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The crusading Miss Wisconsin
Pageant winner visits IowaGrant
Miss Wis
Rosalie Smith, Miss Wisconsin, speaks to IowaGrant High School students Thursday, with her late brothers image in the background.

Rosalie Smith could in one sense be arguably the most unlikely Miss Wisconsin in history.

Most pageant participants train for pageants, sometimes winning qualifying pageants in multiple years. Most participants don’t get asked just before a qualifying pageant to enter so the event has enough participants.

But just before the qualifying Miss New Berlin contest, Smith, then a freshman at UW–Milwaukee from Waukesha, was called by her high school portrait photographer.

“They needed one more contestant to make the pageant happen — they needed five — and they had only four,” said Smith, who was studying for a chemistry exam. Upon getting the text, Smith’s response was: “LOL.”

The fifth of five contestants ended up winning Miss New Berlin, then went to Oshkosh for the Miss Wisconsin Pageant June 17–20, one of 26 contestants.

Despite being ill all week, Smith won the Health and Sciences Award, the Jean L. Anderson Evening Wear Award, and the preliminary Talent Award by dancing, 

something she’s done since she was 3 years old. She performed a contemporary lyrical dance to Beyonce’s “Heaven,” in tribute to her brother, the namesake of her platform, Colin’s Crusade, on addiction and recovery.

“There was that hope in my head, but I thought I’d need to compete a couple more years,” she said. “And then everything happens for a reason.”

Smith won Miss Wisconsin, competing in the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., last September, earning more than $15,000 in scholarships. She has spent time since making more than 100 public appearances and promoting Colin’s Crusade, which brought her to Iowa–Grant High School Thursday.

Iowa–Grant is one of 20 schools Smith has visited so far this year “due to the fact that the schools need to have funding.” Smith’s appearance was funded by Windmill Citgo of Montfort, which hosted Smith later on Thursday.

“It’s been a lot of fun — crazy because a lot of places I’ve never been to, and I get lost,” said Smith. “I go to small towns more than big towns.”

Colin was Smith’s older half-brother, one of the 10 percent of Americans who get addicted to drugs. Of those, 11 percent get treatment, leaving 2.3 million untreated, Smith told students.

“He was so smart and so talented,” she said. “He could play any instrument he put his mind to,” and spoke four languages.

Colin’s friends liked to party, and so did Colin, who despite a 4.0 grade point average “still wasn’t making the best life decisions,” she said. Occasional drinking became daily drinking, and then “he was operating at a blood alcohol level that would kill me.”

Colin collapsed with no heartbeat at a movie theater. He was revived and spent five days in detox. He recovered, went to college in Boston, and had a lucrative job lined up after graduation. But when he returned to Wisconsin, Colin’s friends returned to him. He went out with them, and was found alone, dead.

“If you have an addiction, you have an addiction for life,” she said. “One night didn’t kill him, but the weekend sure did — a weekend-long binge.

“Even though he s gone, he’s still my role model. He traveled 18 months of sobriety, hoping his life would be over because he craved that addiction.”

Smith has started Colin’s Fund — with the acronym Centered On Living In Need — to raise money to fund treatment.

“If I make poor decisions over and over again, I’m going to end up like Colin,” said Smith.

She advised students to “choose peers wisely. … anything can happen at any point without the buddy system,” and if needed, “lose shame and seek help.”