Kara Bennett

Kara Bennett is head lifeguard and water safety instructor at Sam-O Swim Center.

On her way to completing a degree in molecular biology and then continuing her education to become a general surgeon back in her hometown of Baker City, Kara Bennett will be taking a side trip this fall to compete in the Miss Oregon USA pageant.

Bennett, 21, said her interest in the competition was piqued by a brochure she received in the mail. And while she says she’d never given much thought to taking part in a pageant, further investigation of the event left her wanting to know more.

And now as summer begins to wane, she’s found herself preparing to represent Baker County in the Miss Oregon USA pageant at Wilsonville Nov. 21-22.

She entered the competition, which she says is so much more than a “beauty contest,” and was named Miss Baker County USA after interviewing with pageant officials who asked about her life, her community and school involvement and her plans for the future. Bennett was born and raised in Baker City.

She is the daughter of Toni Bennett and the third of five children, including two older brothers, and a younger sister and younger brother.

The 2017 Baker High School graduate was student body president her senior year. At Eastern Oregon University, where she is in her fourth year and plans to complete a fifth before heading to medical school, she is active in the Pre-Professional Health Club. She will be the organization’s volunteer coordinator in the coming year.

While Bennett says her family has been supportive of her desire to compete for the Miss Oregon USA crown, she’s not sure they fully understand the impact contestants can make on the world around them.

“Everyone gets the perception that it’s a beauty contest,” she says.

While the competition does include evening gown and swimwear competition along with an interview, the women, ages 19 to 27, bring serious issues to the pageant through their platforms calling for social reforms.

“These are some of the most incredible women I’ve ever met in my life,” Bennett says of her fellow competitors.

As a pageant contestant, Bennett, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 6, hopes to use her platform to help children with disabilities.

Bennett said it was always difficult for her to talk about her diabetes and her need to take insulin shots at school. She was embarrassed by her disease, she says.

If crowned Miss Oregon USA, Bennett would like to travel around the state working to help make life easier for other elementary school children who might feel left out or bullied because of their disabilities by helping educate their friends and classmates while providing fun and inclusive activities that they can all take part in together.

Bennett would like to incorporate some of the ideas that she and her friend, Isabella Evans, worked together on at Baker Middle School through the Kids-Heal program brought to Baker City by founder and organizer Frank Etxaniz. The program was designed “to improve the emotional, physical and creative health of all children,” according to the kids-heal.org website.

“I want to make my platform as successful as it can be and to impact the lives of as many children as I can,” Bennett said.

And if she doesn’t bring home the Miss Oregon USA crown, she says she would like to continue to promote her platform in Baker County through the Special Olympics program.

She will look to Paula Moe, her boss at Sam-O Swim Center, where Bennett is head lifeguard and water safety instructor, to help in that endeavor. Moe is coordinator of the Baker County Special Olympics program.

In the months leading up to the pageant, Bennett will be busy preparing for interviews and finalizing her evening gown selection and choosing other clothing for the event.

She’s also securing sponsors and conducting fundraisers. Those selected for the pageant pay an $899 entrance fee.

The winner and top finalists will receive cash, prizes, awards and scholarships, according to the Miss Oregon USA website. The winner will advance to the Miss USA pageant. And the winner of that event will represent the U.S. at the Miss Universe pageant.

There have been some changes to this year’s competition because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more could happen before November. But Bennett is looking forward to it nonetheless.

“I love to get out of my comfort zone,” she said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

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