Miss Dowagiac discusses faith, love for community

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

(Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

It’s not hard to see why newly crowned Miss Dowagiac 2016 Anne Zebell is so excited for the opportunity to represent her hometown as its resident queen.

Recalling the hundreds of supportive text messages she received from friends and family as well as the way that several local businesses stepped up to help her with her dress, hair and other preparations only a few days before the pageant nearly brought the 17-year-old high school senior to tears.

“I’ve always realized how great our community is, but these last few weeks have really brought that fact to my attention more so than ever before,” Zebell said.

Zebell was selected as the new queen during the 77th annual Miss Dowagiac Pageant, which took place Saturday at the Dowagiac Middle School Performing Arts Center. The student was selected from a field of nine other Dowagiac girls, winning not only the top crown but also receiving the inaugural Judy Dodd Memorial Community Service Award as well as the communications award for her platform on the history of the Pokagon Band.

“I felt so blessed, so overwhelmed,” Zebell said, recalling her thoughts when outgoing queen Tori Smith placed the crown upon her head. “I didn’t expect it at all. I was overcome with emotion, but I felt so honored.”

Like many of the queens that came before her, standing beneath the bright lights while cheered on by the hundreds of onlookers in the audience that evening fulfilled one of the young woman’s longtime dreams. Since she and her family moved from the Chicago area to Sister Lakes when she was an infant, the Miss Dowagiac Pageant has become a tradition in her life, where she quickly became enamored with the glitz and spectacle of the event.

“I always knew I would be up on that stage one day,” Zebell said. “There was no question in my mind.”

Zebell is no stranger to putting herself in the public eye, though.

The daughter of a former opera singer and longtime music teacher, Zebell “came out of the womb singing,” she said. A longtime member of both her high school and church choir, the teenager has spent many hours sharing her passion for singing with others.

“There’s an aspect about performing on stage that gives you such a thrill,” she said.

Her love of music has also led her to learn how to play guitar, and she is currently learning how to play piano as well.

The arts isn’t the only guiding force in her life, though. Her family’s strong sense of faith and in giving back has helped shaped Zebell’s life as well.

When she was 12, she and her family traveled across the world to Zambia to help build a school and well for the residents of a small impoverished village in the African nation. While not old enough to help with building duties, Zebell and her siblings spent much of their several month excursion playing with the village children, helping to teach them English while in return learning much about their way of life.

“It gave me a new set of eyes to look at the world,” Zebell said. “It was hard to see kids my age or younger living in such conditions.”

Several years later, Zebell would join other members of her church’s youth group on a mission to Peru, where she sang and delivered talks to orphanages, villages and churches in the South American country.

As the president of the high school Interact Club, Zebell continues to help make a difference in the lives of others, both overseas and locally.

Zebell, who is set to graduate in the top five of her class, intends on studying music and communications at Southwestern Michigan College this fall, she said. She eventually plans to transfer to Belmont University in Nashville to pursue her four-year degree.

In the mean time, the new Miss Dowagiac is excited for the chance to serve with her court in representing the community throughout the next year, beginning with the upcoming Dowagiac Ice Time Festival and Daddy-Daughter Dance, both of which take place on Feb. 6.

“We have a lot of great people here,” she said. “Just because we’re not the largest city, or our residents don’t have the most money doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish great things.”

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