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Brenna Connelly represents Olmsted County as Princess Kay of the Milky Way Finalist

Kaitlyn Riley

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Her journey began with the dairy community in the show ring 13 years ago. Today, Olmsted County Dairy Princess Brenna Connelly found her path to becoming a 67th Princess Kay of the Milky Way Finalist.

Some of Connelly’s most fond memories are raising and showing heifers alongside her cousins who own and operate a dairy farm just two miles down the road from her home in Byron. They raise about 50 registered Holstein and run nearly 600 acres of cropland.

“After we started showing, I began working on the farm, and my main duties have been caring for and feeding the calves,” Connelly said. “Since then, I became very involved in 4-H, FFA, and I was able to join dairy judging teams, dairy knowledge bowls, and of course, continue showing.”

Her cousins were an inspiration as Connelly pursued more leadership roles in the industry.

“One of them was a Princess Kay finalist before me, so that was something that I always knew I wanted to do and strive for,” she said. “When I had the opportunity to become a county dairy princess, I knew that I wanted to take it one step further.”

Although they reached for the same goal, Connelly’s experience as a finalist will be much different than when her cousin was a candidate. Because of COVID-19, the 67th Princess Kay of the Milky Way will be crowned Wednesday, Aug. 12 at a private banquet for the 10 candidates and their families. The ceremony itself will be live-streamed through the Princess Kay Facebook page.

This year, the candidates were asked to focus their speech topic on a presentation that would be delivered to high school students over a virtual platform such as Zoom.

“It looks a little bit different, but we are still able to connect with our consumers and do fun activities whether it is virtual or through different means,” Connelly said.

During June Dairy Month, she shared recipes and helpful tips so people can still be involved, even in a pandemic, and engage online.

“In other years, we have been able to do parades, classroom visits, and I think those are some of my biggest teaching moments,” Connelly said. “But this experience of being a dairy princess announced as a Princess Kay finalist has taught me different ways of sharing my story and connecting with individuals. It is not necessarily better or worse, but we do have a unique opportunity to reach people in new ways.”

Moving forward, she would like to continue outreach with virtual farm tours or activities that can be completed at home.

“We really get to refocus and bring new ideas to the table,” Connelly said. “Although we don’t have the State Fair, that doesn’t mean we still can’t get to interact with people, promote our dairy program, and find enjoyable ways that we can enjoy each other’s company.”

Connelly is studying agricultural education and animal science at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She is in training with 4-H Extension this summer and would like to work in some form of agricultural education in the future.

While the Minnesota State Fair has been canceled for 2020, the rich tradition of butter sculpting will continue, with the newly crowned Princess Kay’s likeness scheduled to be sculpted on Thursday, Aug. 13. This will take place on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in the butter booth inside the Dairy Building, where the butter sculpting typically takes place. The nine other finalists will be sculpted in the subsequent days, with the final sculpture being created on Saturday, Aug. 22. Although the public will not be able to enjoy the butter sculpting in person, live updates will be streamed on the Princess Kay Facebook page each day, with opportunities to virtually ask questions and interact with Princess Kay and the finalists. 

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in both radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.