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Woodbury's own Miss Minnesota Princess

Grace Nester.

Woodbury has its own "toddler" in a tiara.

New Life Academy second grader Grace Nester, 7, was named the National American Miss Minnesota Princess last month at the DoubleTree Bloomington Hotel.

"When they read the first runner-up's name, I was like 'Oh no, she's not going to win anything,'" Grace's mother Deona said. "You just don't expect it. But, when they read her name I jumped and started screaming 'That's my baby!'"

Grace, however, said she could sense what was coming.

"I was kind of surprised, but after they called some of the girls I knew I was going to win," she said.

The princess division, which Grace competed in, was for girls ages 4 to 6.

Grace will next compete for the title of National American Miss Princess this November in California.

Grace isn't the only Woodbury connection to the National American Miss (NAM) pageant, which was held May 31 to June 2.

Kyle Broberg, the 2012 Miss Minnesota Princess, Grace's predecessor, was from Woodbury.

Additionally, this year's Miss Minnesota Pre-Teen, Natalie Engh, is from Woodbury, as is the first runner-up in the pre-teen division, Olivia Davis, and the first runner-up in the princess division, Hailey Steele.

In addition to being named the Miss Minnesota Princess, Grace also competed in the optional casual wear modeling competition at the pageant where she won and she competed in the optional talent competition, with a dance routine, where she won first runner-up.

Grace walked away with $1,250 cash, a $1,500 modeling scholarship, two VIP tickets to Disneyland, airfare to the NAM pageant in California and two tickets for a Hollywood tour.

Miss Minnesota Princess

Deona said she went back and forth on whether or not to enter Grace in the NAM pageant because she had heard about some of the negative sides of child pageants.

Fortunately for Grace, her dance teacher at Woodbury Dance Center, Mary Swenson, was the 2011 Miss Minnesota International.

"She told me, 'It's not what you think it is,'" Deona said. "There's no makeup, no bathing suits. It's really geared towards building girls' self confidence, public speaking and interviewing skills."

Grace said she wanted to participate in the pageant because it seemed like fun.

"I'd never done it before," she said.

In order to qualify for the Minnesota NAM pageant, Grace had to first submit an application which included her resume', an essay and a picture.

Grace also had to participate in a phone interview.

Judges narrowed the applicants to 16 finalists.

The pageant is divided into three areas: a 30-second personal introduction, on-stage interview and formal wear.

Deona said she helped Grace concentrate on the personal introduction.

"There were probably moments where she didn't really like me," she said. "We knew if she practiced a lot, she'd feel confident.

"I was worried about doing everything right, but I didn't want to be a crazy pageant mom."

Grace said her favorite part of the Minnesota pageant was giving her speech and talking with the judges.

Deona said she was pleasantly surprised at how smooth everything ran at the pageant.

"It was just a really well oiled machine," she said.

The biggest, and best surprise, for Deona and Grace's father Craig was how much Grace changed throughout the pageant.

"It completely transformed her from being shy and hiding behind me to being able to have a conversation with the judges," Deona said. "Even if she hadn't won, it would have still been worth it."

Craig agrees.

"Seeing the girls change over a weekend in poise, confidence, self-esteem and communication was a cool thing," he said. "There's an actual commitment to use the pageant to help grow females."

National American Miss

The national pageant will be split up into the same categories as the state pageant - personal introduction, on-stage interview and formal wear.

However, the personal introduction is extended from 30 seconds to 90 seconds.

Additionally, a community involvement category will be added.

Grace has teamed up with Pet Evolution, in Woodbury, for an animal rescue project.

She will be competing for $500,000 in cash and prizes during the pageant. A Ford Mustang convertible is among the prizes.

Grace said she is both excited and nervous about the national pageant.

"I'm excited for when they announce the winner," she said.

Deona said she thinks Grace will do great at the pageant.

"She definitely has a presence on stage," she said.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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