Gabby Thomasof Mantorville comes from a "wrestling family." With a two-time state wrestling champion in the house and sporty siblings, Thomas "tried everything from tennis to karate."

Turns out singing and dancing are her thing. Thomas, a 2019 graduate of Kasson-Mantorville High School, will head to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in Los Angeles this fall in pursuit of a bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theater.

Having participated in dance and choir, Thomas’ sophomore year coincided with the opening of the new KM performing arts auditorium. She found herself "hounding" her English teacher, who was directing the fall show, with questions about auditions. Thomas said she "overthought everything" but was overjoyed when she was cast in the lead of "The Sound of Music" as Maria.

After receiving the good news via a phone call, she screamed with joy. The director enjoyed hearing her happy cries as Thomas had forgotten to hang up the phone.

Spring of sophomore year, Thomas was cast as Ursula in "The Little Mermaid." Her mom described this role as a "turning point" for her daughter. Previously, she had always been cast as a "good guy." Playing Ursula meant Thomas was not boxed in or typecast. Her art teacher, Marilyn Fredrickson, said, "She is one of a kind who isn't afraid to 'take the road not taken' to express herself."

After a successful high school performing career, Thomas was eager to pursue her education in the field. Last summer she trained for two weeks at the Boston Conservatory of Music, which she said was "a big step in training for my voice." Thomas had several East Coast auditions that left her feeling discouraged. But she said she "totally rocked" her AMDA audition. Not only was she accepted, Thomas received a scholarship.

Keep your eye on Gabby Thomas. She’s bound to take the stage (or screen) by storm.

A commitment to service

Last month, St. Charles resident Alexandria Kvenvold, Ms. Heart of Global United, competed for the title of Ms. Elite Global United. This unique pageant emphasizes a commitment to service and community, specifically raising awareness of and funds for childhood cancer research. Beyond traditional elements such as an interview and evening wear, contestants work to serve others.

During pageant week, in addition to rehearsals for the main event, Kvenvold and her fellow contestants spent evenings tying fleece blankets and packing "busy bags." These items and others were donated to organizations including Wishes and More, the Ronald McDonald House and Brighter Tomorrows. Contestants also spent a day packing food for Feed My Starving Children.

Pageant participants are also asked to provide an item for a silent auction benefiting childhood cancer research. Kvenvold proudly shared that her item raised the most funds at the auction.

During the pageant, in an attempt to eliminate a focus on appearance, Kvenvold said all contestants simply wore jeans and a pageant T-shirt during their interview, which constituted 40% of each woman’s score.

Kvenvold was named first runner-up in her age division at the pageant and was also awarded Audience Favorite at the event. However, going into it, winning was never her ultimate goal. While she hoped to increase her score from previous competitions, represent her state well, and make friends, volunteerism is Kvenvold's ultimate goal. Over the past 10 years, she has committed over 2,300 hours towards community service.

"I love helping any charities or events that need my support," Kvenvold said.