By Dianne Sudbrock
Kate Wenger is a certified reading specialist at Bryan Middle School in the Francis Howell School District, and lives near Daniel Boone School in New Melle. On Sept. 11, 2021, she won the Mrs. Missouri America Pageant, and in November, will compete for the title of Mrs. America 2021.
Kate had been looking for a way to raise dyslexia awareness in the general population, and promote early childhood reading. A life-long resident of St. Charles County (born and raised in the Orchard Farm/Boschertown area) Kate competed in the 2005 St. Charles County Queen pageant where she won First Runner-up and Miss Congeniality. The Master of Ceremonies that year was Mrs. Missouri America (also a St. Charles County resident.) She learned that the Mrs. Missouri Pageant is dedicated to empowering women to challenge themselves and inspire others by sharing their passion. Kate remembers thinking, “I might want to check that out when I’m older and married.”
Time passed. Kate finished college, started teaching, got married and had a family. In her thirties, she returned to professional cheering, and for the past two seasons danced with the St. Louis Bombshells (cheering for the St. Louis Ambush Soccer Team.) Kate said, “Dance has always been a constant in my life. It is my artistic outlet, my stress reliever, my center. As a young mother, I didn’t have time to dance, but thanks largely to my husband, Terry, who has always supported my desire to push myself out of my comfort zone, I’ve been able to bring dance back into my life. It is also Terry’s support, as well as other family and friends, that has allowed me to participate in the Mrs. Missouri Pageant, and now the Mrs. America Pageant. Without them, I would not be able to make the commitment that comes with these endeavors.”
Kate hopes to use the networking opportunities provided with her Mrs. Missouri title to make the general population more aware of dyslexia. Dyslexia affects 20% of the population, but most people are not very aware of its characteristics. Dyslexia is not a neurological disorder. It is not a problem of intelligence, lack of motivation, or laziness. It is a difference in how information is processed.
Dyslexia does not just affect reading. It affects other aspects of life including verbal communication, writing, recognizing body language, and more. People with dyslexia don’t use the left part of their brain for reading like other people do; so reading is not as automatic as it is for others. Students with dyslexia need to be taught in a different, very structured and disciplined way to help build automanticity. (Automaticity is the ability to do things as an automatic response pattern or habit, usually learned through repetition and practice.)
People with dyslexia should not feel ashamed. They are not alone. The condition is not rare. Most children with dyslexia can be successful with the aid of structured literacy.
While the primary focus of her platform in the Mrs. America Pageant is raising awareness of dyslexia, Kate has a secondary goal of expanding the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program – first to all children in St. Charles County, and eventually to all children across Missouri.
The Dolly Parton Imagination Library (DPIL) is an international non-profit which provides one free book per month for children birth to 5 years old, regardless of socio-economic status. Kate is the DPIL volunteer administrator for St. Charles County. Overseen by United Way of St. Louis, any child participating in Head Start or United Children’s Services in St. Charles County has had access DPIL for several years, but Kate wants to broaden availability to all children in the county, and eventually, statewide.
Currently, DPIL is available to all children in the states of Tennessee, North Carolina, Kansas, and the District of Columbia. Kate said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Missouri could be the fourth state nationwide?” By establishing initial funding with the help of her church – Our Savior Lutheran in St. Charles – other children are now able to enroll. Soon, through fundraising efforts and corporate sponsors, the program will be available to children in most zip codes in St. Charles County. A fundraising event is planned for Sunday, Nov. 7 with Kendra Scott Jewelry at Plaza Frontenac. Donations will also be accepted through a new DPIL website for St. Charles County which should be launched soon.
When Kate returned to her classroom after winning the Mrs. Missouri crown and title, she was surprised by her students and co-workers who decorated her classroom and congratulated her. She hadn’t told her students that she was participating in the pageant, but their reaction and support touched her heart. When she explained that she hoped to make more people understand why it’s a struggle for kids with dyslexia to read, some of them actually thanked her. “It was very heartwarming and brought tears to my eyes. Their reaction made me very humbled and excited to be doing this,” she said.
The Mrs. America Pageant begins the week Nov. 12th in Las Vegas and concludes on Sunday, Nov. 21. Kate will spend the next few weeks reflecting on her goals and how to convey her platform at the national level.
Kate said, “If I don’t win the national pageant, I still plan on using my title as Mrs. Missouri America to promote dyslexia awareness and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. I do truly hope to win at the national level because it will provide opportunities to take my platform nationwide.”
You can follow Kate’s journey on Instagram and Facebook at Mrs. Missouri America 2021. There are opportunities there to support Kate in her bid to increase dyslexia awareness through her pageant participation. T-Shirt sales will help start a scholarship through the Dyslexia St. Louis Learning and Advocacy Center for families who need financial assistance with tutoring fees; and voting for Kate in the Mrs. America’s Fabulous Face contest will help her continue to make a positive impact on those with dyslexia. (Each Fabulous Face vote is $2.50 and the winner is ensured a spot in the top 15 candidates. Proceeds benefit charities of the Mrs. America organization.)
For other women, Kate offers these words of encouragement that a friend once told her, “If you can be your best self in other aspects of your life, you can still juggle those things and pursue your dreams. Don’t be the one to hold yourself back. Go for it.”