Contestants in the 2008 Mrs. Yokota Pageant rehearse Thursday for the competition at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Contestants in the 2008 Mrs. Yokota Pageant rehearse Thursday for the competition at Yokota Air Base, Japan. (Bryce S. Dubee / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Working out in the Yokota gym last September, Jenepher Esser had an idea.

Unable to participate in a pageant back in her home state of Alaska, she decided to do the next best thing and bring a pageant to Yokota.

“I started thinking that pageants are one of the most patriotic activities in the world,” she said. “And [military spouses] are the most patriotic women in the world, so we should have our own pageant.”

On Saturday evening at the Taiyo Community Center, Esser’s idea will become a reality as 23 women take the stage for the 2008 Mrs. Yokota Pageant.

“The outpour of support has been phenomenal,” said Esser, the executive director of the pageant, adding that throughout April and into May contestants participated in a variety of events including fashion shows, informational meetings and brunch with their spouses.

This week, the contestants met at the Taiyo on Thursday and Friday for their final rehearsals before the competition.

In addition to earning the title of Mrs. Yokota, the winner will receive prizes including a $250 scholarship provided by the Yokota Enlisted Spouses Club, a $500 cash scholarship, a vacation package and gift cards for the base exchange and commissary.

“The married women on base need more recognition,” said Debby Yuille, the pageant’s production director.

Yuille said all of the women in the pageant are married and are either dependents or serve on active duty. The majority of the contestants are also mothers, she said.

“We’re really proud of all the contestants,” she said. “At first, some of them were really shy, but as time went on, they really started to come out of their shells.”

Beyond learning to get over their stage fright, the pageant has been a great opportunity to make some new friends, contestant Melissa Lopez said.

“It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s a lot more work than I thought it would be,” she said. “There’s so much to get together in such a short time.”

Lopez signed up in hopes of winning the scholarship money, but she said the people she’s met have made it worth her time and effort regardless of the pageant outcome.

“We didn’t really know each other in the beginning,” she said. “But after a little while, we all built a lot of friendships.”

Ebonee Abby, another contestant, agreed.

“We now see each other in the commissary or BX, and we’re like: ‘Hey, how’s it going?’” she laughed.

Esser said she has been contacted by the RAF Mildenhall Services in England about doing their own pageant. Eventually, she said she hopes to expand the pageant into a Mrs. Military Overseas Pageant, with individual base competitions serving as the preliminary events.

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