Tag Archive | Shelley Penner

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.

1998

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.

JLLL8709

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!

Takin’ Care Of Business

To all of the readers who have followed my blog for awhile now, THANK YOU.  And perhaps you have noticed something different here at Anchor’s Away… sponsors!  I’m not in the blogging business to strike it rich, but now topping 328,000 views and counting (what?!?!), ad revenue is something I’ve aimed to explore for quite some time now.  This is a new venture for me… and I’ve learned a) it’s really hard to ask someone for money and b) it’s really easy to say NO.  I am so very grateful to my friends and Omaha area business owners supporting me through advertising on my blog, and I ask you to take a few moments to check out their amazing services and products on the righthand side of your screen!

This world is certainly an art to be mastered.  Fiscal support is often imperative to our goals and objectives in business, life… and even in the quest to become Miss Nebraska.  Every dollar invested in our program through scholarships, cash sponsorships and donations directly benefits the young women taking part across our state.  It’s a message a Papillion woman is delivering directly to as many people as she can.

Miss Nebraska State Fair 2017 Jenni Wahonick

“My goal as a titleholder in this organization is to meet as many people as I can and to help change the stigma that comes with ‘pageantry’,” Jenni told me recently.  “I strive to be kind, intelligent and passionate about serving.  I hope the people I meet are left feeling that the Miss America Organization is much more than just women in swimsuits.  It is also my goal to use the credibility of my crown to help in every way I am able – whether this is educating, giving my time, or just putting a smile on someone’s face.”

For this young woman, pageants are not just something that take place every few months to win a tiara for the trophy case.  This is Jenni’s second Miss Nebraska local title, meaning for 13 months and counting, she’s been on-the-go nonstop speaking, serving and advocating for the causes important to her.

She spent her Valentine’s Day delivering surprises to veterans.  She’s delivered food to those in need on the holidays.  She’s helped Shriners raise money.  When I interviewed Jenni last year (click here to read more!) she told me she’d volunteered for more than 40 organizations in about four years time.  Jenni did all of this while attending the University of Central Missouri with a 4.0 cumulative GPA.

“The Miss America Organization has been an excellent networking tool for me but I think the biggest thing I have gained is a sense of purpose,” said Jenni.  “I have a better understanding of how my words and actions influence others, which makes me more deliberate in what I say and do.  I have always participated in service work, and viewed myself as a leader in my community.  However, being a titleholder gives me more credibility and I feel I am able to make more of an impact.”

From the beginning, Jenni has connected with and focused on two groups in particular.. children and people with special needs.

Jenni reading

Jenni reading at Autism Action Partnership’s night at the Omaha Children’s Museum.  Click here to learn more!

“My platform, ‘Celebrating Abilities in the Differently Abled’ is a product of my experiences working with the special needs community for the past 10 years,” said Jenni.  “I began helping the special education classroom in 8th grade as a way of getting out of PE.  That class ended up being my favorite part of the day.  I loved how I could escape my own worries and focus all my attention and love on someone else.  Whether I’ve been a teacher, a camp counselor or working at a group home, I’ve noticed there is an emphasis on what a person with a disability can’t do.  Instead, I’ve found it to be more productive to focus on their strengths.  Everyone has abilities and everyone has disabilities.  It makes more sense to simply appreciate a person for who they are.”

Jenni The Word day

And when it comes to kids, Jenni adores every little nugget she comes in contact with, often as her alter ego, Cinderella.

Jenni princess

“I feel that I have a unique outlook on what it really means to wear a crown because of my experience as a princess character at the Omaha Children’s Museum,” said Jenni.  “When I am in a ball gown and tiara, children hang on to every word I say.  One day, a mother of one of my regular visitors at the museum pulled me aside to thank me for complimenting her child’s glasses.  She said at first her daughter hated the glasses, but after hearing me compliment them a few times, she thought they were great.  That is when I realized how much power I had to influence a child’s life.  An opportunity like this should never be wasted.  I she a responsibility to use this power to teach children and make them feel special.”

Jenni will combine those passions in her chosen career; she graduated top of her class in December with a degree in Special Education.  That field has also inspired her talent for the Miss Nebraska stage, a slam poetry performance summarizing her passion for teaching.

“I am a teacher because I made a choice to be and I have a high GPA because I’m passionate about that choice so I work hard,” said Jenni.  “When I present my talent, it never fails that someone comes up to me after to let me know hat my words resonated with them.  People will tell me that they are a teacher too, or that their mom was a teacher for 40 years and would have loved to hear it.  Performing a talent with meaning is empowering and I love how it feels to make a difference.”

It’s all about connection.. and that is where Miss Nebraska State Fair Jenni Wahonick truly shines.

Jenni Alpha Sigma Alpha

For every appearance she’s made, Jenni has taken the opportunity and extended that exposure tenfold through social media, spreading her messages about inclusion, education and the value of community service and encouraging others to do the same.

Jenni veterans

Those Valentines Jenni delivered to veterans?  They were supplied by a local business.. one of countless donations and sponsors Jenni has secured through marketing her title.  Asking for help is never easy, but this gal is a flesh and blood kickstarter campaign proving that when you support a Miss Nebraska contestant you’re not enabling a beauty queen, you’re investing in a young woman’s impact on the world.

“This organization makes me a better person.  Every aspect of competition makes me a more well-rounded, healthy individual,” said Jenni.  “I make healthier decisions and appreciate my body for what it can do.  I take time every day to educate myself about what is going on in the world around me.  I am more aware and confident of who I am, and I am better able to articulate that in a professional setting.  I am excited to wake up and make a difference every day.”

In 2016, Miss Nebraska contestants were awarded $39,700 in cash awards, more than $25,000 in college scholarships offered, and more than $25,000 in gifts and services.  That’s in addition to what is offered at the local level, and what Miss Nebraska is eligible for at Miss America.  All of that happens thanks to incredible businesses and donors across Nebraska, selfless volunteers who bring them into our world, and incredible women like Jenni Wahonick who give them something (and someone) to believe in.  She may not have an MBA (and darn proud of her Education major!) but this girl is taking care of business in her final push before taking the Miss Nebraska stage.

Jenni final

Photo courtesy Rachel Evans

“When asked which point of the Miss America Crown is my favorite, I have a really hard time deciding between service and scholarship,” Jenni wrote on Facebook last week.  “As a special education teacher, I have found the most value in my life helping others. I also think scholarship is so important though. Not just getting good grades, but loving the process of learning and growth. We are so blessed to live in a country where we are provided an education. We are able to explore ideas like philosophy, art and psychology. How incredible is that? I’m so grateful for my education and the opportunities I’ve had to help others.”

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To follow Miss Nebraska State Fair 2017 Jenni Wahonick on Facebook, CLICK HERE.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT JENNI?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * #MonarchsForLife

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 Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Alex Nervig

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Haylee Umble

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!