March 23 • 01:35 AM

Dream comes truefor new 'Little Miss'

Leilani Ward crowned in Blueberry pageant

Leilani Ward with crown, trophy and flowers is thrilled to be Little Miss Blueberry 2007. photo by Catherine Breakfield.

June 27, 2007
IMLAY CITY — Looks can be deceiving. Little girls are often described as "sugar and spice and everything nice." But oftentimes beneath that gentle exterior lies a will of granite, at least such is the case with Leilani Ward, Little Miss Blueberry 2007.

This tiny three-and-a-half-foot tall beauty is packed full of determination. Her certificate for 'Hard Worker' at last Friday's Little Miss Blueberry Pageant couldn't have described her better. However, dreams take time, and patience spiced with perseverance became the key which opened the door of success for Leilani Ward.

During last year's Little Miss Blueberry Pageant, Leilani sat in the audience. Only 4-years-old at the time, Leilani wanted to compete in the pageant. She was heartbroken to learn she was too young, but she never lost sight of her dream throughout the 12 months that followed.

With one front tooth missing, blond-haired and sparkling blue-eyed Leilani rolled up her sleeves and plunged head first into making her dreams a reality, staying focused on her goal. She wasn't afraid to ask for help from Kayleigh Smith, her cousin, who participated in the 2006 pageant, and listened intently to all her advice. Turning 5-years-old on June 3, she smiled her way into the hearts of the judges and stepped out into the footlights and onto the runway of a dream that had now become a reality in one gliding stride.

Kris and Bethany Ward of Townsend Court say that Leilani chose want she wanted to do for the talent contest. When Leilani heard the song from Little Miss Mermaid, 'Part of Your World,' she told her mom, "Well, that's my blueberry song." Leilani learned by watching her mom that it takes hard work to make your dreams come true.

Bethany, a local country singer, won a chance to compete in the Colgate Country Show in Big Rapids on June 30. Bethany works hard at her craft. She does it because she likes it, and passed that advice along to her daughter.

"Do it because you enjoy it, because you want to, that's most important," Bethany told her.

Bethany, her sister and her cousin all competed in the Little Miss Blueberry Pageant years ago, but Leilani was the first in the family to make it to the top.

"(Pageant Organizer Lorraine Filer) said not to coach your daughter, to let them come and be who they are," Bethany says. "She's right, that gives them all the confidence of being who they are. My little 5-year-old daughter taught me just to be who I am."

Leilani had plenty of support from the audience with Great Grandmother Joy Godo, Grandmother Debbie Smith, Bethany's sisters Amanda Kurtzhals and Amy Quintana.

"But we still flipped out when her name was called," says Bethany with a chuckle. "From the day she was born, from day one, she was confidant, she loves to pose."

Leilani has a younger brother, Michael, 2, and enjoys roller skating, bike riding, dancing and above all singing.

Complementing the Little Miss Blueberry Court are first runner-up Brooklynne Toombs 9, daughter of Glenn and Shannon Toombs; second runner-up Darrien Collison, 9, daughter of Shane and Deanna Collison; and third runner-up is Serena Bara, 9, daughter of Steven and Andrea Bara.

Every competitor walked away a winner. All 29 contestants received a trophy, gift bag and a certificate enunciating their unique attributes and personality.

"Because they were all good!" Filer says. "They all are winners. They were cheering for the girls that made it, cheering and clapping, happy for their success."

Filer says parents often tell her that their daughter gained more confidence after competing in the pageant.

"I like to think I had a tiny bit to do with that," replies Filer, who's been at the helm of the pageant for more than 20 years.

She says a special 'thank you' goes to Imlay City Varsity Cheer Team Coach Kim Jorgensen and her cheerleaders.

"With the constant support from the Imlay City Varsity Cheerleaders, these girls truly excelled!" Filer says.

Filer says she's also grateful to Betty and John Cramer who donated the money to make the outfits, Trina Sherman who sewed the costumes, Hyponex which donates all the prizes every year and Imlay City Ford who donated half the money for the trophies this year.

"Without them I couldn't do this," Filer says. "The girls wouldn't get what they get out of this."

Filer adds that "a heart full of gratitude" goes to everyone that helped make the pageant a success, especially her family members who are always there to lend a hand.

Little Miss Blueberry contestants will be at the Blueberry Festival on stage at 11 a.m. Fri., Aug. 6, and in the Blueberry Parade at 6 p.m. on Sat., Aug. 7.

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