Six Paonia High School graduates were selected by the Cherry Days Forever Committee to represent Paonia as this year's Cherry Days royalty.
After riding in the July 4 parade, the king and queen will be crowned promptly at 12:15 p.m., at the Paonia Town Park gazebo, immediately following the flag ceremony. The king and queen each receive a $1,000 scholarship, and runners-up each receive $100.
Ashley VanVleet is the daughter of David and Tracy VanVleet. This fall Ashley will begin her education in pre-med at Idaho State University in Pocatello, where she has committed to competing in track and field. Coach Scott Rienks said she could have competed at the college level in any of her sports, "But track is going to be where she will flourish."
"By pursuing this major I feel that I am following my passion, dreams and goals," wrote Ashley in her application. She credits the decision to pursue a medical degree on the positive impact growing up with parents who are also EMTs and active with North Fork Ambulance. She remembers playing the patient for EMT training, and a few times she was the patient. Growing up she thought she was invincible and took several trips to the hospital for stitches and X-rays. "Not only growing up in a household of EMTs, but also experiencing the medical field first-hand through doctors has really impacted my career choice," writes Ashley.
Ashley missed only 13 days of high school and participated in student council and swing choir. She was a four-year, three-sport athlete in volleyball, track and basketball, was named to the Colorado High School Activities Association All-State team in all three sports and was awarded the P-Blanket for Outstanding Female Athlete. She was also nominated for the Colorado High School Coaches Association Steinmark Award recognizing excellence in the classroom and on the field and outstanding community and school involvement.
She has volunteered with North Fork Ambulance and in numerous community events including nursing homes and hospice, and has given her time annually to help with many school and sports fundraisers. More than four generations of her family have lived in Paonia, which she says will always be her home.
Chelsea Meilner is the daughter of Tim and Shauna Meilner. She will study mechanical engineering, with a focus on robotics, at Colorado School of Mines. She plans to join the Society of Women Engineers, an offshoot of Engineers Without Borders and be a part of the future of technology. "I chose Mines because they will provide me with not only an amazing education but also the opportunities to use engineering to help people in more places than just Colorado," wrote Chelsea.
"It's an honor to be able to have a chance to be a part of something that has been around for 70 years," writes Chelsea. Growing up in Paonia "has blessed my life immensely and I would be proud to represent such an amazing town. I believe that I could represent both the diversity that happens in our little town as well as the unity that being in a small town creates."
Chelsea was class valedictorian, a four-year member of student council, and junior class president. She participated in swing choir and Western Slope Honor Choir and qualified multiple times for state in track and cross country. She also participated in Drama Club and the Delta County Dance Company and was selected to attend various leadership conferences, including the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards. She has volunteered in rural and inner-city medical clinics in India, Jamaica and Peru. In 2015 she was a volunteer worker with YuGo Ministries in Ensenada, Mexico, building a home for a family that had fled Juarez. Locally she volunteered with Lovin Spoonfuls community meals and Girls Rock mentoring program.
PHS English teacher Kreszenze Kossler-Allen describes her as having character through and through. "She's incredibly intelligent, kind, involved, and motivated at every level."
Marisa Edmondson is the daughter of Ron and Josephine Edmondson. Beginning this fall she will study political science and Arabic at Middlebury College in Vermont.
Marisa hopes to one day work overseas for the U.S. government, perhaps in foreign relations or for the CIA. Her hope is to help improve future relations between the U.S. and the Middle East and the quality of life for the people there.
Marisa was class salutatorian and the student body selected her to be the female recipient of the Rockwell Cup, the highest honor a graduating Paonia High School student can receive. She participated four years in student council and competed in cross country, soccer, basketball and track and was a football team manager. She also helped start a junior high girls' youth mentoring program called "Girls Rock."
Marisa has volunteered with the Town of Paonia and the Kids Pasta Project, where she helped run fundraising dinners, train new volunteers, and coordinate social media efforts.
English teacher Kreszenze Kossler-Allen credits Marisa for having more energy, drive and kinetic vigor than any student she's known. "In 13 years of teaching high school, I've encountered hundreds of students with a wide variety of characteristics, but Marisa truly stands apart with unique qualities."
Trevor Plymale is the son of Dawn and Phillip Plymale. He plans to earn a degree in radiology technology at Colorado Mesa University. While attending school he hopes to work at a hospital, outpatient clinic or urgent care facility in preparation for his career. "In the world we live in today, I believe it is essential to have a post-secondary education when applying for jobs in a very competitive job market," writes Trevor.
Trevor played for the two-time state champion Eagles football team, and his hard work ethic was demonstrated by his commitment to earning a starting position on the state-placing basketball team and serving as team captain his senior year. He has volunteered as a peewee basketball referee, on numerous high school fundraiser projects, and with the Flight of the Eagle Project cleaning up school grounds in preparation for a new sports complex. He has also worked summer jobs, including for the U.S. Forest Service, helping maintain trails in the West Elk Wilderness.
Growing up in Paonia, "I have enjoyed being a part of such a close-knit and supportive community," writes Trevor. His fondest memories include riding in the Cherry Days parade with the North Fork Horse Patrol, on a fire truck with his dad, a volunteer for the Paonia fire department, and on sports team floats.
"He has worked hard for this and the amount of hustle on the court is an obvious reason for his success," writes science teacher Tracy Campbell. "He's also pleasant to be around and has a zest for life. Any conversation with Trevor will show his manners, his sincerity and his happiness."
Taylor Walters is the son of Jeff and Nicole Walters. He will study business at Colorado Mesa University this fall and will play football. He believes the two will help him achieve his goals, "because I have always been in a leadership role in the classroom, and in school athletics."
Taylor is a member of National Honor Society and was a four-year, three-sport athlete, competing in basketball, track and football. He was awarded the P-Blanket for Outstanding Male Athlete. As quarterback he led the football team to two state titles.
His community service includes participating in the annual Wounded Warrior Dodge Ball Tournament and volunteering as a peewee football referee on weekends. He also volunteered at Paonia Elementary School and worked on school renovation projects. He was a 2016 recipient of the Burlsworth Character Award honoring character and sportsmanship in high school football.
"I have been privileged to see Taylor mature not only as a student, but as a person," writes science and Spanish teacher Will Forrest. "He is a natural-born leader, a hard worker, and a role model for other students in the high school, as well as in the community."
Bo Pipher is the son of Andy and Tonya Pipher. He will study agribusiness management at Penn State University and wrestle for the Nittany Lion.
"I am interested in furthering my education because I would like to have the opportunity to move back to the North Fork Valley and get a job following my graduation," writes Bo, whose family has deep roots in the area.
Bo was active all four years in student council and was selected as student body president his junior and senior years. He competed all four years on the cross country and wrestling teams. He is a three-time state wrestling champion and a runner-up his freshman year, and set state records for career pins (131) and single-season pins (43).
He has volunteered for numerous community events and was a volunteer youth wrestling coach and referee. He has been a student liaison for the school at public meetings and events, and was recognized as Hotchkiss Elks Lodge and High Country Shopper student of the month, and Denver Post Student-Athlete of the Month. Bo has worked on ranches and in construction and is certified in solar installation and design.
"Bo will meet any challenge that confronts him," writes former teacher and coach, Robert Reed. "He is civic-minded and has a deep respect for others around him as he seeks perfection in all his endeavors. . . His compassion and encouragement help others succeed in school and in their community."