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New Miss Cloquet takes the tiara … and all the work that goes with it

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When organizers cancelled this year’s holiday parade due to extreme cold, they also inadvertently cancelled the debut of the new Miss Cloquet, Tara Longseth.

She was a little disappointed, despite the predicted subzero temperatures.

“I hadn’t decided if I was going to wear a headband or a hat, but I had decided to put on lots of long-sleeved shirts and two winter coats,” said the Cloquet High School senior in an interview Monday afternoon.

She is, after all, born and raised in Minnesota and not afraid of cold.

Reneé Birman, who acts as the Miss Cloquet committee chair for the Noontime Kiwanis, sponsor of Miss Cloquet, said all the candidates had “a real heart for service.”

“Tara feels like the community has supported her so much in her youth and growing up,” Birman said, noting that Longseth’s desire to give back was particularly strong. “She’s so grateful and sincere.”

That’s really what being Miss Cloquet is all about, Birman said. An incredibly active volunteer herself, Birman basically shepherds each year’s Miss Cloquet to all the events she is involved in or attends — including Kiwanis activities, Blue Jean Ball, the Chamber Banquet and Day at the Capitol, Mutt Strutt, July Fourth, the Bridesmaid’s Ball in Duluth for Gillette Foundation and more — anything that’s all about community or service.

“Any opportunities that I’m aware of or that someone brings to my attention, I try to get her there,” Birman said. “At the same time, it really broadens her horizons what our community’s all about.

“Last year’s Miss Cloquet, Alexandria Thompson (now a freshman at Gustavus Adophus College), told me, ‘I can’t believe everything people in Cloquet do,’” she added. “It really makes them true champions of Cloquet.”

That shouldn’t be a stretch for Longseth.

The daughter of Carol and Randy Longseth — and younger sister to Sam —Tara has lived in the same house near Pinehurst Park in Cloquet since she was 2 years old.

Growing up in the heart of the city is part of what she loves about Cloquet.

“I love knowing everybody,” Tara said. “Whenever you’re driving or walking, you always see someone you know. I can’t imagine growing up where I didn’t know people.”

Or growing up in a place where her parents didn’t dare let her roam.

“I love being able to get anywhere I want on my bike,” she added, noting that her mom (with whom she is very close) was OK with letting Tara ride around town, even when she was younger. “And living near the swimming pool and the sledding hill was perfect!”

Tara’s third favorite thing about growing up in Cloquet is that it’s “such a welcoming community.”

“I feel like wherever I go, I’m welcomed with open arms,” she said. “I’m able to get my voice out there and I feel like people will listen. And it’s easy to get involved.”

Involved isn’t an issue for Tara. The new Miss Cloquet should be able to manage her extra duties as the city’s royalty because she’s already managing an incredibly busy schedule.

The high school senior is a three-sport athlete — soccer, basketball and track — plus she sings alto in the Madrigal choir and always participates in the school play and musical. She is student council president, vice president of the senior class and president of the National Honor Society. She is a Junior Rotarian and has been on Link Crew (helping freshman acclimate to high school) the past two years. She competes in Destination Imagination. And she meditates — a fact not known to many — so she remembers to breathe sometimes.

“That’s me,” she said. “I guess I don’t sleep a lot between school and college classes, but I love being busy. Whenever there’s another thing to take up, I do it. It gets tough sometimes, but I always manage to get things done.”

Being active, involved and engaged is something Tara encourages her peers and younger kids to do. It breaks down barriers, she said, and expands your own outlook. In a world where volunteers are hard to come by and people often don’t know their own neighbors, or what’s going on in their town, it’s a refreshing point-of-view.

Looking back over her four years in high school, Tara said there are definitely cliques at school, but she thinks the walls between those groups break down as students get older. She characterizes herself as “a floater,” because she has many different groups of friends from of all the activities she’s involved in.

“My freshman year, there were people I never thought I’d be friends with and now they’re my best friends,” she said. “The more you get involved, that’s how you make new friends and get so many more perspectives on life.

“I think that’s the coolest part, looking at yourself and how much you change and how your perspectives are different.”

The next year is certain to bring many more changes for Tara, who plans to attend college somewhere in Minnesota — majoring in biochemistry, minoring in religion (her Catholic faith is very important to her, but so is knowing about other religions) — after she graduates from high school.

And there are things to accomplish as Miss Cloquet as well. While the Santa’s Home for the Holidays parade would have been Tara’s first parade as Miss Cloquet, it won’t be her last. There’s still July Fourth and Labor Day and, weather permitting, next year’s winter parade.

“In the past, I always went to the parade and I’d see Miss Cloquet riding in a convertible and waving and I always wanted to be that girl,” she said.

Now she is.