Hullett grad Wilts looks ahead to year as Huron Princess
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
And this year’s Huron County Plowing Match Princess is... 14-year-old Rachel Wilts from just south of Blyth.
Wilts was a late addition to the Princess competition field, which saw six young women from the area be interviewed and speak to those assembled at Junior Day of the Huron County Plowing Match last Thursday. When the dust settled, it was Wilts who was left standing. Lillian Beyersbergen-Oakes, a 13-year-old from the Lucknow area, was named the runner-up.
Natalie Fear, a former Princess herself who has since taken on an organizational role with the program, emceed the event, which was held at the home farm of Pete and Leisa Albers, just northeast of Brussels.
All six young women were well composed and confident in their speeches, which commenced just after 1 p.m. last Thursday. The contestants had gone through the interview process with the three judges - Sean Mitchell, Audrey Bos and Cindy Carter - prior to the speeches. After the speeches, the judges retired to the Albers’ home to make their decision, which took about 20 minutes.
During that break, outgoing Princess Jillian Shortreed - who shared emcee duties with Fear, introducing the contestants and telling jokes in between speeches - spoke about the year that was, recounting memorable experiences and sharing all that she had learned while representing the Huron County Plowmen’s Association. She also spoke about the bond she’d formed with outgoing Huron Queen of the Furrow Luanne McGregor and outgoing Ontario Queen of the Furrow (and 2019 Huron Queen of the Furrow) Maranda Klaver.
For the speech portion of the competition, Jillian Simpson of Zurich and Beyersbergen-Oakes both spoke about the important role women play in the world of agriculture today. Meanwhile Ainsley Garniss of Morris-Turnberry relayed some personal stories from her family’s home farm and Emma Slater of Listowel spoke about the role agriculture plays in her life. Naomi Campbell of Belgrave spoke about rising food prices and farmers not necessarily seeing their fair share of the profits, while Wilts spoke about the difference between soil and dirt (which at least one member of The Citizen team in attendance that afternoon found rather informative and eye-opening), which was based on a recent conversation she had with her father.
Wilts - the daughter of cash crop farmers Raymond and Kendra and the youngest of five children - just graduated from Grade 8 at Hullett Central Public School this June and will be heading to St. Anne’s Catholic Secondary School in Clinton this fall to begin her high school journey with Grade 9.
To be honest, Wilts said, she didn’t know much about the competition until her cousin, the aforementioned Shortreed, suggested she participate, thinking she might be a viable candidate for the position and that, more importantly, she could stand to have a lot of fun by taking part.
She said she had seen her cousin speak at one of the previous matches, but aside from that, her experience with the competition was quite limited, but she thought she would give it a try.
Wilts said she was a bit nervous going into her interview with the judges, because it wasn’t something she’d ever really done before. However, that tension melted away rather quickly, as she describes the panel of judges as being very “chill” and nice.
She felt similarly about the speech portion of the day. She had done some public speaking in elementary school, so it wasn’t completely new to her, but she was a bit nervous until she took the stage and then she was comfortable once she addressed the crowd.
When Fear announced that Wilts had won, Wilts said it was tough to believe at the time. Having never taken part in the competition before and having no experience, she had wondered if she would gain that experience this time around and perhaps return next year and have better luck, so she was quite surprised when she was announced as the winner.
And while she is happy to be wearing the Princess crown, Wilts said meeting the other contestants and spending the day with them was a joy in itself and that she had a great time being part of that group.
Wilts isn’t sure what she’s most looking forward to in the year ahead, but she is excited to be attending the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair later this year, which Shortreed also listed as a highlight in her reign.
As for her personal future, Wilts is just entering high school now, so she hasn’t settled on a career path, but she says she is considering a number of potential avenues in the healthcare field, such as nursing or chiropractic.
Thinking ahead to the 2024 Princess competition, Wilts is encouraging any young woman in the community to consider giving it a shot. She said it’s a fun experience with so much to learn about the interview process and public speaking and a great opportunity to put yourself out there and do something outside of your comfort zone.