Nisswa native, autism advocate and experienced violinist Rebecca Yeh, 20, was recently crowned Miss Minnesota with the Miss America organization. She received the title June 15 and has already been involved in several local events.
Rebecca graduated from Brainerd High School in 2011 and has completed her first two years at Ohio Northern University where she is pursuing a pharmacy degree. She is taking a year off from school while serving as Miss Minnesota to promote her platform of autism awareness and to compete in the Miss America Pageant.
In addition to scholastic and pageant pursuits, Rebecca has played the violin since she was 4. She enjoys running, biking with her sister, fishing with her family and camping.
Rebecca is the daughter of Tim and Kathy Yeh. She has two older brothers, Tim and Phil, and a younger sister, Sarah.
Phil was the inspiration for Rebecca’s personal platform advocating autism awareness, education and funding. Her platform is titled “A Voice for Phillip.” Phil was diagnosed with a moderately severe form of autism at age 4.
“As Miss Minnesota I want to educate Americans on the early signs and symptoms of autism so their child is really receiving the diagnosis if they have autism, and then receiving resources and services because early intervention has such a big influence on their future success,” she said.
Additionally, Rebecca supports increased funding for autism research.
“It’s an issue that’s coming up more and more in the news, and I think it has to be addressed at a state and national level,” she said.
Pageant competition and holding titles that allow significant public advocacy is a relatively new experience for Rebecca. She first competed in a pageant two and a half years ago.
“I was never one of those girls that watched Miss America on TV, I really didn’t know much about it at all,” she said.
Rebecca was approached by local pageant directors who knew about her musical and academic accomplishments and thought she would be a good fit for pageants.
Her first competition was Miss Brainerd Lakes, where she won all areas of competition.
“That gave me a little boost, and I started realizing that the organization really isn’t about outer beauty or how good you look in a swimsuit, but it’s really about service and giving back to your community,” Rebecca said.
“Everything in my life that I’ve been working so hard on, whether that was becoming really good at the violin or studying to do well in school or training to be a good athlete could all come together in the pageant system and work to serve other people,” she added.
After the Miss Brainerd Lakes pageant, Rebecca competed for the Miss Minnesota title and was the first runnerup. She decided she wanted to compete again, but she had to receive a different local title to be eligible for the Miss Minnesota pageant a second time.
She won Miss Northwest and went on to win the Miss Minnesota pageant in June.
As Miss Minnesota, she promotes her platform and appears frequently at events, including the Nisswa Freedom Day Parade and the Brainerd Fourth of July Parade. She was the grand marshal for the Brainerd parade, but she also had another unique opportunity that day.
On July 4, Rebecca rode in a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor airplane above Brainerd. This was particularly significant because the last Miss Minnesota from the Brainerd lakes area, Margaret Anderson, also rode in a Ford Tri-Motor over Brainerd in 1929. When Rebecca flew in the airplane, she was able to wear one of Margaret’s dresses.
“It was almost re-creating that event back in 1929,” she said.
Coming up next for Rebecca is the Miss America Pageant.
On Sept. 10–15, Rebecca will go to Atlantic City to compete in the Miss America Pageant. The pageant is composed of a talent portion, an offstage interview, an onstage question, an evening town portion and lifestyle and fitness (swimsuit) portion.
Rebecca’s favorite elements are the talent portion, where she plays violin, and the offstage interview.
She explained that the offstage interview, which occurs before the rest of the competition, colors the judge’s perceptions of the contestants in the other portions.
“That’s where the judges get to see your personality and really understand who you are,” she said.
For Rebecca, the competition is more than just a chance to hold the national title.
“I’m really excited to meet all the contestants, too, because you almost form this kind of sisterhood through the pageant system,” Rebecca said.
“It’s something that I’ll be able to tell my kids about one day, it will be an amazing memory,” she added.