GERMANTOWN — Germantown High School graduate Kristin (Williams) Gramando was a 20-year-old, small-town girl from Colgate in 1967.
Her world changed when she was crowned Alice in Dairyland that same year. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Alice in Dairyland program and the 50th anniversary of her crowning.
The competition has certainly changed since its beginnings, but one thing remains, according to Gramando: For one year, Alice is the queen and the representative for all things Wisconsin agriculture, but year after year, the competition boils down to state pride.
“This program is important for the Wisconsin agriculture and dairy industries, and all the state industries, really; agriculture includes everything — your cranberry, corn, milk and mink production,” Gramando said. “Alice’s whole presence gets your attention because she’s armed with all kinds of information about Wisconsin. You meet so many people, and as a result of that job, my life was never the same; it took a totally different direction.”
The winner receives a full-time, salaried job for one year, and priceless opportunities, according to Gramando.
“I would definitely encourage young women to participate today,” Gramando said.
When Gramando was crowned Alice in 1967, her hometown threw her a celebration that she would never forget.
“It was a big deal in 1967 for someone from Colgate, of all places, to be crowned; it still would be a big deal,” Gramando said. “When I was Alice, Colgate was nothing; there was nothing there. It was a farming community and if you didn’t slow down for the railroad tracks, you would have missed it.”
The only business in town – a welding shop – put together a parade in Gramando’s honor.
“It was bigger than the Menomonee Falls centennial parade that year,” Gramando said. “It started out on the west side of town on Scenic Road and went all the way through Colgate and out to Colgate Road. Can you imagine closing off the road and putting a stage there? It was just amazing.”
In the early Alice in Dairyland days, there were regional competitions across the state before the candidates moved on to the finals; Gramando beat out a dozen contestants on live, local television when she was crowned.
During her time as Alice, she met the manager of the Wisconsin State Fair; he secured a job for her there after she completed the year as Alice and went back to finish college.
Gramando lives in Arizona with her husband, but made it a point to come back to the state where she was crowned to commemorate the anniversaries, and for another special reason: It’s been 40 years since the competition has been held in Brown County, where Gramanda was crowned 50 years ago.
“It was important for me to get back for all those reasons,” Gramando said. “When I read the bios of the candidates, it’s amazing what these women have done. They’re really strong in all their commitments. The candidates are so qualified for this job.”
When Gramando was crowned as Alice, people often told her she had big shoes to fill with the Alice who came before her. She received wisdom from her father in 1967 that she carried with her throughout her life.
“My father took me aside and he said, ‘You have no one’s shoes to fill except your own,’”Gramando said. “That really struck a chord with me, and I’ve passed along that same wisdom all this time to others.”
To find out more about Alice in Dairyland, visit http://www.aliceindairyland.com.