For 21 years, Vonnie Tweed was the go-to person for the annual Miss Pequot Lakes Scholarship Pageant.
A founding member of the Pequot Lakes Woman’s Club - the group that started the pageant - Tweed emerged as a leader, especially in regard to the pageant. For her work, she will be recognized at the 33rd annual pageant Thursday, June 25, by being inducted into the Miss Pequot Lakes Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame was created last year to recognize volunteers who make a difference in the lives of the girls who participate in the pageant each year. John and Caroljean Weise were the first inductees for their many years of work with the pageant.
This year’s event will be held at Breezy Point Resort, though it is not open to the public because of COVID-19 restrictions. A resident of Shiloh Assisted Living in Pequot Lakes, Tweed received permission to attend the pageant to receive her accolades. Her family has only been able to see her through a window during the COVID-19 pandemic, but her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughters will be able to sit with her wearing masks. She will have to quarantine in her room for two weeks after attending the event.
“That was a lot of work; but boy, to see those girls. They're wonderful. So many of them turn out so wonderful,” Tweed, who turned 91 in March, said of her years with the pageant. “Some of them are doctors, some are nurses. They learn to be on time.”
Her granddaughter, Jodie (Tweed) Norquist, recalls how her grandma would be on her hands and knees, scrubbing the stage floor the night before each pageant. She strongly encouraged her granddaughter to enter the pageant because she saw how much it benefited the high school students who did. At 16, Norquist was crowned the 1987 Miss Pequot Lakes. She will introduce her grandmother at Thursday's pageant.
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“That was a lot of work; but boy, to see those girls. They're wonderful. So many of them turn out so wonderful. Some of them are doctors, some are nurses. They learn to be on time.” - Vonnie Tweed, of her years with the pageant.
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"It was a wonderful experience for me, and it was my grandma who not only supported me, but gave me the giant push I needed to do it," Norquist said. "Representing Pequot Lakes my junior year of high school gave me leadership and public speaking skills, along with a college scholarship that I deeply appreciated.
“Every community needs someone like my grandmother, the person who is willing to get down and scrub the floors if that's what's needed at the time. I think she's an incredible role model who has made an impact on my life and in the lives of so many other women in our community. I'm so proud of her," Norquist said.
Tweed said she feels good about the Hall of Fame honor but also embarrassed. She became involved in the pageants, held in those early days at the Cole Memorial Building, through the Weises. She worked at Weise Crafts & Variety, and said the couple was so easygoing. That feeling was mutual.
“After a few pageants, she drifted to the top as a person to go to,” John Weise said. “She got along with everybody and was a well-organized person. In the woman’s club, Vonnie was looked at as the leader. Vonnie was my leader.”
Caroljean Weise agreed, saying Tweed was the liaison between the woman’s club and the pageant.
“When things needed to be done, like get sponsors and finances, it was the woman’s club, and Vonnie had a lot to do with that,” she said, noting Tweed helped the woman’s club put on a luncheon for candidates each year and lended a hand at rehearsals as well as with decorating and cleanup.
Caroljean recalled taping lights on the ramp with Tweed.
“Wherever it was needed, she was there to help out,” Caroljean said. “Vonnie was John’s righthand person.”
Kimberly Ziesemer, current pageant director, said of Tweed: “We are thrilled to honor her and she has been an amazing community volunteer for many years - too many to count.”
Tweed said people will ask what she did to live so long. Her answer: “I don’t know. I worked. I sure didn’t lay around.”
She was 1 when her parents moved to a home three miles west of Pequot Lakes from Marshall, where her dad tried farming. As a girl, she helped deliver raw milk before school in the mornings.
“I was the oldest in the family. I took on responsibilities,” she said.
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“I don’t know. I worked. I sure didn’t lay around.” - Vonnie Tweed, on what she did to live so long.
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Her high school sweetheart and late husband, Les Tweed, moved to the area from Iowa for his family to farm.
“He was 13 or 14 when he moved here. He was sure cute,” Tweed said, noting he and his identical twin brother, Luther, were active in band, as was she playing drums. She also was a cheerleader for all sports.
She and Les married right after high school.
“It was hard to get work at that time. Les would cut wood,” Tweed said. “He would go out on Sundays and cut wood for the next day to burn for the week. He did everything he could to make a living.”
That included working night and day, including tending bar. “Anywhere he could get a few dollars,” she said.
They had two sons and the family moved to Kansas City for a time, where their daughter was born and where Les worked for Ford Motor Co.
“You can’t take a boy out of the farm and stick him in the city,” Tweed said, noting that while she liked Kansas City, her husband did not.
“He said, ‘See you later,’” she said, and because she didn’t drive and had three children, she returned home too.
Les delivered fuel and worked at a gas station, and when the owner retired Les bought the business, Pequot Oil. His wife did bookkeeping and pumped gas.
“I pumped gas like nobody pumped gas. I pumped gas and checked oil,” she said, as well as cleaned both the inside and outside of car windows.
In between working at the station, they built houses together.
“Once they got me up on the roof I could stay up there all day. I did shingling,”she said. “I never backed away from work. I guess I didn’t know anything else.”
Tweed said she’s had a fun life, and she still enjoys reminiscing with a couple of classmates she still talks to. She helped with the Pequot Lakes Fourth of July events, managing the Kiddie Parade.
“It was a lot of work, but it was fun,” she said. “There wasn’t as much unhappiness at that time. We just think of the happy times.
“I’ve been really happy with my life and I’ve worked hard,” Tweed said.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.