Laura Kaeppeler, Miss Wisconsin, was crowned Miss America last night. I don’t make it an annual habit of watching the Miss America pageant. But Laura’s crowing caught my attention for two reasons. She is from Kenosha, Wisconsin. I lived in Racine just 19 miles north of Kenosha from 1969-1975. And…I was intrigued by her platform at the pageant. Her platform focused on children of incarcerated adults. Her father was sentenced to a federal penitentiary on mail fraud charges, as she was getting ready to start to college.
As a law enforcement chaplain, my role is not focused on inmates or their families in most cases. I end up serving citizens that are the victims of heinous crimes, and the officers that deal with such individuals. I am with those same officers when someone is arrested. I have seen small children scream hysterically as mom or dad is cuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car. It was good for me to hear our newly crowned Miss America say: There are estimated 2 million people with a parent in jail. She brings awareness to a group that is often forgotten. And I think she put a topic out there that most people would rather not talk about!
Ms. Kaeppeler’s success underscores another important principle. Families have serious struggles. Fathers fail their children in appalling ways. But families that are willing to keep the failures out in the open not only recover, but end up thriving. When she approached her family about her chosen platform topic, they supported her even though they knew it would bring them under public scrutiny.
I am excited about Laura’s crowning last night. I think her honesty and empathy for a group of our society that we don’t want to think about is commendable. But the mindset of her family is particularly inspiring to me. I know all too well that I am inclined to hide my faults in order to portray a positive image. Honesty and humility trump the desire for any kind of image. Laura Kaeppeler and every member of family have taught us that. Congratulations to a brave and equally beautiful young lady from Kenosha, Wisconsin!