By Joshua Maloni
Victoria Skrlin-Kozak was crowned Peach Queen Sunday night, capping off the 62nd annual Niagara County Peach Festival at Academy Park in Lewiston.
The 18-year-old Niagara Falls resident is a nursing student at Niagara University. She plans on obtaining her RN/BSN and then working in a hospital trauma unit. Skrlin-Kozak’s goal is to become a nurse practitioner.
“It honestly feels so amazing,” Skrlin-Kozak told The Sentinel. “I never expected this to happen, and it's one of the best feelings in the world.”
The Peach Queen receives a $4,000 scholarship from the Lewiston Kiwanis Club, the organization that stages the Peach Festival. Each of the five finalists also takes home a peach pendant necklace.
As part of her one-year reign, the Peach Queen is tasked with raising money and awareness for a cause of her choosing.
“My platform is about sustainability and the environment, and how we can give back to our planet with simple things,” Skrlin-Kozak said. “I do not have a certain group or organization right now that I want to raise money for, but I do want to educate the community on how easy it is to give back to our planet. And I do think that we should have a ‘Plant a Tree Day,’ where we educate the community, and sell trees and plants and flowers. I think that would be a great thing.”
The Peach Queen scholarship program began in July. Each of the 16 contestants met with judges, participated in local events, and got to know each other through social activities. On the final night of the competition, 11 girls sought the title.
“Through this program, I have learned so much; to appreciate who I am and to love myself in my own skin,” Skrlin-Kozak said. “And the entire process was so fun. Everybody was so supportive, no matter if you won or if you didn't. Everybody, I think we really just had a great bond.”
At NU, Skrlin-Kozak is involved with the Student Nurses Association, Environmental Club and club lacrosse. She has volunteered for HANCI and at Niagara Catholic events.
Second place went to 17-year-old Madalyn Teal of Lewiston, a student at Niagara County Community College. She also was named Miss Congeniality, as voted by her peers. This honor in presented by Don and Janice Laurie, in memory of their daughter, Tara, an acting student who tragically passed in 2004 at the age of 20.
Shanya Davis, 17, of Niagara Falls, finished third. Fourth place was awarded to 17-year-old Molly Chiarella of Niagara Falls. Nina Trank, 19, of Wilson, placed fifth.
Elleana Amendola, 18, of Niagara Falls, was presented with the Bright Star Award. This accolade is given to a young woman finishing out of the top five who demonstrated a positive attitude, stepped out of her comfort zone, and participated in/embraced scholarship events.
The judging panel included “AM Buffalo” co-host and former Peach Queen Courtney Corbetta; Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center director of marketing and outreach, and Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce Board Chairwoman Christine O’Hara; Northwest Bank branch manager Lisa Sweeney; Niagara University Associate Director of Admissions Sara Villnave; and Buffalo-based entertainer Cortney Chyme Costanzo.
Departing Peach Queen Santana Sawma recapped her year and then presented her chosen beneficiary, Dog Tags NY, with a check for $7,502.
The new Peach Fuzz, 5-year-old Ryland Hoyle, and the Peach Blossom, 5-year-old Vailyn Orsi, were recognized on stage – and interviewed by emcee Maryalice Demler of WGRZ-TV Channel 2.
2013-14 Peach Queen Alexandra Casale performed Canadian and American national anthems.
Peach Festival Advisory Chairman Jerry Wolfgang presented the Kiwanis Media Award to Dave Jickster of 97 Rock.
Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Pauly, also a former Peach Queen, is the scholarship competition coordinator. Her sister, Katelyn Allan, is the judges liaison.
Victoria Skrlin-Kozak, upon hearing she won. She is joined by runner-up Madalyn Teal.
The Peach Queen court.
Santana Sawma with Victoria Skrlin-Kozak.
Maryalice Demler with Peach Blossom Vailyn Orsi, Peach Fuzz Ryland Hoyle, and Sawma.
Madalyn Teal receives a hug from Janice Laurie as Don Laurie and Sawma look on.
Jennifer Pauly with Demler.