Mrs. Minnesota America is a voice for children’s cancer research.
There’s a secret behind pageantry. Beyond the glitz, crown, sash and gown, most pageant contestants champion a cause near and dear to their hearts. That is the case of Edina’s Brandi DeVries, who won Mrs. Minnesota America in June and placed third in the national Mrs. America pageant in August.
DeVries uses her platform to shine a light on a cause that means a lot to her: pediatric cancer research.
“Pageantry gives people the ability to share their passion with others and share the causes they support,” DeVries says. “They help those organizations. Pageantry opens these doors for those organizations and gives them a voice.”
And she would know. DeVries has competed in pageants since she was a student in North Dakota, where she was crowned Miss North Dakota International in 2007 and Miss North Dakota USA in 2011.
“It’s empowering for me. [Pageants] open up doors for people,” she says. “It’s a great conversation starter that you’ve competed or are in a pageant or are a title holder. It allows you to share about pageantry and the benefits. It gives you the confidence and the ability to talk to anybody about anything and also share about issues that are important to you as most people in pageants do. There’s a ‘why’ of being involved. In my case, it’s the Children’s Cancer Research Fund (CCRF).”
CCRF is a national organization with a local office in Edina. The organization supports cancer research by funding emerging scientists to help fight childhood cancer. DeVries has helped raise more than $75,000 in the last seven years.
“Brandi is a leader in the community, and her voice helps bring awareness to our mission,” says Lauren Brink, local CCRF development officer.
DeVries is on several CCRF committees and is a founding board member of the Soar Leadership Council. The council is a professional group of community leaders, who raise critical funding for childhood cancer research. Funds support emerging scientists and doctors fighting childhood cancer. DeVries says this is especially important because funding for adult cancer research overshadows funding for childhood research. The grants CCRF offers are used to help cancer researchers, who may not otherwise receive funding.
Camp Norden is another CCRF initiative that DeVries supports. Children who have cancer can connect virtually from around the country or in person for summer camp activities in Crosslake, Minnesota. It’s programs like these that inspired DeVries to reach the Mrs. America stage and be able to give CCRF and its mission a bigger spotlight.
During the Mrs. America pageant in Las Vegas, she connected with other contestants supporting childhood cancer awareness in their states. Together, these dedicated women formed a team to participate in the Great Cycle Challenge supporting CCRF. “[This] type of sisterhood and support that comes from pageantry is powerful,” she says.
Carl Schway and his wife, Faith, have been the co-directors of the Mrs. Minnesota America pageant for the last 30 years. They’ve seen the positive impact pageant winners make. Participants become confident communicators. “These women are leaders in their community. They become leaders. It doesn’t just happen overnight, though,” Carl says.
Brenda Torre has been a makeup artist and image and pageantry consultant for 40 years. Torre has been a longtime member of DeVries’ pageant team and was her stylist when DeVries won the Miss North Dakota titles and helped her prepare for Mrs. America.
Torre says that it’s important to know that it takes more than a pretty face to win a pageant. Pageant winners are involved in the community before and after the pageant and want to use the recognition that comes with their crown and sash to broaden their scope of activism.
Even with experience and maturity to lean on, the road to Mrs. America presented new obstacles. “It’s more challenging to prepare at this stage in my life with a career, being a wife and a mom,” DeVries says. But as a master planner, her time-management skills helped get her back into the routine.
Jason Ivesdal, owner of Higher Power Training, agrees. He customized a nutrition and training program for DeVries. “Brandi is smart, highly organized and gets things done,” Ivesdal says, adding she spent several days a week in the gym, getting into pageant shape.
DeVries says the swimsuit portion of the competition is empowering. “You can get up there as someone who’s had a child,” she says. “You can say, ‘Look at me. I can do this. You can still have a child and do something for yourself.’”
However, the most rewarding part of competing for Mrs. America USA is having her family by her side. Her husband, Cole, and their son, Bane, have a family motto: “Teamwork makes the dream work.” When DeVries is on stage, and her name is called, she knows that she shares her accomplishments with them. “We’re doing this together as a family,” she says.