Hamburg, Iowa. He was 19 and wanted to be police officer.

Marine Lance Cpl Shane E. Kielion of Omaha. He died the same day his son, Shane Jr., was born.

Army National Guardsman Spc. Joshua Ford of Pender, just 20. The same explosion that killed him claimed the leg of one of his fellow soldiers, a man who bravely stood to salute his fallen brother at their return ceremony.

A Nebraska woman has spent countless hours volunteering and uniting people across the state, ensuring we remember these brave men and women on Memorial Day and ever other day.

Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen

“My grandfather was a Marine during the Korean War, and was very proud of the years he served his country,” Allison told me recently. “When he passed away, I knew I wanted to do something to honor him and everything he stood for. That is when I first got involved with the Nebraska Honor Flights.”

Vietnam Honor Flight (2016)

The Honor Flights are massive cooperative efforts to fly veterans to Washington DC, at no charge to them, to see the monuments and tributes built for them and the friends they have lost in war or since conflict. They are organized by Patriotic Productions; founders Bill and Evonne Williams are literally angels on earth, devoting their lives to this cause and to their traveling Remembering Our Fallen exhibit, a tribute to every single man and woman who has died serving our country since 9/11.

In 2014, Allison spearheaded efforts in her tiny hometown of Chester, Nebraska to raise $500, the cost to send one Korean veteran to DC on an Honor Flight. They raised $4,000.. and Patriotic Productions asked Allison to join them as a guardian, a trip she also talked about when I interviewed her in 2015.

Korean Honor Flight (2014)

“It was an amazing and humbling experience that truly set me on a lifelong path to honor and respect these men and women,” said Allison. “Since this first Honor Flight, I [have helped] with the Gold Star Kids Honor Flight. This was a weekend dedicated to families who have lost a loved one in combat. To hear these little kids talk about their heroes with such optimism, hope and love was something very special.”

This mission, which she dubs ‘United We Stand: Honoring Our Military’, was Allison’s personal platform of service when she held two local Miss Nebraska titles in 2014 and 2015. She didn’t compete in 2016, but never stopped focusing on this important cause.

“The year I took off I was able to raise over $14,000 for the Vietnam Honor Flight and serve as a guardian for the second time,” said Allison. “I made over 300 ‘Bracelets for the Brave’, used as a fundraiser for a Kindergarten class to raise money for our veterans.”

So why compete again for Miss Nebraska, when she was accomplishing so very much as Miss Allison Tietjen?

Miss Heartland

“This fall, I was looking through Facebook and noticed a message that was never opened,” said Allison. “It was sent May 2015. The message was from a mother who just sent her son off to the Marines. She had received one of my ‘Bracelets for the Brave’ and told me how much that meant to her. She thanked me for thinking of her and wished me well as I competed for Miss Nebraska. At that moment I realized that all of this isn’t about me. It is about those mothers who know that Miss Heartland cares about them and their sons/daughters who are going off to serve our country. It is about the veterans who smile when Miss Heartland shakes their hand and tells them they are appreciated by myself and students across Nebraska. What clicked for me is I finally understood what the ‘power of the crown’ really means, and it’s why I competed for Miss Heartland and I’m working towards Miss Nebraska.”

Allison, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, has reached out to schools across the state to spread her message of patriotism and appreciation.

“I have students write Thank You notes to our active military and veterans,” said Allison. “I sent them to a non-profit called A Million Thanks that will send them to US service members all over the world. I have collected 300 so far and my goal is 700 by June, and 20,000 as Miss Nebraska.”

Remember that last goal Allison set and crushed? She is on pace to raise 60-times that initial $500 she had hoped for.

“I sent an email out to as many elementary, middle and high school principals as I could, detailing what an Honor Flight is and how they can get involved,” said Allison. “I described what my school and community did, and with just emailing, I was able to help start eight school fundraisers that raised a total of over $14,000. This year, I sent out another mass email and have around six schools that I know of raising money. In total, schools across Nebraska have raised $30,000 for Honor Flights in the last two years!”

Allison credits the Miss Nebraska Organization for showing her another way to serve her country, as well as helping her find a purpose and passion. She also volunteers through her sorority, Alpha Phi, Girl Scouts, and her church, University Lutheran Chapel, where she plays piano.

Ihop

“I always tell students I’m speaking to, ‘find what you love, discover your talents and strengths, and ind how you can use those strengths and passions to serve others.’ Being Miss Nebraska is not alway a glamorous job. I want people to know that behind the makeup and beautiful gowns are just a bunch of strong-willed, determined women who are working to make this world a better place.”

Africa

For this woman, that won’t stop if she doesn’t win the Miss Nebraska crown. She’s proven that twice now. When the lights turned off and the crowds went home, Allison proved her power. She studied abroad in Africa. She went skydiving. She took care of her body and mind (“piano is my therapy”). She was motivated to make every day better than the last for herself and everyone around her.

Every time a man or woman signs that paper, puts on that uniform, and leaves all of our comforts to PROTECT everything we know, they are ensuring we have another beautiful day. Another opportunity to wake up in America and do anything we set our mind to.

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Adrian, an American hero, was home to sing at my wedding eight years ago. I cannot wait to watch him marry his best friend and love, Emily, this October.

We take so much for granted. We take every day for granted, we take our freedom for granted. We never say thank you enough to the men and women, and their families, who sacrifice so much to make that possible.. so we can say what we please, do as we please, and work to become whatever we want to be..

..even Miss Nebraska. And if she wins, Allison hopes to say thank you to as many service members and their families as she can.

“I am the small town farmer’s daughter, but I am able to walk into a room full of strangers, clearly speak, share my story and take control of the room,” said Allison. “I understand what it means to give back and serve others without hesitation. I know how to put your heart and soul into something and be a part of something so much bigger than yourself. I truly believe that we live in one of the greatest countries on earth and that is because of the men and women who have served for us.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about Patriotic Productions, the Remembering Our Fallen exhibit and the Nebraska Honor Flights.

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Click here to follow Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen on Facebook!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALLISON?

CLICK HERE * 2015 * All-American Girl

CLICK HERE * 2014* Where The Heart Is

For more information about the Miss Nebraska State Fair/Miss Heartland Pageant or to become a contestant, email Directors Chelsey Jungck at cjungck@statefair.org or Shelley Penner at sa_penner@hotmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2017 Nikki-Catrina Anderson

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Fighting For Hope

Once in awhile here at KETV, we share a story that really strikes a chord with our viewers.. and with us.  Earlier this month, Julie Cornell spoke with Ralston Superintendent Dr. Mark Adler about the death of his son, Reid.  The 15-year old was described as positive, friendly, a joy to be around both for his friends and his parents and sisters.

 January 7th, Reid took his own life. His parents learned later Reid had been bullied and threatened for months.

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This story rattled me.  I’m a mother; I cannot even bear the thought of anything happening to my children.  Dr. Adler told Julie he and his wife had an indication Reid was unhappy and immediately got him help.. he is the superintendent of a major school district, sees students and knows what to watch for.. and there was no way to see this coming.  I strongly encourage ALL parents, or anyone who works with children, to click here and watch Julie’s story on KETV.

I simply cannot imagine what the Adlers are going through, and yet they have found strength to share what happened to their son to try and help other students.  They’re fighting for Reid to prevent other kids from bullying and BEING bullied.

So is Miss Omaha 2016 Aleah Peters.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Aleah grew up in Millard just a few miles away from the Adlers.  Just like in Reid’s pictures, her photos show constant smiles while surrounded by friends.  Happiness.

Aleah told me a few years ago how much that smile hid when she was a teenager.

“When I was in high school I was bullied by a group of girls,” Aleah told me in 2014. “I feared going to school, attending sporting events or even answering my phone.” (Click here to read my entire interview with Aleah.)

Now, Aleah has made it a personal mission to prevent bullying, specifically cyberbullying.  She calls her platform ‘Cyberbullying Prevention: Make Kindness Viral.’

CAMPAIGN

“I have had the opportunity to work with multiple schools in the Omaha metro area and even conduct a critical analysis on the evolution of cyberbullying,” Aleah told me recently.  “I understand how it feels to be alone.  I can relate to people who have experienced or are experiencing this pain.  Victims of cyberbullying usually have some type of psychological vulnerability making it difficult to defend themselves.  I want to stand for the silent and change the culture of schools.”

While Aleah knows how harmful words and actions can be, she also knows what a positive impact kindness and leadership can have.  Growing up, her role models were her baton teachers and coaches at the world-renowned Stepperette’s Baton and Dance, young women who were also titleholders in the Miss Nebraska Organization.

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“I remember looking up to them and admiring them,” said Aleah.  “When I was a junior in high school I competed in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program and ever since then I have been hooked.  I’ve realized the opportunities that have been available through the Miss America Organization and that competing for Miss Nebraska is really my opportunity to have a voice about issues I am passionate about and serve my community.”

It’s also another venue for Aleah to share her talent with a crowd, although performing for big groups is nothing new for this 3-time world champion baton twirler and the former featured twirler for the University of Nebraska.

TWIRL

“I love twirling baton and getting the crowd excited,” Aleah told me.  “Almost everyone asks if I will light them on fire in reference to the movie ‘Miss Congeniality’, then follow with a sigh of disappointment when I tell them that unfortunately, it’s a fire hazard, but if I had the option to I would love to!”

Aleah is completing her senior year at UNL, majoring in Communication Studies with minors in Psychology and Leadership Communication.  She’s a member of Mortar Board (a national senior honors society), Sigma Alpha Lambda Honors fraternity, and Alpha Phi, most recently serving as President.  She has represented the Huskers on several fronts, including as family representative for Dance Marathon, as a Greek Ambassador for the University and now as an employee at the Office of Admissions.

If she becomes Miss Nebraska 2016, Aleah wants to represent the Miss America Organization, fighting the stereotypes many have about it.

“Not only have I had the opportunity to push myself to achieve my full potential in every phase of competition but I have also had the chance to serve my community, and grow as an individual,” Aleah said.  “I would explain that the women in the Miss America Organization are women that care enough to make a difference.  These women believe in something and are the ones willing to work hard enough to create change.  I explain why I compete and the opportunities that I have had because of the crown on my head.  Most importantly, when I interact with people I am REAL.  I want people to get to know me and relate to me.”

And who is Aleah Peters? She is a young woman who wants to share not just her accomplishments, but the challenges and trying times she encountered along the way.  She’s competing for Miss Nebraska for the family and friends who she describes as the most important part of her life.

She’s competing for herself, to show those ‘mean girls’ they FAILED to dampen her spirit.

GIRL

“Beauty is the opposite of perfection. It’s about confidence, charisma, and character.”

And Aleah Peters is competing for kids like Reid Adler.  She wants to show anyone who is bullied, kids who are sad, people who feel alone, that they are NOT.  That there is MORE.  That people CARE.  And that whatever they want to do, whether it’s to become Miss Nebraska or just to be HAPPY, there is HOPE.

“I am confident that I can change the culture of schools and relate to the people I am working with,” said Aleah.  “I want to meet people and change their idea of what a ‘pageant girl’ is.  I know I would be a positive representative for the state of Nebraska.  I am passionate about this organization, the Children’s Miracle Network (Miss America’s national platform), and Cyberbullying Prevention.  I am determined to make a change.”

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 Photo courtesy Marla Austin Photography

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CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Omaha 2016 Aleah Peters

on FACEBOOK, on TWITTER, on INSTAGRAM

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALEAH?

CLICK HERE * 2014 * How Do You Like Me Now?

For more information about the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County Pageant, visit THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Executive Director Marianne Grubaugh at ggrubaugh@cox.net or by phone at 402-330-8033.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. A Moment Like This (Introduction to 2016 series)

NEXT.. Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen 2016 Ashly Helfrich!

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!

All-American Girl

If you’ve been reading about each of this year’s Miss Nebraska and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants, THANK YOU!! And perhaps you’ve noticed, even questioned why, many of these local titleholders do not live in or have ties to the areas they are representing.  How does that work??

Today’s featured titleholder is a PERFECT example.  Her hometown of Chester, Nebraska, sitting right on the Nebraska/Kansas border, had an estimated 232 people at the time of the 2010 census.  2.1% of those were between the ages of 18-24.  Half of those, young ladies.  That’s two and a half women eligible to compete for Miss America.  Kinda hard to have a local pageant with 2.5 contestants.. leaving talented, driven young women with dreams of Miss America looking outside of town.

This young lady looked north.

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MISS KEARNEY CRANE FESTIVAL 2015 ALLISON TIETJEN

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I joke that since there is no Miss Chester, Miss Kearney is for sure the next best thing,” Allison told me recently.  “I have tried to make the trip to Kearney for appearances as often as I can.”

Veterans Day

And Allison has traveled much farther than that now very familiar 2-hour road trip.  Click here: last year as Miss Heartland 2014, Allison told me about her trip to Washington DC with a plane of Vietnam War veterans as part of a Nebraska honor flight.  Supporting and spreading awareness of American veterans is important to Allison, the focus of her personal platform ‘United We Stand: Remembering Our Veteran Heroes’.

“It really is the reason why I am competing today, knowing that I can truly help students understand and appreciate the service and commitment of our US military,” said Allison.  “I want to help kids have an overall sense of gratitude towards our military.”

Flags  Mrs. Simpsons

Allison has visited a number of schools, each time ready with a ‘lesson plan’ to give kids a hands-on experience that will also benefit veterans.  Allison calls it the Miss Crane Festival Flag Challenge.

“First, I have an open discussion with students over the military branches,” said Allison.  “Then, while we are making flags, I ask them what they think the American flag represents and what our flag means to them.  On the back of their flag I ask all the students to write a thank you note to a veteran, and this is where I challenge them to give it to a veteran.  I always ask the students to share with me if they deliver a flag and I have been amazed by the responses I have received back.”

Daddy Daughter Date  Girl Scouts

Allison, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student active with Alpha Phi, also earned the Gold Award with Girl Scouts, the highest rank a female scout can achieve (comparable to the elite Eagle Scout ranking for male scouts.) She continues to volunteer with and advocate for the organization.

“Girl Scouts has been such a huge part of my life growing up that I want to encourage as many young girls I can to not only join, but to stay involved with it even when they get older,” said Allison.  “Girl Scouts and the Miss America Organization truly have the same goals in mind: creating great female leaders and community service.”

Pipe Cleaner Crowns  Dance Marathon CMD

Allison considers all of this community service a privilege, not a chore.  In her interview with me, she talked about raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network, and playing piano for the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home using phrases like ‘I get to.’  While you can see in these pictures and feel from Allison’s stories the impact she’s likely having, she describes her own growth as a person as immeasurable.

“Competing for Miss Nebraska has been one of the best decisions I have ever made,” said Allison.  “Miss Nebraska and the Miss America Organization are relevant because [they] truly change young women’s lives in a positive way.  Overall, our year of service and experiences outweigh any scholarship that we will receive, although those are really amazing as well!”

Hockey Game

Miss Kearney Crane Festival 2015 Allison Tietjen (R) with Miss Kearney Crane Festival’s Outstanding Teen Merrilee Prill

Allison’s advice to anyone following her journey is find what you love and put it to good use.  When her small town of 232 didn’t have a road to Miss America, she found one that did.  But make no mistake; Allison will always find her path back the ‘Village of Quilts’, the ‘Gateway to Nebraska’.  I think it’s a safe bet no matter what title is on her sash, Chester, Nebraska will always call Miss Kearney Crane Festival, Girl Scout, champion for veterans, Allison Tietjen, THEIR Miss America.

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(Photo courtesy Russtanna Photography)

Follow Miss Kearney Crane Festival 2015 Allison Tietjen

on Twitter, on Instagram, and on Facebook.

To contact Allison about appearances and events, and for more information on the Miss Kearney Crane Festival Pageant click here to visit the organization on Facebook.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Directors Megan Goeke and Jenna Lukasiewitz at 308-708-0678 or by email at megan@hellobeautifulbridal.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Omaha 2015 Megan Gould

NEXT.. Miss Sandhills 2015 Kate Lynne Duncan

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.