Advocate’s work nets pageant victory

When the judges at the Kansas Ms. Wheelchair pageant called Ranita Wilks’ name, she seriously thought that they were asking for another contestant.

“I kept thinking that they must have meant someone else,” Wilks said.

The judges didn’t misspeak, and Lawrence resident and Independence Inc. official Wilks walked away from the second-annual pageant Sunday a winner.

“She seemed very surprised,” coordinator Carrie Greenwood said.

The statewide event, held this year at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka, was intended to bring together contestants who are disabled to display a combination of talent and vision for the future of the disabled community, Greenwood said.

Ranita Wilks, Lawrence, wins the Kansas Ms. Wheelchair pageant Sunday in Topeka.

“We really don’t have specific categories like a typical pageant,” Greenwood explained.

Instead, the event featured conversations between contestants and judges and a three-minute speech to explain their wishes for the disabled community in the state.

Ranita Wilks, Lawrence, second from right, was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2006 on Sunday in Topeka. Other contestants were Amanda Trei, Lawrence; Stacy Ritt, Garden City; and Angel Shaver, Satanta. JoAnne Fluke, Ottawa, who is the Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2005, is at far right.

Wilks thought that was her strongest point – her speech focused on her desire to help disabled residents find jobs and careers within the community.

The speech wasn’t much of a stretch. It’s the same kind of work she’s been performing at Independence Inc. for years, working with clients to help with life activities.

For the second year in a row, the pageant featured only four contestants, Greenwood said. The event, sponsored by nonprofit organization Three Rivers Inc., is young and growing, and Greenwood hopes that the field would expand in coming years.

To get there, Greenwood said that the pageant would expand its search, from disabled organizations to other civic and diversity-based organizations across the state.

“We’re growing every year,” she said, “trying to find the best way to get the word out.”