Miss Minnesota when Minnesota explodes

By June 2020, Miss Minnesota Kathryn Kueppers had gone through the Miss America competition and, exhilarated by the experience, was taking time off from her Minnesota State Mankato studies.

She was volunteering, making videos, giving speeches and performing as a jazz vocalist across the state—Ella Fitzgerald a favorite source of songs.

Kathryn Kueppers is studying Family Consumer Science at the University.

Then George Floyd died at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers. Twenty-four-hour newsfeeds of riots around the country and the world, the furor focused on one word: Minneapolis. The enflamed city was being pointed at by one side as mob rule and another as a community too long under siege and crying for help.

Kueppers came out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and justice for George Floyd. She did it by way of online posts, encouraging support after talks on racism with several fellow Miss America participants.

“I honestly saw it as a humanitarian situation, not a political side to take,” she said. “It’s an important difference because as Miss Minnesota I don’t take political sides publicly…I personally like to be a voice for unity, positivity and just general kindness and being a good citizen over ‘are you red or are you blue?’

“We’ve been thrown into a lot of things we never thought we’d  see,” Kueppers added.

“Trying to figure out how to speak publicly and openly and honestly in a way that would inspire people to make changes or support systematic changes when you’re 21 is not something I ever thought I’d be doing. But at the same time, as Miss Minnesota, it’s something I’m expected to be able to do.”

Kueppers’ interest in the whole Miss America world began early. Her mother, Vicki Plaster Kueppers, was Miss Minnesota 1983. The two would go to Miss Minnesota competitions, where the younger Kueppers remembers being wowed by the dresses, the sparkles, the overall princess aspect of it.

“And then I got older and started to actually meet the women who were on stage, meet the women who were wearing the sparkling gowns and crowns. And I realized I wanted to be like them. I didn’t want to just dress up like them. I wanted to be how they were. They all wanted to change the world in one way or another. They all volunteered for at least two organizations.

“It was really life-changing growing up having these women as my mentors. They were real-life superheroes to me doing wonderful things in their community and trying to get a higher education while doing it.”

Kueppers is proud of the Miss America program as a provider of scholarships, which has helped her pay for her education at Minnesota State Mankato. She’s also glad that the organization has been shedding some of its more dated aspects, such as the swimsuit competition. Hers was the first Miss America presentation to not have a swimsuit category.

“I loved it,” she said of the change. “They’re focusing more on essentially content of our character. To be professional and service-minded over how pretty we are.”

“They were real-life superheroes to me doing wonderful things in their community and trying to get a higher education while doing it.”

It also helps in her role encouraging young women to get involved in the program.

“Just watching the relief on people’s faces and seeing the increase in interest and respect for our organization,” she said. “I think it was a decision that took too long to happen. It was a really wonderful thing.”

Kueppers transferred to the Minnesota State Mankato in 2018 to major in Family Consumer Science after studying culinary arts at St. Paul College and Communications at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

“I honestly love Mankato. I fell in love with the professors and the way they take such an interest in all of us as students. Especially this semester with COVID, I have so much respect for the way my professors in my different programs really work to make sure we have a really good semester. They put in so much time to make everything work virtually.”