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Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2005
March 5-6, 2005
Capitol Plaza Hotel
Topeka, KS

Overview  /  Contestants  /  Judges  /  Photos  /  Press Coverage


An Overview of the Weekend

Lots of laughs were had and lasting friendships were made among four women who just happened to be competing against each other at this year's first-ever Ms. Wheelchair Kansas event. It's called a competition, but what was discovered at Kansas' first event, is that a Ms. Wheelchair weekend is really a time of bonding and empowerment for the contestants and all involved!

This year's event was held at the beautiful Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka, KS. Contestants and judges arrived on Saturday and were greeted by excited board members ready to get the weekend started, yet a little anxious as to how this first-ever event would turn out. Once checked in, the contestants, judges, and board members were all introduced and explained further directions during Welcome and Orientation sessions. Throughout the rest of the day, participants were able to witness a performance by dance company Ryanstrati & Co., which includes performers of all abilities. Contestants were then judged during the first Interview Judging Session, during which, those contestants not being judged, were able to practice a dance routine themselves. The evening concluded with a great dinner and a slumber party open to the contestants!

Sunday proved to be a busy day with nerves running high for the contestants and all involved. The four women bonded during an empowerment session, where they were able to relax and prepare for the upcoming crowning ceremony. All contestants were judged once again during the second Interview Judging Session. Hair and makeup specialists were on hand to pamper the girls and prepare them for the upcoming ceremony. As family members, guests, and media began arriving, it became clear to the board members that this was not going to be a small, intimate event...

The crowning ceremony was attended by over 100 people and five to six media outlets were present to capture the magic of this great event in our state. The crowning ceremony consisted of an introduction of each contestant, as well as a platform speech and two on stage questions for each. The contestants provided the entertainment for the afternoon as they performed a dance routine choreographed by Ryanstrati & Co. All those present heard from keynote speaker, Terri Rathbun of Blue Springs, MO, as the judges deliberated. Once the scores were tallied, the winners were announced. Stacy Ritt, of Garden City, was chosen as the first runner-up and JoAnne Fluke, of Ottawa, was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2005!

As the reception carried on into the late afternoon, and the contestants packed their luggage for home, it became obvious that this was one powerful weekend. It WAS a weekend of empowerment. It WAS a celebration of a group of wonderful women. And it WAS an event to remember!


The Contestants

Rebecca Branam
Ogden, KS

Mrs. Rebecca Branam, 39, lives her life as an example of independence. Rebecca, who was born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, has used her independence through the many activities that she has participated in over the years. She has been a member of the family selection committee for Habitat Humanity, worked as an ILC at Three Rivers Independent Living Center for two years, and currently works as a Sales Representative for Social Security Administration in Manhattan. In 2002 Rebecca won the Social Security Regional Commissioners Outstanding Customer Service Award. Rebecca is married and has one son, DeMarco. When she is not working, Rebecca is active at her son’s school and enjoys volunteering from time to time. She describes herself as a mother, wife, humorous, spiritual, and honest. Her goal is to keep her family healthy and happy. Rebecca also enjoys making speeches on a variety of topics including disability, sexuality, transition, faith, and much more. Rebecca, who lives in Ogden, KS, holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Rehabilitation Services from Emporia State University.

Clarissa Cooper
Independence, KS

Miss. Clarissa Cooper, 30, wants to make a difference in the world and live life to the fullest! Since the onset of quadriplegia caused from a spinal cord injury in 1995, she has done just that. Clarissa, who currently lives in Independence, KS, enjoys sharing her story and has spoken to various groups including an education class at Emporia State University and an RCIA class at her church. Clarissa attended Emporia State University from 1992 to 1999 where she graduated Suma Cum Laude with a Bachelors degree in Independent Studies and an emphasis in Elementary Education. She currently works as a Sales Associate at Bath and Body Works and enjoys volunteering at St. Andrew’s Catholic School where she helps out in the 3rd and 4th grade classes. Clarissa also recently became a board member for the Resource Center for Independent Living and spends time promoting Durrie Vision’s “Focus on Independence” program through her website and a video. Clarissa describes herself as family oriented, honest, compassionate, inspired, sincere, and enthusiastic. Some of her future ambitions include becoming a counselor, traveling, and enjoying all that life has to offer.

JoAnne Fluke
Ottawa, KS

Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2005!

*see Current Titleholder for biography

Stacy Ritt
Garden City, KS

First Runner-Up!

Miss. Stacy Ritt, 28, has had many years of experience in the disability field. Stacy was born with Cerebral Palsy. For many years, she lived in Wisconsin where she obtained her Bachelors degree in 1999 from the University of Wisconsin. She worked in the Services for Students with Disabilities Office and was a student senator for two years. Also while in Wisconsin, Stacy worked as a WDRC Coordinator for Wisconsin Coalition for Centers for Independent Living, a Voter Education Project Coordinator for IndependenceFirst, a Volunteer Instructor for United Cerebral Palsy, and Partner of Scanning Ink. Stacy currently lives in Garden City, KS and has lived in this state for four years. She worked at LINK, Inc. as a Systems Change Specialist for two years, and now works for the Center for Independent Living of Southwest Kansas as a Project / Peer Coordinator. Stacy is currently involved with the Working Healthy Board, was a member of the National Council for Independent Living (NCIL) for two years, has been an organizer for ADAPT for the past five years, and has volunteered for the Kansas Youth Leaership Forum as a Group Counselor for three years. She has always been strong advocate and describes herself as having integrity, being determined, empowering, honest, and trustworthy. Stacy enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and playing computer games. She would one day like to own her own business and see the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


The Judges

photo of Sanford   Sanford Alexander

Mr. Alexander holds a Masters of Science Degree in Guidance & Counseling (1970) and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English (1967), both from Long Island University, Brooklyn campus. He has had a life long direct acquaintance with services for the blind with the first half of his life as a full time consumer and the second half as a consumer and provider in the field of work with the blind. Mr. Alexander was born in Wichita, KS, but spent his early years in Philadelphia and New York. Since returning to Kansas, Mr. Alexander has worked with a number of community agencies and held several appointed or elected positions including a board member of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas; President of the Kansas Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired; President of Guide Dog Users of Kansas; member of the Advisory Committee for the Department of Services for the Blind, Kansas SRS; and advisor to Kansas Specialty Dog Services (KSDS). Currently, he serves as president of The Wichita Association for the Visually Handicapped; member of the State Rehabilitation Council; member of the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind Board of Directors, Smithtown NY; and member of the Assistive Technology Project site three advisory committees.

photo of Michele   Michele Leahy

Miss. Leahy understands disability from three unique perspectives. She was born with Spina Bifida, was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis at age 11 (a form of Muscular Dystrophy), and was hit by a tow truck at age 23. Michele recently completed her reign as Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania 2004, where she promoted disability awareness throughout the Commonwealth and even had the opportunity to speak on the PA Senate floor. Michele is currently a Service Coordinator for Liberty Resources, Inc. (a Center for Independent Living in Philadelphia, PA). As a freelance writer, Michele has written for such publications as the feminist magazine “Off Our Backs” and the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Financing Program quarterly newsletter. Until 2004, she wrote the monthly column “Chelly In the City” for Disabled Dealer Magazine. She campaigned for independence through sales of accessible and adaptive equipment by being a Certified Mobility Consultant. Michele holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Humanities from Penn State University. She has independently traveled throughout the United States and Western Europe, and has even had a private audience with the Pope.

photo of Rob   Rob Peppers

Mr. Peppers was born in Salina, KS. In May of 1988, he graduated, with honors, from the University of Kansas. Rob is currently a meteorologist for WIBW-TV in Topeka, KS and has served in this position for the past 17 years. He was named to the “Best of Topeka” list by the Topeka Capital-Journal in 2002, 2003, and 2004. Rob serves on the Board of Directors for the NE Kansas Parkinson’s Association. He also has been a co-host of the Children’s Miracle Network Celebration in 2002 and 2003, and was the keynote speaker for the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum in 2002 and 2003.

photo of George   George Vega

Mr. Vega has worked for the State Government for over 30 years. He currently holds the position of Director of Human Resources for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. George also holds an adjunct position at Friends University and Mid-America Nazarene University, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate business courses. George was born and raised in Topeka, KS. He holds a Bachelors degree in History from Washburn University and a Masters degree in Management from Baker University. George is married with four children and two grandchildren.


*Coming Soon


Press Coverage

A pageant with a cause: Women with disabilities relay powerful messages
Topeka Capitol Journal, 3-7-05

Featured on KSNT 27 News

Featured on WIBW 13 News

Miss Wheelchair Kansas
Garden City Telegram, 3-3-05


Last Updated: 4-19-05
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