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First Holstein Dutchess looks back

Photo courtesy of Karen Harms / for The Central Illinois Farm Network

The year was 1967. Lyndon B. Johnson was president, psychedelic rock was popular on the radio and the “Summer of Love” happened.

It was also the summer when Karen Harms, then known as Karen Ryan, was chosen as the very first Illinois Holstein Dutchess. The Fairbury resident handed out ribbons at various shows, rode in the State Fair parade and participated in the famous Threshermen’s Parade in Livingston County – wearing a crown and banner.

“We didn’t have a Holstein princess, so 12 of us got together and we were interviewed by judges,” Harms recalled. “We were judged on our appearance, personality and knowledge of the Holstein breed and dairy industry.”

Harms, with some help from her mother and sister, came up with the word Dutchess since the Holstein cow is from the Netherlands. That word seemed to work since it stuck for 50 years. Harms said it was fun to represent such a “wonderful” industry.

Harms was among the many other former Dutchesses who gathered in Bloomington-Normal recently for the Illinois Holstein Convention. Some of the mothers who had served in the role even had daughters that followed in their footsteps. All of the honorees were introduced, given a red rose and took a group picture.

“There was some memorabilia we could look at about the contest and remember all the wonderful times we’ve had,” Harms added.

The very first Illinois Holstein Dutchess Contest was held at the old Howard Johnson Motel and Restaurant in Bloomington on Friday, July 21 1967, the night before the state Black and White Show. Twelve contestants were interviewed and Joann Alwes and Peggy Niedermeier were chosen as runner-ups. Bob Heilman was the Holstein Fieldman at the time and organized the contest.

Requirements included being a member of the State Junior Holstein Association, personally owning Holstein cattle, being 16-21 years of age and single and nominated by a local district club. For Harms, it was the Vermillion Valley Holstein Club.

“I still have a black dress with black and white striped sleeves and a white apron with a Holstein cow on the pocket. No it does not fit me anymore, but the granddaughters have fun with it,” Harms said.

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