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home : premium content : news May 27, 2016

4/30/2014 10:32:00 AM
Bonnie James named Leavenworth's Distinguished Young Woman
Ian Dunn

Normally, the Distinguished Young Woman of Leavenworth is announced after a program at Cascade High School in front of a packed house. But this year, it turned out a bit different.

For the first time in over 30 years, there were not enough girls to have a program. In fact, only one girl had signed up. But the DYWL Committee would not be deterred. The Leavenworth program had to be cancelled, but perhaps there could still be a Distinguished Young Woman of Leavenworth.

"We didn't have enough contestants to hold a program in Leavenworth. We had Bonnie James who was interested in competing, and we thought she would be a great Distinguished Young Woman," said Rhona Baron, DYWL Chair. "We took a new option, which was to support her in training for the at-large competition. The at-large competition is held for students that live in communities that don't have a full program."

It is not necessarily a detriment to compete at-large, Baron said, pointing out the last DYW winner was an at-large entry. The at-large part is not a competition, per say. To qualify at-large, you have to achieve a qualifying score.

The contestants are accessed in the same way. Everything has to be up to speed, Baron said, because they have to be up to the caliber of all the winners from around the state.

"We had the option as a board to not support Bonnie and not have a DYW at all. She could have competed at-large, but we could have said there aren't enough people. We're not going to do it. We really did not want that to happen," she said. "The position is so important in the community and such an honor and good way to earn scholarship money."

Even though the outlook may have looked bleak at first, with no local competition, James was assured early on she could continue, even though she was the only candidate.

"When we first found out I was the only one from Leavenworth wishing to compete, Rhona talked to us about at-large and how we could do it that way," James said. "There was really no question whether I was going to be able to do it."

Her cousin, Ashley Ells, was the 2012 DYWL. James was going to miss out on the big program night in Leavenworth, but it didn't matter.

"It would have been great to be up there," James said. "It would have been great practice to go in front of a group. But either way, it's just a great experience and really fun doing this program."

Normally, Baron practices with the candidates around 11 times before the program. For James, there were six practices. Since she was the only contestant, Baron said she got a lot of personal attention.

Over the six weeks, Baron said they worked on everything, talent, self expression, interview and being on stage.

"All of that stuff in the six weeks rose dramatically. We were thrilled. She was thrilled to be able to get that kind of coaching," Baron said. "She is great. She was the only one and decided it was worth for her to go through the training. She was so enthusiastic about going through the training and being the DYW. It could not have happened to a better person."

The at-large competition was to take place in Pullman, but since there were only two at-large candidates, it was decided the program would be online instead. James ended up coming to Baron's house, where they set up FaceTime.

"A panel of judges was there. She was there. They did her interview. They watched her talent. They watched the self expression. She had to wear what she would wear during those times. Everything was really closely timed," Baron said. "The interview is always 10 minutes. The self expression question was in the exact format you see on stage here in Leavenworth. The talent has to be 90 seconds or less. I think the whole thing took 45 minutes."

For James, doing the program online took the pressure off. She felt more relaxed in a setting she knew well, the studio at Baron's house. That made her very confident going in.

Normally at the local competition, the judges compile the score right away. In this case, Baron and James had to wait 10 agonizing days to find out if she achieved a qualifying score. Baron said she was nervous because they didn't hear, but James was not sweating too much.

"We were very confident I was going to get it. That was never really a big concern. But it was suspenseful waiting for that," James said.

Finally the news came in, James had the qualifying score, and she was officially Leavenworth's Distinguished Young Woman.

"I was relived. I made that milestone and was going to state, Leavenworth's Distinguished Young Woman. I was really excited and relived," James said.

First duty for James comes at Apple Blossom, walking alongside the Autumn Leaf Festival Association float. Then, she will be at Maifest in Leavenworth. She is also booked to perform at the Ellensburg DYW. Baron calls James a "fantastic singer."

To date, she's earned nearly $2,000 in scholarship money. In August, she'll represent Leavenworth at the DYW State Competition in Pullman. James could not be more excited.

"I am nervous and excited. I can't wait to meet everyone and my host family. I really can't wait to go over and do the best I can and represent Leavenworth," James said.

In terms of bringing back the local program next year, Baron is confident there is enough interest to allow it to continue.

"People have asked why we didn't have as many this year. There's a couple theories about it. Next year, it sounds like there is going to be a lot of people again. Last year, we had 14 people interested and 10 on stage," Baron said. "Next year, we understand there will be a lot again."

Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or

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