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Willmar Fests gala is Saturday: Meet reigning royalty and 2011 candidates

International Princess Ashley Bach, from left, Queen of Festivals Megan Michaelis and Aqua Princess Shelby Morton were crowned Willmar Fests royalty during 2010 festivities. They will reign over this year's celebration in June.

WILLMAR -- Candidates for Queen of Festivals and their sponsors will be introduced during the Willmar Fests Queen's Banquet and Magical Ball beginning Saturday at the Willmar Conference Center.

Festivities begin with social hour at 6 p.m., followed by a dinner at 7 p.m. The gala, titled "This Magic Moment,'' is the kickoff event for Willmar Fests -- Willmar's annual summer celebration, which is slated June 22 through 26. The purpose of Willmar Fests is to encourage the imagination, talents, interests and creativity of the residents of the Willmar area.

Willmar Fests combines the festivals of International Fest, which honors Willmar's sister city of Frameries, Belgium; Aqua Fest, featuring water events; and Kaffe Fest, which honors the Scandinavian coffee heritage.

Janine Warner, banquet coordinator, said the gala is the time when the candidates meet their sponsors. She said 14 young women are candidates this year. The event gives the candidates a "test run'' on what to expect for the week of Willmar Fests.

The gala is also the time when the Willmar Fests Ambassadors announce the recipient of their TIARA project. The TIARA project -- Thanks In Action from your Royal Ambassadors -- was created in 2009 as a service project for the Willmar Fests Ambassadors.

The current reigning ambassadors: Megan Michaelis, Queen of Festivals; Ashley Bach, International Princess; and Shelby Morton, Aqua Princess, will announce this year's project recipient at the gala.

The project must benefit a local individual, group or cause. The project must be valuable and necessary for the community and its residents. The Willmar Fests Ambassadors are encouraged to choose a project that has personal meaning and significance to them.

"They get to speak about that and tell where the money will go this year,'' said Warner. "They also have the first dance at the ball with their fathers."

The current royalty will reign over this year's Willmar Fests and they will crown new ambassadors on June 25.

The 2011 Queen of Festivals candidates and their sponsors are: Sara Banks, Pro Color Graphics; Danielle Bredehoeft, Mills Auto; Carlie Freese, Blondie's Hair Harbor; Amber Gimse, Conway, Deuth and Schmiesing; Dominique Hudson, MinnWest Technology Campus; Julie Hulstrand, Affiliated Community Medical Center; Sarah Layman, Layman Construction; Alexandra Lippert, Weddings on First; Rachael Molenaar, Bremer Bank; Khia Raatz, Slumberland; Erin Sheehan, Heritage Bank; Tiffany Sieu, Dunn Brothers Coffee; Shelly Sommers, Cub Foods; and Alexandra Wodash, The Oaks at Eagle Creek.

Major sponsor of Willmar Fests is Jennie-O Turkey Store.

The event is open to the public. Tickets are $20 and are available at Bremer Bank and North American State Bank, both in Willmar.