Meet the candidates for Aurora, Queen of the Snows of the 2023 St. Paul Winter Carnival

Would you agree to a yearlong volunteer commitment that involves taking time off from work, traveling across the region (and beyond), speaking to groups about your community and also riding in parades while wearing a sparkling crown?

That’s a commitment 11 candidates for Aurora, Queen of the Snows of the St. Paul Winter Carnival would like to make in 2023.

It’s a volunteer position that requires a solid work effort — to act as a booster for our city and our festival while also playing the role of queen (or one of the four princesses). This royal contingent represents winter as they join King Boreas and the rest of the royal family in the fight against the melt of spring, as represented by the Fire King and his Vulcan Krewe.

The 11 women have already become a closeknit crew as they travel around the Twin Cities as an entourage, spreading goodwill and talking about the history of the fairytale-like festival, which dates back to the 1800s.

It’s an effort that combines the professionalism of a public relations or marketing executive with the star quality of an actor performing on stage.

“I describe it as a combination of a three-month long interview and casting call,” says Jennifer Battan, who was a candidate herself in 2017 and is now serving as the chair of the Queen of the Snows Candidate Committee.

The candidates of 2023 also share a passion for serving others, whether it’s as a kindergarten teacher, a veteran serving veterans, an oncology nurse, a social worker or a volunteer who bakes cakes for kids who need help celebrating a special occasion.

The Pioneer Press will interview the new queen shortly after she is crowned on Friday, Jan. 27, but for now, here are the bios the candidates provided (edited for length and clarity):

Dee Barrett, sponsored by River Run Team of Remax Results — Greg Kuntz.

Barrett writes in her bio that “service, family, friends and fun” inspired her candidacy. She hones her organization and leadership skills working with executives at Medtronic. She’s also an active volunteer, including fostering more than 350 dogs. She loves to walk, having logged more than 4,000 miles — highlights include a Mud Girl Run. When she’s at home in Fridley, she enjoys crafting and spending time with her three dogs.

Michaela Hingst, sponsored by Gertens Garden Center and Nursery.

Why does Hingst love St. Paul? “The great Mississippi, rolling bluffs, lush forests, and incredible people!” she writes. An outdoorsy candidate, Hingst says she enjoys hiking, camping and fishing “any season of the year.” Her fondness for the outdoors extends to her job — while on a gap year from her college studies, she is working as a shrub specialist at Gertens. After several years of chronic pain due to collegiate sports injuries, Hingst says that she is “relieved to have the time and space to heal in all facets of life.” That said, she writes that she is “ecstatic” to be a queen candidate because it means she can “take part in something bigger than herself and give to those around her.”

Rahila Hungiapuko, sponsored by Majestic and Silver Threads.

Scientia potentia est — knowledge is power — is a doctrine Hungiapuko believes in: As an educator with St. Paul Public Schools, Hungiapuko has served as an English language specialist and currently teaches kindergarten. Since graduating from Bethel University in 2012, she has enjoyed traveling the world and is a committed volunteer and mentor with multiple organizations. She is also studying for a master’s degree at the University of Southern California. Although not a native Minnesotan, she is a fan of winter and especially hockey (“Go Wild!” she writes). She enjoys visiting museums and attending musicals. Hungiapuko writes that she is thankful for her sponsors.

Kimberly Johnson, sponsored by Mancini’s.

Johnson, who joined the military at 17, retired from the Minnesota Army National Guard (with honors) after serving 20 years. She is the diversity, equity and inclusive coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. Johnson lives in Apple Valley and grew up in Northeast Minneapolis, but got to know St. Paul through her work assignments. She met her husband, Bryan, through the St. Paul Winter Carnival. As the mother of a daughter, 8-year-old Danielle, Johnson writes that she wants to be a positive role model for all children.

Maija Johnson, sponsored by Doodle Productions.

Johnson attends Grand Canyon University online, where she is pursuing a degree in elementary education and special education. During the summer, she volunteers as a counselor with organizations including Camp Odayin and North Star Reach. Having played the violin since she was five years old, Johnson still plays at events and teaches beginner students. Johnson grew up in St. Paul and currently lives in Woodbury with her cat, Laszlo. In her free time, she enjoys working on puzzles with her family.

Emily Maestas, sponsored by Hero Home Services.

From caves across the country to the classrooms of Cottage Grove, Maestas writes that you’ll find her chasing her love of adventure and her passion for teaching. A paraprofessional for South Washington County School, she is currently studying for a degree in education at the University of Wisconin-River Falls. She also volunteers at Gillette Children’s hospital. Besides cave exploring, her other passions include traditional Japanese dance. Emily and her husband, Nick, live together in Woodbury with their two cats, Binx and Moe.

Jocelyn O’Neill, sponsored by Ideal Printers Inc.

Because she wanted a career helping others, O’Neill works as a child protection social worker. After studying abroad in South Africa, O’Neill also developed a passion for travel. So far, she has visited three other countries. But even when she can’t travel on a plane or hit the road, she likes to journey through books; her favorites include the “Harry Potter” series and the “Hunger Games” trilogy. She shares her apartment in Forest Lake with lots of books and a cat, Marina; they enjoy playing laser tag.

Molly Pettit, sponsored by JTB.

Pettit describes herself as a “small-town girl with big-city dreams.” She was born and raised in Cokato, Minn., but loves spending time in St. Paul. She graduated from St. Cloud State University in 2021 with a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling education in 2021. Since graduating, she has been serving individuals across the state suffering from work injuries as a qualified rehabilitation consultant. When not traveling for work, Pettit loves spending quality time with her friends and family, completing art projects and volunteering in the St. Paul community.

Susan Pulcher, sponsored by South Main Dental.

Born and raised in Cambridge, Pulcher describes herself as “a country girl with a big city heart.” Her favorite season? “Frozen,” she writes in her bio, “followed by summer.” In 2021, she reached her goal of returning to college and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Minnesota State University Moorhead. She has plenty of work experience to go with that degree: Pulcher has worked as a labor and delivery, postpartum and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse for the past 23 years. In May, she shifted her career path and became certified in chemotherapy infusion. Her future goals include jumping out of an airplane, winning the lottery and standing in Times Square in New York City on New Year’s Eve to watch the ball drop.

Liv Swenson, sponsored by White Bear Country Inn & Rudy’s Red Eye Grill.

Swenson grew up in Inver Grove Heights and graduated from St. Olaf College, where she studied dance, education and race and ethnic studies. She works as an associate project manager at the University of Minnesota Foundation. Her hobbies can be summed up in three words: Books. Coffee. Creativity. Swenson has recently rediscovered her love of baking and enjoys creating and donating cakes to “For Goodness Cakes,” a nonprofit that provides special cakes to help underserved youth and young adults celebrate their birthdays and other special occasions. She writes that she is excited “to meet new people, connect with her community and support the long-standing tradition of volunteerism through Winter Carnival.”

Tessa Westlund, sponsored by Party Time Liquor.

Westlund says her response to most adventures is, “You betcha!” Growing up exploring St. Paul, she fell in love with its rich history and the people who live in the area. A pandemic-era graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College, she says she has learned to “never turn down an opportunity, for we never know when it could be taken away unexpectedly.” These days, she works as a recruiter for Volt Workforce Solutions, where she helps people nurture their careers. She enjoys “performing vocals in her car, partaking in historical reenactment with her grandparents, tying up her old ice skates, spending time as Aunt Titi, seeing new places and trying new things and just letting serendipity take its course.”

Royal Coronation of Boreas Rex LXXXVI and Aurora, Queen of the Snows

The public is welcome to attend the royal coronation at St. Paul RiverCentre, 175 Kellogg Blvd. in downtown St. Paul, starting at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27, for a reduced price of $30 a person (with a 2023 Winter Carnival button). Doors open for general admission seating at approximately 7:30 pm. General admission tickets are available while supplies last. Seating is very limited and no ticket sales will be available at the door.

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