By Kevin Kelley
The nine young women seeking to be the 2016 Ohio Rose of Tralee took a variety of paths to the selection program, to be held Saturday evening at the West Side Irish American Club in Olmsted Township.
Alex Klemens, a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Louisville, Ohio, learned about the Rose of Tralee title while her mother was looking up college scholarships specifically for persons with red hair.
At age 18, the red head is among the youngest Ohio participants in recent years for the title named after an Irish ballad about unrequited love. When she realized she would be competing against women up to nine years older, Klemens said she was a bit intimidated.
“At first I was really nervous, but everyone’s really welcoming,” the Canton resident said Saturday, which was a day of orientation and touring for the nine participants.
This year’s Ohio Rose will join 68 other young women of Irish ancestry in Tralee, Ireland, this August for the Rose of Tralee International Festival. The final selection show, which features 32 finalists, is televised live across Ireland and has come to be considered a national happening by Emerald Isle residents.
The Ohio Rose program is run by Westlake World Partners, a nonprofit corporation created by Westlake civic leaders to promote its sister-city relationships. Tralee and Westlake became sister cities in 2009.
For Klemens and the eight other women participating this year, Saturday was an orientation day that started at Westlake City Hall and included a visit to the International Women’s Air & Space Museum at Burke Lakefront Airport.
Erin Mackin’s older sister, Caitlin, participated in the Ohio Rose program in 2011 and 2012 and encouraged her to enter this year. Her sister’s advice was, “Don’t talk too much,” which Erin described as a half-joking reference to her tendency for the “gift of gab.” The youngest of seven children, Erin is active with the West Side Irish American Club and has served with two of her sisters on the group’s drill team at Cleveland’s St. Patrick Day parade. The 19-year-old Westlake resident is studying nursing at Cuyahoga Community College.
Colleen Verhiley’s mother, Clare Kelley, was selected at the Ohio Rose in 1987. But it was her aunt, Karen, who encouraged the 21-year-old Rocky River resident to enter. Although Colleen’s mother seldom spoke about her experience as Ohio Rose, she gave her daughter this advice: “Just be yourself and have fun. It’s a great experience.” Verhiley is studying to be an interpreter for the deaf at Cuyahoga Community College.
Molly Petre, a Cincinnati resident studying visual communication and dance at Ohio University, was friends with the 2013 Kentucky Rose, Savannah Miller, who encouraged her to apply for the Ohio title. Miller’s advice to the 21-year-old was also simply, “Be yourself.” Like many Rose program participants, Petre competes in Irish step-dancing. Although she described the activity as being very competitive, she said she’s made many close friendships over the years. One of her Irish dance teachers also sent her an e-mail about the Ohio Rose program, she noted.
Westlake resident Catherine Byrne was approached four years ago by an Ohio Rose organizer about entering, but at age 17 felt she was too young at the time. Now 21 and a senior at Xavier University majoring in nursing, Byrne decided 2016 would be a good year to enter. Byrne, a Westlake native, also knew 2014 Ohio Rose Grainne (pronounced Graw-nya) Mangan from her days at St. Joseph Academy. Mangan encouraged her to enter with the advice to “Be yourself and have a good time.” Byrne has been active with the West Side Irish American Club and marches with the group in the St. Patrick Day parade.
Also participating this year are Kathleen O’Donnell, 21, of Cincinnati; Siobhan McCarthy, 27, of Akron; Maureen Ginley, 23, of Rocky River; and Grainne Hutchinson, 20, of Marysville.
Organizers of the Rose of Tralee program describe it as neither a pageant nor a competition.
“It’s all about being a cutting-edge, modern Irish woman,” explained Kaytee Szente, the 2015 Ohio Rose.
The Bay Village resident, who is studying police science at Lorain County Community College, said the Rose program is unlike any found in the U.S.
“We were like royalty over there,” Szente recalled when describing her trip to Portlaoise, Ireland, last year for the preliminary selection program. Visiting Roses were provided police escorts during their tours, Szente said, adding that even airport security guards gave them warm welcomes once they saw the Roses’ sashes.
Starting this year, the Portlaoise regional selection program has been eliminated, and all Roses will attend the Tralee festival.
At Saturday evening’s selection show in Olmsted Township, Sean Lackey, a local actor and film producer, will take over hosting duties from sportscaster Dan Coughlin, who has emceed the event for the past five years. Bridget Linton, the 2011 Ohio Rose and a Fox Sports Ohio personality, will return as the programs co-host.
Tickets to the VIP reception at 5:45 p.m. cost $125; program tickets cost $65. Both ticket categories include dinner. Entertainment will be provided by the Burke School of Irish Dance. To check on ticket availability, visit www.OhioRose.com.