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Maria Ekern

Maria Ekern has organized a May 6 fundraiser to benefit foster children at the West Salem Presbyterian Church. Ekern, a former foster child herself, is the reigning Miss River City’s Outstanding Teen.

WEST SALEM — Maria Ekern, the reigning Miss River City’s Outstanding Teen, has a cause she truly believes in. A West Salem High School junior who will be heading to Oshkosh in July to compete in the Miss Wisconsin pageant, Ekern’s pageant community service platform is foster care.

Ekern was a foster child herself, joining the Ekern family when she was a 2-day-old baby. Over nine years, David and Mary Ann Ekern provided emergency and long-term foster care for more than 50 children.

Contestants in pageants in the Miss America Program are required to have some sort of community service platform, so it seemed natural that Maria consider doing something related to foster care.

After a meeting with Rhonda Rude of La Crosse County Human Services, Maria knew what she wanted to do.

“She’s in charge of foster care for La Crosse County, and she told me that a lot of foster children don’t get to do the extracurricular things that other kids get to do,” Maria said. That’s usually for lack of money, and it’s why Maria decided to step in and help.

The result is a May 6 fundraiser for foster children’s outings and enrichment activities. It will be held in the Fellowship Hall of the Presbyterian Church in West Salem. The event will feature food (while it lasts) provided by Linda’s Bakery, Big Boar BBQ and Hansen’s IGA.

Although Maria hopes to raise a lot of money for foster kids that Friday evening, there is no set cost for the food and entertainment

“Everything will be a free-will donation,” Maria said, “and there will also be a social worker there to answer questions about being a foster parent or becoming a foster care family.”

The festivities run from 6 to 10 p.m. A dance — with a deejay providing music — will begin after 8 p.m. Other events throughout the evening will include a silent auction, chair massages, and arts and crafts for children

A dance performance is planned for 7:30 p.m. featuring Maria and other dancers from of Misty’s Dance Unlimited, where Maria has studied since she was 10. “I’ll be doing the same solo number that I’ll do at the Miss Wisconsin Pageant,” she said.

Miss River City April Haldeman, also of West Salem, will perform the solo number she will take to the Miss Wisconsin Pageant in June.

In addition, Warriors Performing Arts, a parade group from La Crosse, will do a brief show. Maria began twirling with the Warriors when she was 8.

Maria said she was inspired to enter the pageant world by her older sister, Katie, who won the Miss Onalaska title in 2005 and the Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest crown in 2008. A National Honor Society member, Maria keeps busy with numerous school activities. She’s a member of the Pep Club, Diversity Club, DECA and Interact Rotary Club.

Although Maria is unsure of what her future might hold, she definitely wants to go to college. “Right now I’d like to go to UW-Madison and be on the dance team, but I’m not sure yet about a major,” she said.

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Entertainment and county government reporter

Randy Erickson covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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