'It's a family affair': Pequot Lakes couple earns ovation for life of pageant work
John and Caroljean Weise have been involved in the world of pageants for 36 years, spending 22 of those years as directors of the Miss Pequot Lakes Scholarship Pageant.
At this year's pageant at 7 p.m. Friday, April 12, they will be honored as the first inductees to the newly formed Miss Pequot Lakes Hall of Fame.
"They were the clear first choice," said Kimberly Ziesemer, pageant director. "They are so deserving to be the first recipient."
Caroljean said she never dreamt that Ziesemer would make a hall of fame.
"All of the things that we did, we enjoyed doing," she said. "And now to be recognized for it is quite a treat and an honor. We never expected anything like that. It's like a huge thank you that you don't expect."
John and Caroljean have helped with nearly every behind-the-scenes element of pageantry. Between the pair, they have judged more than 100 pageants, chaperoned contestants, ordered crowns, set up accommodations for judges, helped contestants find accessories, decorated and even led the volunteers to pull off a successful pageant.
"The audience does not realize all that goes on," said Caroljean.
John agreed. "I'm always looking behind the curtain," he said. "That's where the action is."
Caroljean said she often volunteered as a "gofer," someone who was around to run errands and take care of whatever little things would pop up.
"I always carried thread, a needle, safety pins, bobby pins," she said. "Basically everything except glue."
The Weises first entered the pageant scene decades ago when John volunteered to help with the Miss Brainerd Pageant sponsored by the Brainerd Jaycees, of which he was a member. As John got more involved, Caroljean joined in to lend a hand.
"What's been neat is that we can do it together, and that's been our hobby," said Caroljean. "We don't fish, we don't hunt, we don't go on vacations. This has been our baby, this pageant."
The Weises' two sons essentially grew up backstage at pageants over the years, helping their parents to put on the show.
"It's a family affair," said Caroljean.
When Ziesemer took over the Miss Pequot Lakes Scholarship Pageant, she went to the Weises to ask if they could mentor her on how to be a successful director.
"I was pageant illiterate," said Ziesemer. "They really got me going on it."
John and Caroljean may not be directors of the pageant anymore, but they still care just as much about what it can do for the community.
"The candidates are the most important thing," said John. "Every girl who is a candidate is different, and you have to adjust for each one. Many have never been on stage before."
He and Caroljean both said it was easy to see how participating in the pageant each year affects the candidates in a positive way.
"At the first practice, some are nervous, afraid, and 'why am I doing this?' But by the end of rehearsal the growth they see in poise and confidence is such a big difference," said Caroljean. "And that is something they can carry through life."
Caroljean remembers a mother of a previous contestant who found her a year later to give her a hug and tell her how much the skills her daughter learned in the pageant helped when she got her first job.
"When you hear results like that, you know it is going to help her future," said Caroljean.
Ziesemer said the Hall of Fame is created specifically for that reason, to recognize those volunteers who make a difference in the lives of the girls who participate in the pageant each year.
"It's a community pride kind of thing," she said. "That's the reward out of all of this."
John said the pageant has been fortunate to have lots of helping hands over the years.
John specifically mentioned his time working with Vonnie Tweed, a Pequot Lakes Woman's Club representative, and the late Ed Larsen, former principal of Pequot Lakes High School, as being instrumental in the success of the pageant over the years.
"The best part of the process is being around all the volunteers," said John. "All of those people deserve mention and praise."
Ziesemer said she has plans for other volunteers that she wants to honor through the Hall of Fame, but is still nailing down a timeline for how often inductions will happen.
The induction of John and Caroljean this year will involve participation from their granddaughter and former Miss Pequot Lakes Princess, Mariah Weise, Miss Pine River Scholarship Pageant chair Barb Klocke and former Miss Pequot Lakes Queen Bobbi Richards.
"It will be heartwarming, and probably a tear jerker," Ziesemer said with a smile.