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St. Paul Park royalty program wraps up -- maybe for good

A royal part of St. Paul Park’s Heritage Days festival is disappearing for a year — or longer.

The Heritage Days royalty ambassador program is on hiatus for the coming year, said Jim Domeier, festival committee leader and royalty program organizer.

After 12 years coordinating countless parade and community event appearances for the young women selected as the city’s ambassadors, Domeier is retiring at the conclusion of the 2012-13 activities.

This past year’s crowned ambassadors were: Airianna Beard, Miss Heritage Days; Regan Pelton, Miss Heritage Days Princess; Micaela Flores, Junior Miss Heritage Days; and Kylie Johnson, Junior Miss Heritage Days Princess.

No new ambassadors will be crowned during the 2013 Heritage Days. Also, the festival will not include a royal mud stomp this year. In past years the event drew hundreds of royalty and ambassadors from around the region, who would don old clothes or dresses and jump around in muddy pits to prepare them for St. Paul Park’s mud volleyball contest.

Domeier said the royalty program is being suspended in part because he is retiring from leading it and no one has stepped forward to take over.

Financing also is a problem. It can take $25,000 a year to cover royalty costs — from gasoline to fuel the vehicle that pulls their parade float to travel expenses, and from event entrance fees to clothing for the ambassadors.

“Funding is the biggest part of it,” Domeier said of the program’s halt.

Also, Domeier said, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get girls interested in the royalty program. So many have other activities and interests and cannot commit the time to participate, he said. The ambassadors do about 150 events a year. Last year, parades took them as far as Florida, South Dakota and Winnipeg, Canada.

“They don’t realize how much of a commitment this actually is,” Domeier said. “This is just like a job.”

The decision to suspend the program comes after Pelton, a member of the 2012-13 royalty, resigned after she had complained of being bullied and had scheduling disagreements with organizers.

Domeier has brought a civil court case against Pelton, who quit the program around March, seeking money for an unused plane ticket and royalty clothing. A Washington County District Court hearing is scheduled for later this month.

Domeier said the dispute with Pelton had nothing to do with the decision to suspend the royalty program.

“That’s totally different,” he said, declining to discuss the civil case further.

Pelton’s mother, Katie Schwartz, said her daughter previously was in the royalty program and had a good experience. Something changed this year and there were problems, she said, adding they have tried to resolve the issue with Domeier but have not received a response.

Schwartz was not convinced the issue with her daughter was separate from Domeier’s decision to at least temporarily fold the program.

“It just seemed like odd timing,” Schwartz said.

Overall, Domeier said the program has been a positive experience for girls who have participated. They help and volunteer in the community, and it’s educational for them.

“It’s a learning experience,” he said. “They learn so much from it. They learn how to speak in public,  how to talk to people, how to walk, how to act.”

The program needs someone new to step forward as the organizer in order to resume in 2014, and it needs financial backing, Domeier said. He admitted he is not very optimistic that will come together for the 30th annual Heritage Days festival in 2014.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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