Like mother before her, Miss Minnesota shaped by faith

| Christina Capecchi | July 11, 2019 | 0 Comments
Kathryn Kueppers poses for a photo at her Mendota Heights home wearing her Miss Minnesota crown and sash, along with her mother, Vicki,

Kathryn Kueppers poses for a photo at her Mendota Heights home wearing her Miss Minnesota crown and sash, along with her mother, Vicki, who won the title in 1983. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Kathryn Kueppers was shaking in the final moments before the 2019 Miss Minnesota was named June 22.

“I was so nervous, but I had a vague sense of peace, thinking, ‘God, it’s your plan,’” said Kueppers, 21, a 2016 graduate of St. Agnes School in St. Paul and a member of St. Joseph in West St. Paul.

Prayer had been a vital part of the journey leading up to that moment, and it was soothing her nerves once again, when she needed it most.

At last the announcement was made. Her name was called, and the brunette beauty dropped to her knees, pointing to heaven.

As she was crowned, her eyes landed on another source of special support: her mom, who had served as the 1983 Miss Minnesota. The Kuepper women had just made history as the only mother-and-daughter titleholders in the Miss Minnesota competition, which dates to 1921. Their unique bond deepened.

Now the Mendota Heights duo are busier than ever, with Vicki serving as publicist to help her daughter manage an onslaught of messages, interviews and appearances.

Kathryn began competing in Miss America’s Outstanding Teen program at 13. She enjoyed the experience, welcoming the opportunity to refine her singing and public speaking while befriending her fellow contestants. Her faith framed each venture.

Kathryn Kueppers smiles moments after being named Miss Minnesota

Kathryn Kueppers smiles moments after being named Miss Minnesota June 22 at the Eden Prairie Performing Arts Center. COURTESY MISS MINNESOTA | PAULA PRESTON

“I cross myself or say a Hail Mary before going on stage, just to give it to God,” said Kathryn, sitting beside her mom in their living room. “This year I prayed a lot more.”

The morning of the Miss Minnesota pageant, she began her day with prayer: “God, I’m going to be smiling a lot on stage. Let it be your joy and light smiling through me. I’ll be singing tonight — hopefully, if I make it that far — let it be your voice in every note. And I’ll be speaking tonight, so please let it be your words coming through my mouth.

“So when the crown went on my head, it wasn’t me,” Kathryn said, tearing up and touching her hand to her heart. “I knew I wouldn’t be doing this without the Lord.”

She was interrupted in sharing her account of that day by the delivery of flowers.

“I saw you on the front page!” the delivery man said, referencing a recent issue of the Pioneer Press that included a photo of her and her mom.

“Yes, yes, you did,” Kathryn said, laughing.

Being recognized is a strange new reality, she said after he left.

“I brushed it off because I’m not used to it yet. I wanted to give (the credit) to my mom: ‘Yeah, we were both on the front page!’”

Being crowned a beauty queen at 21 brings pressure and praise. People keep telling her she is beautiful, she said. “I’ve gotten it more in the last five days since I’ve become Miss Minnesota than I’ve ever gotten it in my entire life.

I have a big crown and a shiny sash with rhinestones on it, and I’ve been insanely overdressed.”

While she appreciates the compliments of strangers, she’s more interested in connecting with them.

“It’s such a surface-level comment, so I usually say thank you and then try to draw the conversation back to them so they know I really care about them.”

Caring for others is at the heart of her career aspirations. Kathryn is studying family and consumer science education at Minnesota State University Mankato so she can teach.

When she isn’t away at college, Kathryn prepares and serves meals for the homeless at Catholic Charities’ Higher Ground complex in St. Paul and cantors with her mother at St. Joseph. She also designs beaded earrings and sells them at craft sales, raising money for Salt Lake City-based nonprofit Children’s Miracle Network, which supports children’s hospitals, medical research and community awareness.

Her mom was influential in her Miss Minnesota journey by exposing her to it early and introducing her to many former recipients of the crown.

“To this day, my love for the sisterhood within Miss America stemmed from her,” Kathryn said of her mom.

Kathryn’s mother also gave her a gold bracelet that says “joyfully grounded” to symbolize their ongoing conversation about being rooted in God and joyful in her identity — which does not come from a crown.

The men in her life also helped her arrive at that place: her older brothers, Andrew and Robert, and her dad, Joe, who serves as the chancellor for civil affairs for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Her father models a life of prayer and encourages her growth in faith, and her brothers were “my big-sibling influences,” she said. “They paved the way for my own spiritual growth by setting an example as only older siblings can set.”

Kathryn’s friends at St. Agnes played an important role too. “When you’re going through those awkward high school days and you want to get boys’ attention and be popular, I had friends that were very grounding. We had many conversations about that,” she said.

As she matured, Kathryn decided to ease up on the makeup. “I went through an eyebrow phase,” she said. “I have the tiniest little eyebrows, so I started drawing these blocks on my face. But after a few weeks, I looked in the mirror and said, ‘This is ridiculous.’

“Now I approach my face and hair and clothing in a way that represents who I am. I’m not hiding my features but enhancing them.”

That approach is evident in her penchant for demure Old Hollywood clothing such as the striking red gown she wore when she was crowned.

“I want to be classic and modest. The modern styles are progressively getting more uncovered.”

True beauty, Kathryn said, is embodied by her mom. “She’s one of the most humble people I know,” she said. “She’s never craved attention — and that’s really beautiful.”

Vicki, in turn, said Kathryn’s character makes her beautiful. “I am so proud that through this all, her faith has only strengthened. She could never have accomplished this without her deep faith and prayer life,” she said.

Being the mother of a Miss Minnesota is even more fun than being a Miss Minnesota, Vicki added.

Kathryn is eager to seize the year ahead by forging new partnerships and bringing awareness to the Miss America Organization, which she chose as her cause while she serves as Miss Minnesota. She wants young women to understand it is a scholarship program that no longer includes a swimsuit competition, changes that are part of its 2018 re-branding. The modest young Catholic just may be the perfect person to represent those changes.

In the process, she said, her crown might enable her to evangelize. “Hopefully people will see that my joy comes from my faith.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version had an incorrect date and location for the national Miss America competition. Those details have not been announced.

Miss Minnesota is available to make appearances (to emcee, speak, sing, etc.). To book her, email schedule@missminnesota.org.

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