Life in Circles: Miss Ludington Area, farm girl with a guardian angel.

June 11, 2016

shelby_soberalski_miss_ludingtonLife In Circles by Stephanie Wagner.

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What do you think of when you remember the year you turned 11?

For me, it was the last summer of the freedom of childhood before the fog of teen angst crept in. Long bike rides with lake damp hair, endless ice cream, pigtails, and skinned knees.

For Shelby Soberalski, it was the summer she lost her idol and best friend.

“Sara was my cousin by blood, but my sister in my heart. She lived with us when I was growing up. She was everything. I looked up to her to see what my life should be.

“When she died, it changed everything.”

Sara Gadziemski was 23 when she was brutally murdered by the boyfriend of her  friend and roommate. Her burned car and body were found just down the road from Shelby’s family farm.

“It was so senseless. She barely even knew the man that killed her. He was abusive and she got caught in the middle trying to protect her friend.

“That is who she was though. She had a huge heart, and she just embraced life. I looked up to her so much – it is hard for me to think of a childhood memory that she wasn’t a part of.

Just a few short months after Sara was killed, Shelby’s parents made the decision to separate.

“In one summer, my entire life changed.”

In the 11 years since, Shelby has grown up a lot.

“I can’t believe that I am the same age now that Sara was when she died. Today is the anniversary of her death, and it is the first time that I will have been without her longer than I was with her.

“There is something about knowing that she was right where I am now – just graduated college, starting a new life, new job – that makes me want to be a better person. I want to live for her, to do the things that she never got a chance to do.”

Shelby has not held back on living her life.  Last November, she was named Miss Ludington Area. She just graduated from Ferris State University with a Bachelor of Science in graphic design and a minor in art history. She spent 2 ½ weeks touring Europe as part of a study abroad. She will soon begin her first “real” job with the Pennies from Heaven Foundation.

She is an author, artist, 4-H leader, and self-proclaimed “farm girl”.

“My life is so much better than I ever imagined it would be.  I believe that it all goes back to losing Sara – I believe in guardian angels, and I know she is there with me.  But it also taught me that I don’t want to live with regrets. Tomorrow is never promised, and I want to embrace every single experience.”

Shelby admits that being Miss Ludington Area was something she never expected to do.

“I tried out for Scottville Harvest Festival Queen once, and I lost. Being crowned Miss Ludington Area was a surprise, but I am so grateful for the experience. I have met wonderful people, made new friends, and I just love that I get to talk about this great community.

“It’s more than that though. I heard Miss Michigan speak recently and something she said really stayed with me. She said that this isn’t about ‘being’, it’s about ‘doing’. If we don’t use the crown for doing, then it is wasted. That is what it is all about for me.”

She doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff.  Since being crowned, she has talked openly about domestic violence, mental health treatment, and autism awareness. She’s even written a children’s book about her relationship with her sister, Jolee, who has autism.

“It’s called, ‘My Sister, the Superhero’.  I made her autism a superpower because she really is larger than life, and there is no reason to feel afraid around her. People are often afraid of things they don’t understand, but she really isn’t all that different from anyone else.

I know it was hard for my parents when she was born. There were people who didn’t know how to react, so they just didn’t say anything. I’m hoping that my book will help open up dialogue with both kids and adults, and that it will build more acceptance and tolerance.”

Even more impressive is that she has done all of this while still working through a full course load. And most impressive of all – she graduated debt free, the first in her immediate family to earn a college degree.

“My friends at school all laugh at me. I’m this farmer turned beauty queen turned artist turned author.

“I was recognized at graduation by the president of the university because I raised cows and sold them with my dad to pay for tuition. We laugh a lot about that – cows for college.

“Sometimes I feel like such a country hick. The Miss Michigan competition is coming up quickly, and I am nervous. I’ve never dyed my hair, my first ever manicure is this week, and I just had my first spray tan.

But then I get there, and there are all of these other girls who are just like me. They are so passionate. It isn’t all about ‘beauty’, or how you look. There is so much more to it. The four points of the crown stand for service, style, success, and scholarship.  I take that seriously.”

“Honestly, I think everyone deserves a crown.  I’m human, and so is everyone else. We are all in this together.  We are alive. We have a life to live, and it’s beautiful.

“I miss Sara every day, but I think she would be proud. I know she’s with me, and watching over me in a way that she couldn’t if she were physically here.”

What an amazing tribute to a guardian angel. A beautiful life, lived fully.


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