By Kevin Kelley
Westlake may be a sister city to Tralee, Ireland. But in the two contests for the title of Northern Ohio Rose, being from Westlake or even the Westshore has apparently not been an advantage.
The 2012 Northern Ohio Rose crown was awarded to the finalist who lives the farthest distance from Westlake. Ashley Speaker, who lives in Southington, in Trumbull County, was awarded the title Friday night at a ceremony at La Centre Conference and Banquet Center in Westlake.
The 24-year-old substitute teacher will travel to Ireland May 30 to participate in the regional finals for the international Rose of Tralee title. Named after a 19th-century ballad about unrequited love, the contest is part of a week-long festival in Tralee. The contest is open to unmarried women, ages 18-27, of Irish descent. Judging is based on communication skills, poise, personality and talent. The final segment of the contest is broadcast nationally in Ireland.
“I’m in disbelief right now,” Speaker told West Life just minutes after being awarded the title. “It won’t sink in for a long time, I’m sure.”
Speaker said she learned about the Northern Ohio Rose contest after doing a Google search for Ohio Irish festivals. She also read about it in the Irish American News.
Speaker has already been to Ireland, having studied there for a two-week period while attending Hiram College, where she earned a degree in Social Studies Education.
She told West Life of her interest in the Irish national movement and how the island’s history is so closely tied to the character of its people.
“It was really inspiring to see all the hardships the Irish people went though to where they are now,” she said.
Last year’s Northern Ohio Rose, Bridget Linton, also hailed from outside Cuyahoga County. A broadcast journalism major at the University of Akron, Linton said Friday’s ceremony was bittersweet for her. She has remained friends with other Rose contestants she met from around the world through Facebook.
Linton said she would advise her successor to take in every moment of the experience. “It really is the experience of a lifetime,” she said.
Annie Dunn, a Fairview Park native who held the title of 2009 Ohio Rose (awarded by a different Rose affiliate), served as one of six judges for this year’s competition.
“I could not tell you how difficult being a judge was,” she said, adding that she expected one of the six finalists would stand out above the others.
The winner was selected by a points system, explained Dunn, who said judges were looking for a woman who could be confident in a variety of situations. “It wasn’t a landslide,” she added.
The other 2012 finalists were Brenna Behan, of Westlake; Mary Cooper, of Euclid; Madeline Fox, of Lakewood; Caitlin Mackin, of Westlake; and Tara Quinn, of South Euclid.
The Northern Ohio Rose competition is run by Westlake World Partners, a nonprofit corporation formed to work with the city in pursuing its sister city relationships. Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough and City Council President Mike Killeen are among the founders of Westlake World Partners.