Crowns of Service: Area royalty bring holiday cheer

(L-R) Autumn Schmitt, Anna Egan, Katrina Hageman, Holly Schmitt and Brynn Storhoff sing “The First Noel” while caroling Dec. 26 at a home on Decorah’s Main Street. (Driftless Multimedia photo by Zach Jensen)

By Roz Weis,

(L-R) Autumn Schmitt, Anna Egan, Katrina Hageman, Holly Schmitt and Brynn Storhoff sing “The First Noel” while caroling Dec. 26 at a home on Decorah’s Main Street. (Driftless Multimedia photo by Zach Jensen)

Winneshiek County Royalty put on their sashes and crowns over the holidays to spread some cheer this season.

The recent “Caroling With Crowns” event illustrated that the service projects sponsored by the local queens and princesses don’t come to a sudden halt after the county fair in the summer months. The members of the area royalty agree that representing the county as a queen or princess means much more than simply presiding over fair events and passing out ribbons in the show rings.

The 2023 Caroling with Crowns event was held Tuesday, Dec. 26, in the residential and business areas of Decorah.

Holly Schmitt of St. Lucas had the idea for the caroling project three years ago. She found that acts of service for the community continue to play an important role in the royalty program.

A 2022 graduate of South Winneshiek High School in Calmar, Holly served as the 2021 Winneshiek County Fair Queen. She is currently a sophomore at Iowa State University double majoring in agricultural education and event management.

“Having the name Holly has always made Christmas special for me,” she said, “especially with all the Christmas songs…Plus, I have always loved planning events that bring family and friends together, so Caroling with Crowns is a very exciting event for me.”

Her commitment to agriculture is a constant.

“In my future, I want to teach agriculture in a high school setting or plan agriculture-related conferences and meetings,” she said.

Program roots

After the Decorah Lights Parade in December 2021, Holly said she thought it would be fun to bring the holiday spirit to individual families and businesses in the community.

“I worked with 2021 Fair Princess Kalissa Schmelzer to plan the first Caroling with Crowns. We wanted past and current royalty from Winneshiek County and the surrounding area to gather with other communities to spread joy during the Christmas season,” Holly said. “In 2022, I checked with Fair Queen Katrina Hageman to see if she was interested in letting me plan the event again, and she said yes! We had a large number of queens join us again!”

Last year’s event saw many state and national members of royalty. She said she hopes to grow the event to include additional community members in the future.

“I am working with 2023 Winneshiek County Fair Queen Brynn Storhoff and 2023 Winneshiek County Fair Princess Autumn Schmitt to invite many queens and royalty from all over the state! I have made dozens of connections with other inspiring women because of my experiences in 4-H and FFA. This has helped me grow the event. Last year, we had the 2022 Iowa State Fair Queen Mary Ann Fox and the 2022 National Hostess Miss United States Agriculture Rebekah Craighton attend. Many other past and current queens from the surrounding counties came as well. Basically, if you have a crown or love to Christmas carol, this event is for you. Dairy, beef, fair, pageant, and any other members of royalty are welcome”.

Holly continued, “All past and current royalty and their families are welcome to attend. Community members and families are encouraged to wear holiday gear, while any past or current royalty should wear their crowns and sashes. One of the best parts of the evening is being reunited with old royalty friends from across the state and local area! Even my mom Sara, who was the Chickasaw County Fair Queen and Chickasaw County Dairy Princess in 1995, wears her crown and sash from back in the day!”

When asked how it feels to put on such a festive service project, Holly said, “Christmas caroling is something simple that leaves people feeling happy. I haven’t found a person yet who couldn’t use a little more happiness in their life. I was always told to use my passions to serve others, so I combined my love for events, Christmas, and music to make this event the last two years. Seeing children pulling their parents to the door to hear us sing a few songs makes your heart glow. It is something they will remember for years to come. In a world that can sometimes be gloomy, there is always room for something positive like Caroling with Crowns.”

Other service projects

The 2023 Winneshiek County Fair Royalty remain active in the community throughout the year. After the Winneshiek County Fair in July, parade season begins as local communities have their celebrations. Next up is the State Fair Queen Pageant at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. In the fall and winter, the royalty helps at the fairgrounds haunted drive-through nights, visit nursing homes and first grade classrooms, and attend fair board meetings to stay up to date. In the spring, they support the local Dairy Promoters, Pork Producers and Cattlemen at their banquets. The year ends with fair promotions and a few more parades in the area.

Caroling With Crowns continues to grow, and this year’s recent event was a perfect illustration.

“We truly want this to be an event where people of all ages feel welcome. If you have young kids who think seeing a bunch of princesses and queens would be awesome, bring them. If you have middle schoolers who need to get out of the house, bring them! If you are hanging out with your grandparents reminiscing on Christmas pasts, bring them caroling! If your family is visiting for the holidays, bring them to show them what northeast Iowa is all about! The more singers we have, the more Christmas joy we get to give back to our community.”

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