Joeli Walrath wiped her eyes Wednesday night as a steady stream of family members, friends and fellow rodeo queens lined up to give hugs to the next Miss Rodeo Nebraska.
Hearing her name announced in North Platte’s Wild West Arena, on the opening night of the Buffalo Bill Rodeo and Nebraskaland Days, was a moment 12 years in the making.
“Honestly, this is a dream come true,” said Walrath, 21, a former two-time Miss Teen Rodeo Nebraska contestant who was named 2020 Miss Rodeo Nebraska Lady-in-Waiting over Brooklyn Becker of Beaver City.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming of since I saw my first Miss Rodeo Nebraska when I was 9 years old” at a state horse exposition, added the University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior from Ashton.
Walrath, the daughter of Jamie and Jaci Walrath, will receive her full-fledged crown in January. Reigning Miss Rodeo Nebraska Eva Oliver of Merriman will bow out then, after she competes in the Dec. 1-8 Miss Rodeo America pageant in Las Vegas.
Walrath’s parents and grandparents all live in Sherman County near Ashton and Loup City, where she graduated from high school in 2016.
She said she learned the value of hard work helping maternal grandparents Rhonda and Harold Krolikowski on their cattle and row-crop farm. Her other grandmother, Cheri Walrath, “taught me my love of horses,” she said.
From showing horses in the Clover 4-H Club, Walrath moved on to barrel racing and then to competing in local rodeo pageants.
“That’s when I got to go to my first Miss Rodeo Nebraska events (in North Platte) and realize what it was all about,” she said.
Walrath had won junior rodeo queen crowns in Kearney and McCook before she entered the Miss Teen Rodeo Nebraska contests in North Platte in both 2015 and 2016.
“I never did win the title” in the teen division, “but it’s the experience that made me the person I am today,” she said.
Before competing in North Platte again, Walrath gained more rodeo pageant experience by winning the Nuckolls County Rodeo Queen and Miss Burwell Rodeo crowns.
All of her previous titles earned her guest appearances alongside other local pageant winners and state and national rodeo queens at Miss Rodeo Nebraska.
“So I had a good time at Nebraskaland Days for a long time, carrying flags (in the Wild West Arena) as a visiting queen,” Walrath said.
The UNL rodeo team member is set to graduate from UNL in December with her bachelor’s degree in animal science. The scholarship money she won this week will help her pay off student loans and possibly enable her to pursue graduate work.
“I always had veterinary school in mind and getting different qualifications in equine science,” said Walrath, who hopes to develop a mobile equine sport rehabilitation service.
Becker, 22, won the congeniality award in the Miss Rodeo Nebraska division in addition to scholarships and prizes as pageant runner-up.
She is the daughter of Scott and Joanna Chesterman of Beaver City.
All five contestants for Miss Rodeo Nebraska and Miss Teen Rodeo Nebraska cast ballots for congeniality winners in both divisions.