A group of women and girls who were directly affected by last month's tornadoes and their guests recently were treated like princesses by some of the state's beauty queens.
Kasie Head, Miss Oklahoma USA 2002, spearheaded “Queen for a Day,” backed by some of her fellow Oklahoma beauty titleholders and a slew of local and national businesses.
Head, who grew up in the tiny Oklahoma town of Braman, now lives in Los Angeles, working as an interior designer at her own company, KLH Designs.
On May 20, Head was in Los Angeles watching the aftermath of the tornadoes that demolished so many homes and lives.
“I was just watching all this devastation on TV,” she recalls. She had a trip planned to Oklahoma City in June and thought maybe there was something she could do to help.
That's when the idea of “Queen for a Day” was born.
Head decided to find some deserving girls and young women who lost their homes, schools or were otherwise affected by the tornadoes.
She started by emailing some influential friends in Los Angeles, asking for donations of things young women love and need.
“Every single person responded right away,” Head said.
She posted a Facebook request for nominations of deserving young women and, she said, overnight her inbox was flooded with more than 100 nominations.
Head selected a group of 10 and invited them, along with a guest, for a day of pampering, shopping, dining and gifts.
One of the women selected, Emily Mach, 24, of Carney, lost her home.
She was hunkered down in her mother's cellar as the tornado swept Mach's home away, killing about 40 chickens that meant the world to her 5-year-old son.
Since the tornado, Mach, her fiance, her sister for whom she is a caregiver, and her son have lived in her parents' home. They plan to rebuild but there are so many things they'll never be able to replace, such as her son's chickens. She told Head that she'd barely left her parents' home since that devastating day.
“It was a very much-needed getaway,” Mach said. She was amazed, she said, at the lengths Head and the others involved in the project went to make sure that she and others in the group had an unforgettable day.
It also was a bit of a relief, Mach said, to be in a group of young women who have all been through something similar.
“We could all relate to each other because of what we went through,” Mach said. “We could all relate and get away and smile at the end of the day and know that we've made friends out of the deal.”
Another “Queen for a Day” was 13-year-old Hayden Gardiner, of Moore. She was in the seventh grade at Highland West Junior High when the principal gave notice to take immediate tornado precautions. After about three hours, she said, the children were let into the school's cafeteria.
“They said that Plaza Towers and Briarwood were gone and everybody started freaking out and crying because their little brothers and sisters were there,” Gardiner said.
Her father, Robert Gardiner, was at work in Norman when he heard about the tornado. He didn't know whether his daughter was alive until about 10 p.m., when he finally made it to her school, walking the final five miles through the rubble. When he got there, he found his daughter wrapped in a blanket, helping other parents find their kids.
On June 12, Head, an entourage of former titleholders from Oklahoma and the group of 20 hit the town for the “Queen for a Day” event. The titleholders were: Miss OK Teen USA 2002 Joy Cometti, Miss OK USA 2005 Laci Scott, Miss OK USA 2007 Caittlin Hoffman, Miss OK USA 2003 Star Williams, Mrs. OK 2005 Ryan McLaughlin and Miss OK USA 2001 Cortney Smith.
The first stop: The Makeup Bar, where all the women got new makeup looks. Dolled up, the group then visited Davenport's Salon, where they were given gift baskets full of hair products. Then, the group descended on Gil's Clothing and Denim Bar, where each got to spend $100.
During lunch at On The Border, the excitement continued with the women and girls receiving three months free at Rogue Crossfit in Edmond, gift baskets from TiGi and discounts at a Christian leadership program run by Star Williams, Miss Oklahoma USA 2003.
The group then stopped at Payless Shoe Source, where they got to choose any pair of shoes they wanted, courtesy of a donor.
Then the group headed back to a residence in Edmond where they were presented with big plastic boxes filled with girlie things, including 10 shirts each from Forever 21, autographs from all the titleholders involved and a special autograph from a good friend of Head's: singer Katy Perry.
Gardiner said that was her highlight for the day.
For Mach, the highlight was seeing the community come together and reach out to help others.
And for Head, it was a chance to give back to the state that gave her so much as a rising beauty queen.
“We had a fantastic day,” Head said.