MOSES LAKE - Much like the Moses Lake Roundup Rodeo, the Miss Moses Lake Roundup Queen program has been around for decades, though it is not quite as tenured as the rodeo it represents.
The earliest year on record in which a rodeo queen was named to represent the Roundup Rodeo was 1959 - that's 56 years ago.
The program has ebbed and flowed throughout the more than half a century since its inception, including a hiatus for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the rodeo had no queen.
Jill Tonne was the first to take the crown in 2003 right after the queen program disappeared temporarily. Tonne is now the director of the Miss Moses Lake Roundup queen program, which she has done for about five years now, she said.
As the queen program started its rebuild, Tonne said it aimed to mirror the Miss Rodeo Washington program so contestants and queens from Moses Lake could be well equipped to succeed at the next level, if they wanted to. The eligibility ages for the Miss Moses Lake Roundup Queen program were set at ages 18 to 25.
"When they restarted our program, that's how we built and structured our queen program - to model the Miss Rodeo Washington," Tonne said. "Our goal is, if these girls want to go on, that we try to help give them the tools and help prepare them to be capable to run for Miss Rodeo Washington."
In practice, the theory seems to have benefited Moses Lake rodeo queens. Tonne said in the last decade or so, three rodeo queens from Moses Lake have gone on to earn the state crown at Miss Rodeo Washington. Most recently, Audrey Ramsden, who was Miss Moses Lake Roundup in 2013, went on to become Miss Rodeo Washington and then place as the second runner-up in Miss Rodeo America - the highest a Washington contestant has ever placed, according to Moses Lake's Jamie Rauch. Rauch runs an annual camp aimed solely at preparing young girls to succeed in their dreams of being rodeo royalty. Rauch and her husband call it "Rodeo Queen University."
The Rauchs started the Rodeo Queen University program five years ago and hold an annual, four-day camp each year for young girls aspiring to be rodeo royalty. The camp is held each year in Waterville at the North Central Washington Fairgrounds.
Students in Rodeo Queen University use the four days to take lessons from rodeo pros and learn all the skills and traits necessary to be a rodeo queen, including personal interviews, professional interviews, media interviews, hair and makeup, wardrobe, horsemanship, horsemanship knowledge, and rodeo knowledge.
"It's a full, hands-on rodeo queen clinic," Rauch said. "It's everything that they need to know (to be a rodeo queen) and we do this in a four-day event."
Rauch rounds up rodeo queens who have succeeded in the national spotlight. This year, she brought in Jamie Udell, who was Miss Rodeo Utah in 2011, and Freya Ford, who was Miss Rodeo Idaho in 2009. Both Udell and Ford went on to be the first runner-up at Miss Rodeo America, and both were on hand at Rodeo Queen University to impart knowledge on young rodeo queen enthusiasts in central Washington.
Rauch said her passion for rodeo culminated her entire life. She is a third-generation rodeo cowgirl, she says, as her grandfather, her dad and her all competed in rodeo.
"It was all part of my life growing up," Rauch said of her upbringing in New Mexico. "It (rodeo) helped me personally with the interviews and the public speaking, and just all the different skills you learn with rodeo queening and the opportunities that you have in your year as reigning queen."
Rauch became the pageant director for Moses Lake Roundup for several years, but she decided she didn't want to be part of that committee anymore.
"I just felt like I wanted to do something on a larger scale," she said.
With extensive rodeo and coaching experience, she decided getting a group of aspiring rodeo queens together was the way to go.
Rodeo Queen University is also a faith-based camp, making it the only faith-based rodeo queen camp in existence, Rauch said.
This year, there were 30 students at Rodeo Queen University, right around what Rauch expects each year of her camp. She said her and her husband enjoy watching young women, some of whom return to the camp year after year, grow emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually.
The camp has shown wildly successful results. Rauch said since Rodeo Queen University's inception, every Miss Moses Lake Roundup has attended the camp. Rauch has a list of RQU pupils who have gone on to be crowned rodeo queens. The list is extensive and includes queens and runners-up in places from Moses Lake to Methow Valley and Spokane, as well as in Oregon and on the state and national levels.
"My desire really is I would love for every girl to run in a pageant and just have that experience because I think it's really great for their self esteem and their confidence," Rauch said.
The directors of Rodeo Queen University want to take their production on the road and offer the faith-based rodeo queen camp across the nation. Rauch said the hope is to expand to several camps a year in Washington and eventually, if they can figure out how, take the camp on the road to other states.
This year's Miss Moses Lake Roundup Queen is Katie Duncan. Duncan was unavailable for comment, probably due in large part to her busy schedule. Duncan is in Rock Springs, Wyo., competing in the National High School Rodeo Finals, where she recently placed first in the first go of the reined cow horse finals.
Every Miss Moses Lake Roundup Queen gets busy, Tonne said, as they spend time during their reigning year representing Moses Lake and the Roundup Rodeo at rodeos and parades in the area. They also make appearances at a number of community events throughout the year.
Queens reign from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 each year. The queen is selected in the fall after candidates complete the day-long contest. The contest includes horsemanship, personal interviews, a knowledge test, modeling and speeches.
Tonne said the date for this year's contest has not yet been set, but it is typically at the end of September. She expected that date to be finalized soon, possibly within a week.
Last year's Miss Moses Lake Roundup Queen, Heather Fleming, had high regard for her experiences as the rodeo queen.
"It was great. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I was able to partake in," Fleming said. "I got to meet a bunch of great ladies and great people in rodeo associations. Traveling from rodeo to rodeo was awesome and being able to share that with my family and my horse was great, too."
Fleming said she had friends who became Miss Moses Lake Roundup and as she watched them during their reigning years, her interests were piqued.
Tonne praised the program, not only for what it does for the participants, but for the community, as well.
"The program is a service to the community and to the rodeo association because it helps represent our area," she said. "It helps these girls. I've seen girls come through this program and how much they have changed and matured and developed through the year, and then go on to run for Miss Rodeo Washington."
Fleming, now a year removed from her days as Miss Moses Lake Roundup, encouraged those considering a shot at the crown to take their shot, despite any reservations they may have.
"I would definitely tell them, without a doubt, go for it," Fleming said. "It may be a little nerve-wracking, a little scary, and you might not know what to expect, but honestly, it is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime ride of your life."
Queen Bunny was Moses Lake's first rodeo queen in 1959.
The Rodeo Queen University class of 2015. The camp is held annually and trains girls in all the skills and traits required of rodeo royalty.