While 23-year-old Sarah Rutan doesn’t actually live in Marin, she is representing us as Miss Marin County 2011 (and for the record, she was Miss Napa County as well as Miss Northern California in 2009). How is this possible? As Rutan explains: “The Miss America Organization has two types of pageants — structured and open. With a structured pageant, a contestant has to live, work or go to school within the area for at least six months prior to the date of the program while with an open pageant, a contestant only has to live within the state of California to enter.”
As a two-year employee at Diamond Certified, in Novato, the petite 4-foot-8-inch Rutan was eligible to compete for the Miss Marin County title for 2011. Her contestant platform is a presentation called “10 Ways to Achieve Your Goals Through Positive Thinking,” which — considering how she overcame a childhood of being forced to sell candy in front of grocery stores and live with her siblings and parents in a motor home as they traveled from town to town — makes sense. But perhaps the best training for the beauty queen’s positive thinking platform was her job as a performer for the company Magic Princess. “I dressed up as Dora the Explorer, a clown, a fairy and other characters for children’s parties,” she says. “My duties included balloon twisting, face painting, magic shows and puppet shows.” And, most importantly it seems she took Dora’s motto “Yes we can!” to heart.
Q Have you ever lived in Marin?
A No, but I feel like I do! Even though I live in Vallejo, I spend more of my time in Marin County working, promoting our scholarship program and enjoying everything that this area has to offer.
Q What do you enjoy doing in Marin?
A My favorite activities include kayaking with Outback Adventures in Larkspur, eating at FlourChylde Bakery in downtown Novato and shopping at the Northgate Mall in San Rafael as well as participating in community activities and promoting my platform to service organizations and high schools.
Q What are some of your duties as Miss Marin?
A Since being crowned in November, I have had the opportunity to participate in the San Rafael Parade of Lights, be a “Wandering Angel” at the Annual Winter Faire for the Greenwood School and paint faces for the Winter Fest at the Marinwood Community Center.
Q What inspired you to enter pageants?
A My mom. When I was a junior at St. Helena High School, she had seen an ad in the Napa Valley Register for the Napa Valley Junior Miss program, where the winner was awarded a scholarship. We both agreed this might be a great way for me to raise money for my college education, so I entered. Although I didn’t win, I decided to come back the next year and instead enter the Miss Napa County Scholarship Program, a local preliminary to the Miss America Organization where all contestants are given a scholarship regardless of placement.
Q What is your response to people who say that pageants objectify women?
A I do not believe the Miss America Organization program objectifies women. First and foremost, the Miss America Organization is a scholarship program — not a beauty pageant — and its number-one goal is to provide scholarships to young women to further their education. Through this program I have earned more than $17,000 in scholarships that paid for my college education at San Jose State University.
Q Where was the Miss Marin contest? Was it a tough competition?
A The Miss Marin County Scholarship Program was held at Dominican University and included eight contestants from all over Marin County. Each of us walked away with a scholarship regardless of placement. Because of the way the contest is judged — 25 percent talent, 35 percent lifestyle, 15 percent fitness in swimsuit, 20 percent evening wear, and 5 percent onstage question —
I never compare myself to another contestant, since I am ultimately competing against myself and the best I can do. In every case, I always strive to do the best I can.
Q Who were the judges?
A Each regional pageant is required to have at least three certified judges. These are volunteers who have gone through a judge school and have served as a trainee judge for at least three pageants in our system. Our panel included four certified judges, one community judge, one celebrity judge who was a former Miss Marin County, and a trainee judge.
Q What got you the crown? Or why do you think you won?
A During my interview, I gave the judges my top three reasons for wanting the job as Miss Marin County. First, I was ready to work to promote the scholarship program. My plans included creating a Miss Marin County website, becoming involved in social media and being a visible public figure in our community. Second, I was ready to promote my platform, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” for community organizations and high schools. And third, I told the committee and executive director, Michele Moser, that I would be honored to have the opportunity to be “their girl” and work with them throughout the year.
Q You were Miss Napa prior to being Miss Marin — is this common to represent different counties?
A Since the Miss America Organization is the largest provider of scholarships to young women in the world, it is very common for contestants to come back every year and try to earn a title so long as they meet the eligibility requirements.
Q Where is your favorite place to eat in Marin?
A My favorite places to eat include Novato’s Paradise Foods, where I consistently order their incredible egg salad sandwiches with an Andes mint (they include it as a surprise under your sandwich); Flourchylde Bakery, where I order an egg salad sandwich and side salad with a freshly baked cookie; Boca Pizzeria, where I order my favorite farmers pizza; and Neo Restaurant, where I order their tasty adobo (I am half Filipino and was so happy to have found a place that makes my favorite dish); and the list goes on. I love the food in Marin County!
Q How much do you earn in a pageant?
A In my first year as a contestant in Miss Napa County, although I didn’t place, I walked away with a $1,027 scholarship. On my fourth try, I earned the title of Miss Napa County 2008 and was awarded a $4,600 scholarship and an additional $1,200 when I participated at the Miss California 2008 competition. Through this experience I learned two very valuable lessons: to never give up on your goals and that the experience can turn out to be a blessing. So far, this program has paid off more than $17,000 of my college education at San Jose State University.