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April 20, 2021
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Miss Sonoma County retains title

  • Miss Sonoma County Outstanding Teen for 2020 and 2021 Kyra Shi. Photo by Robert Grant

  • Miss Sonoma County for 2020 and 2021 Sunny Muscatell. Photo by Robert Grant

By: Irene Hilsendager
March 19, 2021

On March 4 the Spreckels Theatre should have been standing room only but alas it was totally vacant. Miss Sonoma County and Miss Sonoma Teen should have been standing on the stage waiting for the crowning, but the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head to put a halt to all activities.

Sunny Muscatell, 18, was crowned Miss Sonoma County 2020 at the 74th annual Miss Sonoma County Scholarship Competition at Spreckels Performing Art Center in March 2020. 

This year would be the 75th year of the Miss Sonoma County competition. Sonoma County has led the longest continuously running program of the Miss America organization in the state of California and in the year of 2020 six young women competing were from Rohnert Park.

Because of the pandemic many things had to be changed but in prior years the contestants received eight weeks of training in everything from interview skills to stage presence, the history of Sonoma County, current events among others. 

The competition encompasses both the Miss Sonoma County program, which is for young women from 18 to 25 years old that live, work or go to school in Sonoma County as well as the Miss Sonoma County. Outstanding Teen competition which is for girls ages 13 through 17 who live and go to school in Sonoma County.

Originally, when the competition first started in the county in 1947, it was run by the 20/30 Club of Santa Rosa. The club ran the program until 1969 and held the competitions at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial building. Later a pageant organization and association formed and in the mid-1980s the competitions moved to the Luther Burbank Center. Since the mid-1990s they have been held at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. This year 2021 the competition was put on hold.

Many changed have been made in the 74 years of Miss Sonoma County competitions. There are no longer any swimsuit competitions. In lieu of those, candidates have a. “social impact initiative” in which they speak about a cause they are passionate about and want to involve themselves. Some past issues have included suicide prevention, cancer awareness, homelessness and body image. The way candidates are accepted has also changed some years ago.

There are no auditions and everyone who qualifies in terms of their age and where the live, work or go to school can compete.

Last year Cathy Slack coordinated the “Miss Sonoma County princess program,” a non-competitive mentoring program for girls ages five through twelve that offers a variety of fun activities through the month of February.

“The girls are mentored by the older candidates, participate in a ‘princess boot camp’ and go to the rehearsals with the older girls. The younger girls are taught how to be a good community and family member an also walk the candidates on stage during the competition.”

The princess program also acts as a fundraiser for the Miss Sonoma County program as a fee is paid to participate. All money raised by this all-volunteer organization goes to awarding scholarship money to the contestants. Every contestant receives at least $150, however due to COVID-19 there is no amount finalized yet.

Winners of both the Miss Sonoma County and Miss Teen competitions will go on to compete in the Miss California competition held in Fresno in June if allowed. The young women make over 100 appearances over the course of the year attending city council and county board supervisor meetings, participate in parades and fundraisers, be present at ribbon cuttings and other county events. As a nonprofit organization, Miss Sonoma County relies on community sponsorship and donations.

Many may remember Reba Robert, who passed away in July, 2011 and was a Rohnert Park resident, was very involved with the Miss Sonoma County competitions. She taught interview skills to both Junior Miss and Miss Sonoma County contestants, also co-produced the Miss Sonoma County program for twenty years.

Everyone is proud of the fact that the Miss Sonoma County competition has been held at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center since 1989. 

Some previous title holders were Jone Pederson in 1949, Gloria Brodie in 1953 and Karen Valentine from Sebastopol in 1965 and became the famous Miss Valentine who appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.

Terrie Brown, the first African-American Miss Sonoma County in 1975. Marie Hindringer in 1960, Pamela Crew, 1962, Laurie Ehlers in 1969. Sara Choi in 2008 and Kim Stout, 2009, recently highlighted as a waitress voicing concerns over being unable to wear a Black Lives Matter logo face mask while working in a restaurant in Sonoma, Amiee Conn, actress appearing in the movie La La Land, Jacqueline Fitch in 2003, Skylaer Palacios, a current Healdsburg City Council member. Rhiannon Jones was the first openly gay Miss Sonoma County in 2019.

When Sunny Muscatell was awarded the title of the 74th Miss Sonoma County, Kyra Shi, 14, of Petaluma took home the title of Miss Sonoma County’s Outstanding Teen. The competition was the last public event gathered in Sonoma County. With numerous upcoming appearances already scheduled for both Sunny and Kyra within 48 hours after being awarded their titles, the scheduled appearances started disappearing due to the shutdown for the pandemic. It was not known at the time that both ladies would have achieved a first within the organization, but due to the coronavirus pandemic each young lady is retaining their title for an unprecedented two years.

In 2020 there was no Miss California nor a Miss America Competition due to the pandemic, nor was there a local competition held but both Sunny and Kyra will be competing for state titles in June in Fresno. 

Thank you Tony Geraldi and Cathy Slack for pertinent information.