Let’s all take a moment to consider the commitment the 21 candidates for Aurora, Queen of Snows of the 2017 St. Paul Winter Carnival are making to our community.

It is soooo not just about tiaras and sashes (although each candidate is required to purchase one floor-length white coronation gown).

Essentially, the candidates serve as volunteers, boosters and goodwill ambassadors for the Winter Carnival on behalf of the city of St. Paul and the St. Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit that produces this “Coolest Celebration on Earth.”

In the fall before the carnival, each candidate must apply, undergo background checks and secure official sponsors (who cover the Candidate Program’s initial $850 fee). This money will cover the majority of the costs to run as a candidate, including meals, photographs and transportation. If a candidate is selected as queen, an additional $1,000 in support is required (an additional $750 is required if the candidate is selected as one of the four Wind Princesses).

Next, each candidate must be prepared to make daytime, evening and weekend appearances (more than 20) from the date of orientation in November until coronation night Jan. 27. If crowned queen or princess, members of the royal family make 200 to 300 appearances throughout their yearlong reign (approximately 100 of those appearances take place during the Winter Carnival). During the carnival, the royal family relocates to the St. Paul Hotel, which serves as a base for this literal 24/7 commitment. After the carnival, the commitment continues at a slower pace, but still includes out-of-state appearances and a heavy schedule of parades and festivals during the summer months. There will be out-of-pocket expenses, too.

And what do they receive?

“The rewards that you will experience,” says the 2017 candidate information handout, “include a lifetime of friendships, contacts and the satisfaction of having continued a long tradition of good will and representation.”

Ultimately, a selection committee chooses the queen and princesses based on a method that is “similar to that of an employment process,” according to the handbook. Criteria includes public-speaking and general communication skills, poise and a “well-groomed appearance.”

This year’s group includes one current St. Paul resident and three other candidates with roots in our city. The others are from all over metro — as well as one candidate one who commutes from Rochester, Minn. As for their ages, 12 of them are in their 20s, four are in their 30s, three are in their 40s and two are in their 50s. Some are accustomed to wearing a crown, including former queens of the Rice Street Festival and the Hopkins Raspberry Festival. The candidates include a lab tech, small-business owners, Hamline graduates, veterans, a Girl Scout troop leader; graduate students, hockey moms, a chemical engineer and a professional makeup artist. Their interests range from creating stained-glass art to curling to eating Uncle Norm’s wild rice soup. One of them even has a side gig as the Tooth Fairy (seriously). Seven are returning candidates (this is not entirely unusual — one woman ran four times before she was crowned queen).

Readers can follow the candidates and their activities and appearances through their official Facebook page, Queen of Snows Candidates, at http://tinyurl.com/j6z4f4l. The Pioneer Press will interview the new queen shortly after her coronation. In the meantime, let us introduce you to the 2017 candidates — in addition to their bios, the women also answered “winter prompt questions” we found online. Thanks, ladies!

Keya Adams Keya Adams

Keyah Adams, 22, of Bloomington. Sponsored by Apitz PaintingProvided bio: “T’Keyah Adams is a 22-year-old Hopkins native currently residing in Bloomington with her fiance. Adams is a graduate (December 2016) of Hamline University in St. Paul where she earned her B.A in anthropology and minors in forensic science and criminal justice. She currently works at Things Remembered as an associate and engraver. Her hobbies include reading, volunteering, family time and photography.” My favorite winter treat is … “I would have to say hot chocolate with French vanilla creamer and lots of marshmallows!”

Jennie Albert Jennie Albert

Jennie Albert, 38, of Brooklyn Park. Sponsored by Northern Prairie FinancialProvided bio: “Jennie Albert has lived in Brooklyn Park for 18 years with her husband, Mike, and her daughter Sara. Jennie is an avid volunteer and is part of the executive committee for the Tater Daze festival, has been a Girl Scout troop leader for seven years, is a member of the Brooklyn Park Women of Today and many other activities. She has two cats and two dogs, loves traveling, poker and spending time with family.” My favorite winter drink is …“My favorite winter drink is hot chocolate — no whipped cream, please!”

Jennifer Battan Jennifer Battan

Jennifer Battan, 43, of Brooklyn Park. Sponsored by Collaborative Leadership Team.
Provided bio: “Jennifer recently merged 15 years of business experience with her volunteer passion and is a territory manager for Destination Imagination, a creative problem-solving and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) program. A Nebraska native, she’s now an active member of the Brooklyn Park community. She’s a stained-glass artist, knitter, reader, Munzee hunter and fearlessly fosters the creativity and curiosity of her four children.” I can always tell it’s really winter when … “I can always tell it’s really winter when the air shifts from the crisp feel of fall to really nip at your nose and there is that cool smell of a coming snowfall. My weekend plans shift to baking, introducing a new generation to classic movies from my past (‘Back to the Future,’ ‘Apollo 13,’ and ‘Star Wars,’ to name a few ‘old’ favorites) and cozy indoor activities. Mittens, hats and boots are scattered around the mudroom, but that mess is a sure sign of real winter fun and memories in the making.”

Kyla Bernardy Kyla Bernardy

Kyla Bernardy, 23, of New Brighton. Sponsored by Ideal PrintersProvided bio: “Kyla received her bachelor’s degree and culinary arts degree in 2015. Kyla works at U.S. Water Services as a chemical buyer. In her free time, Kyla coaches youth basketball, enjoys cooking and spending time with family and friends. Kyla enjoys traveling. She has visited over 20 countries and even learned to speak Spanish and Chinese. During her lifetime, Kyla hopes to visit all seven continents.” If I were a snowflake, I would … “If I were a snowflake, I would want the world to know that I am the most beautiful form of H2O. While I fall from the sky I would dance to bring joy and smiles to the people below.”

Kara Martin Kara Martin

Kara Berzelius Martin, 29, of Plymouth. Sponsored by Grand SpectacleProvided bio: “Kara earned her bachelor of science degree in art, as well as a master of science in education in school counseling, from University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She served as president of her college sorority and continues to serve on the chapter association. In her free time, she enjoys curling, crafting, spending time with her husband and friends and volunteering with her youth group, Job’s Daughters.” When it gets dark early at night … “I enjoy eating ice cream and watching movies with my husband.”

Ruth Tibesar Ruth Tibesar

Ruth Braun Tibesar, 58, of Rochester. Sponsored by Powers EnterprisesProvided bio: “Ruth comes from Rochester and is a 38-year employee of the Mayo Clinic. I have a strong passion for mental health awareness, having been diagnosed with clinical depression five years ago. Ruth wants to take the ‘Boo out of Taboo’ when talking about mental illness. Its not so scary if you just talk and share. I am living proof of that. I am Rochester’s one and only Tooth Fairy (‘Ruthie the Tooth Fairy’). I am Tenacious!!” The greatest snow day I ever had: “My favorite snow day was back in 1976 when I was attending college at Concordia College in St. Paul. I went to and viewed my first ice palace during the St. Paul Winter Carnival. My spirit was touched by the Legend and all the excitement Winter Carnival brings.”

Samantha Brogger Samantha Brogger

Samantha Brogger, 33, of Lakeville. Sponsored by Total Luxury LimousineProvided bio: “Hailing from Northfield, Samantha graduated from high school and was in Navy boot camp 17 days later. She spent eight years as a crew chief on a cargo airplane before graduating from the University of Minnesota and receiving a commission as a Naval officer, serving for five years in Navy squadrons. Currently, Samantha is working on a graduate degree in public safety with a specialization in emergency management.” My favorite soup in the winter … “My favorite winter soup would be my Uncle Norm’s wild rice soup. When I moved out of state I found that I had taken it for granted that all restaurants carry wild rice soup — that is not the case at all. Living in the South, not only was there no wild rice soup, but many people had never even heard of it! It turns out that my love of wild rice soup is part of what makes me Minnesotan!”

Karlee Callender Karlee Callender

Karlee Callender, 28, of Lakeville. Sponsored by Bennett’s Chop & Rail HouseProvided bio: “Karlee is a first-generation graduate with a bachelor’s of education and Spanish proficiency from the University of Minnesota. She is pursuing her dream of being a business owner, model, cheer coach and nanny during her one-year deferment of grad school. She currently coaches an adaptive team and grades one through four. She uses her love of fashion to volunteer model by working with Allina Mental Health & My Sister.” The best way to stay warm is … “getting outside to enjoy the fresh winter air with friends and family because spending time with loved ones warms the heart. A few extra layers and a cup of hot cocoa never hurts either!”

Elijah "Ellie" Carter Elijah “Ellie” Carter

Elijah “Ellie” Carter, 22, of Minneapolis. Sponsored by SevenHills Benefit PartnersProvided bio: “Ellie hails from right across the river, in Minneapolis, where she is a senior at Metropolitan State University. With a human resources management major, it’s her dream to work as a Fortune 500 executive. During her collegiate career, she has served as president of her sorority, Kappa Phi Omega, and as 2013-14 Hopkins Raspberry Festival Queen — all while staying busy checking World Wonders off her ‘must see’ list.” When it snows, I like to … “go on nighttime strolls through Rice Park and enjoy how beautiful it looks all lit up for winter.”

Rebecca Cooper Rebecca Cooper

Rebecca Cooper, 49, of Vadnais Heights. Sponsored by Bex BlingsProvided bio: “Rebecca is a fourth-generation resident of St. Paul. She served our country with over 23 years of military service. Since retiring as a service disabled veteran, she works as a librarian for both Hennepin and Ramsey County libraries. She is the owner of Bex Blings, a woman-owned small business. She is an active volunteer in her community, supporting her church while being a hockey and baseball mom.” The best present to give someone in the winter is … “a snowblower! Who wants to spend time trying to shovel all that snow off their driveway?”

Ashley Curtis Ashley Curtis

Ashley Curtis, 27, of Bloomington. Sponsored by Repeat After Me BridalProvided bio: “Ashley was born in California and moved to Minnesota with her parents and three siblings when she was just 5 years old. She loves all outdoor activities, but if she had to pick her favorite place in Minnesota it would be on the glass at any Wild hockey game. Ashley takes pride in her work as a florist and always has tissues ready when she hands a bride her bouquet. Ashley lives her life like there’s no midnight.” The unique thing about winter in Minnesota is … “you can have a very mild day at 30 degrees and an hour later it can be raining with thunder and lighting. Winter in Minnesota is always unpredictable.”

Jayna Emerson Jayna Emerson

Jayna Emerson, 27, of Oakdale (born and raised in St. Paul). Sponsored by American Stone RestorationProvided bio: “Jayna is a mother of a spunky toddler, Jacob, and stepmother of two fabulous young women, Kaylee and McKenna. She is obsessed with country music and anything SPARKLY! She is currently a rebate analyst administrator at CenterPoint Energy. She is also an advocate for suicide prevention and the Children’s Advocacy Network. She held the title of West St. Paul Princess in 2008. Her life motto is ‘Always Stay Humble & Kind.’ ” My favorite winter sport (and why): “My favorite winter sport is hockey, although I have never played myself. I find incredible joy in watching my son turn everything into a hockey stick, or as he refers to it, ‘GOAL!’ ”

Elaina Hamann Elaina Hamann

Elaina Hamann, 23, of Columbia Heights. Sponsored by Rice Street Festival (Hamann was the 2015-16 Rice Street Festival Queen). Provided bio: “Elaina graduated from Hamline University cum laude in education and social studies. At Hamline, she was a student-mentor and a board member for SOSA (Students of South Asia). She taught in a St. Paul public school last year and will return after graduate school. Elaina started a 501c3 nonprofit group called SAVE (Students Achieving Volunteering Excellence) with her sister in 2008. In her spare time, she loves volunteering, trying new restaurants and drawing.”  If I were in charge of making the best snow fort ever … “it would be three stories high, so I would have plenty of room for my big screen TV, game room and jacuzzi. No one would dare challenge me to a snowball fight when they see my 20 giant snowball cannons. It would definitely be a perfect place to host the coolest snow fort party during the Winter Carnival.”

Jean Harwell Jean Harwell

Jean Harwell, 42, of Eagan. Sponsored by Bungalow Inn of Lakeland. Provided bio: “Jean is known as ‘Mom’ to 10 kids. She enjoys bowling, hanging out with friends and meeting new people. She is thrilled to take this journey with all these wonderful ladies and feels no matter where you are at in life, when you feel the joy burn within, fuel the fire. Spread the Joy!!” Trees in the winter look like … “Trees in the winter look like tall winter guardians waiting to come alive to defend you in a cool winter snowball fight!!”

Rahila Hungiapuko Rahila Hungiapuko

Rahila Hungiapuko, 27, of St. Paul. Sponsored by St. Paul BagelryProvided bio: “As the youngest of three and the only girl, Rahila is a St. Paul resident and 2012 Bethel University graduate. She enjoys visiting museums and art galleries, finding new nature parks to explore and is an avid volunteer to many local organizations. Being a part of the St. Paul Winter Carnival has been a dream of hers since she was a little girl. Rahila lives by the (Latin) doctrine, ‘Scientia potentia est’ (Knowledge is power).” The best kind of sled: “Hands down, a toboggan! They’re traditional, fairly sturdy and consist of craftsmanship details.”

Bobbie Johnson Bobbie Johnson

Bobbie Johnson, 52, of Little Canada. Sponsored by Lakeville LogisticsProvided bio: “Bobbie has lived in Minnesota since she was 3 years old and is truly a Minnesotan at heart. She is happily married to her soulmate of 19 years and has a very spoiled dog she rescued from the Humane Society. She lives in Little Canada off Lake Gervais and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else but St. Paul, Minn.! She is blessed to still have both of her parents and two older brothers and their families.” The best thing to do on a snowy day? “I would bundle up and go sledding! After, come home and dry off in front of the fireplace with hot cocoa and look at the beautiful snow piled up on the evergreen trees.”

Molly Reuther Molly Reuther

Molly Reuther, 25, of Inver Grove Heights. Sponsored by River Run Team, Re/Max ResultsProvided bio: “Molly Reuther is proud to hail from the spicy city of South St. Paul, where she was born and raised. A graduate of Winona State University, Molly obtained a bachelor of arts degree in 2013. In her free time, Molly can be found spending time with her husband and two cats, George and Lily, volunteering for the Miss South St. Paul Royalty Program or cheering on the Minnesota Wild.” My most important item of winter clothing or winter gear … “would have to be my durable and insulated winter boots. I love playing in the snow but hate when my feet get cold and wet. Any Minnesotan knows that if you pair good boots and good wool socks, you’re ready to face the winter weather all season long!”

Lindsey Sandoval Lindsey Sandoval

Lindsey Sandoval, 28, of Minneapolis. Sponsored by Amber Graves, Coldwell Banker BurnetProvided bio: “Lindsey Jo Sandoval is passionate about making a difference in her community. She has a master’s degree in business administration and is a professional media makeup artist. In her spare time she refinishes furniture, sings, travels and loves to make people laugh. She has a love for bringing out the best in those around her. Mrs. Sandoval lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two stepsons.” Snow reminds me … “to slow down and appreciate the season that I am in.”

Johanna Smith Johanna Smith

Johanna Smith, 25, of Minneapolis (originally from Somerset, Wis.). Sponsored by VocalEssenceProvided bio: “When you first meet Johanna, you’ll notice her smile, unwavering positive attitude and willingness to try anything! Her favorite hobbies are knitting, juggling, music and catching up with friends. Johanna has always been driven to help the community and loves spending time volunteering with Girl Scouts as well as Loaves and Fishes. She is a chemical engineer from Purdue University, Go Boilers!” How to build the perfect snowman: “I think the perfect snowman comes down to the accessories! There are lots of ways to build a snowman, but you have to finish it creatively by looking around the house for anything that resembles a face and arms. Plus, you have to use your extra hats and scarves to keep your newfound friend warm!”

Tiffany Swenson Tiffany Swenson

Tiffany Swenson, 32, of Burnsville (born and raised in St. Paul). Sponsored by Kamp’s Food Market & K2 CarsProvided bio: “Tiffany is the production manager for Automated Photo Technology. She loves to share her memories from the house in St. Paul where four generations of Swensons have lived. As a mother and health coach, she encourages a positive and happy lifestyle. Tiffany is proud of the long-lasting relationships she creates, including that with her first employer and current sponsor, Kamp’s Food Market.” My favorite thing about winter: “The brisk and refreshing feeling you get when you step outside on a cold wintry day. The falling snow, glistening lights, snowball fights, pure joy had by all. We Minnesotans are so lucky to have such a magical winter experience!”

Heather Westling Heather Westling

Heather Westling, 38, of Hopkins. Sponsored by Quality Insurance ServiceProvided bio: “Heather holds a master of science degree in speech-language pathology. The daughter of a stroke survivor, she follows her passion working for Aegis Therapies helping patients recover skills and find a ‘new normal.’ Her sense of adventure led her to London, England, assisting asylum-seekers with finding affordable housing. Heather likes to read, knit, attend musicals and teach her dog Pippi new tricks.” When I look out the window during winter, I see … “the snow-covered branches of the oak tree in my yard as animals come to my patio door to tease my dog.”

Copyright 2017 Pioneer Press.