Jenna Wilshusen will be representing the El Pomar area as the 2022 Pioneer Day Belle
PASO ROBLES — Hear ye, hear ye, the Paso Robles Pioneer Day court is finally complete with the Pioneer Day Belle and her attendants announced at the Royal Dinner on Sunday, Aug. 21.
Jenna Wilshusen will be representing the El Pomar area as the 2022 Pioneer Day Belle.
The Wilshusen family’s pioneer history dates back to the mid-1920s in the Paso Robles area. Arthur Otto Wilshusen, wife Nora May (Woods) Wilshusen, and their three sons George, Jim, and Charley left Kansas to find opportunities out West.
Jenna’s great-grandfather, Jimmie Spencer, grew up in Cholame and the El Pomar area, and in 1943 he married Elizabeth (Lib) Turner. In 1958, Spencer entered into a partnership with Pepper Martin to own a grocery and butcher store in Shandon.
Belles and their attendants are young ladies representing a local Pioneer Family that came to the area between the 1880s and 1930. They are usually fresh high school graduates and young women. Their families have deep-rooted connections in the Paso Robles community.
A Belle’s attendants represent the different areas that make up Paso and can vary each year. Areas often represented are Carissa Plains, Creston, Parkfield, Templeton, Adelaide, Linne Township, Paso Robles, San Miguel, and so many more.
“It is not a beauty contest,” explains Pioneer Day Committee member Debbie Vandergon as she describes the process of choosing a Belle.
Each year leading up to Pioneer Day, committee members send out application notices, looking for Belle candidates with communities from as far south as Atascadero and far north as Lockwood participating. They look for young women whose family has a historical connection to the region, dating back 50 to 100 years. Many of them come from farming families and townsfolk.
Each candidate writes a biography and timeline of their roots, including who they were, what they did, when they came, where they settle, and why they came to the area. Some of the belles have history in the area going back seven generations.
When picking the Belle, committee members look at the previous Belles and their regions. They then make their decision based on how long it has been since that area was represented and rotate through them each year. Vandergon explains the only difference between the Belle and her attendants is the Belle has a bigger crown.
The Pioneer Royalty Dinner, held at the Estrella Warbirds Museum, is meant to officially announce the Belle and the rest of the royalty.
“It went smoothly. Everyone had a wonderful time. The meal was wonderful,” said Vandergon.
Six other young women will be joining Wilshusen as her Belle attendants: Graceann Cooper, Jane Foltz-Cary, Brooklyn Pesenti, Kylie Stroud, Emily Wilson, and Ellie Sonniksen.
Husband and wife Howie and Bev Steinbeck were announced as the 2022 Pioneer Day Grand Marshal and Queen.
At the dinner, Bev received her crown, and Howie received his marshal’s badge of honor. According to Vandergon, they are about the fourth couple to be chosen as the Pioneer Royalty.
Similar to the Belles, the grand marshal and queen must be from families with connections to the area’s history going back around 75 to 100 years. They must also be at least 75 years of age.
Vandergon admits that some years it is challenging to find Belle candidates as people move out of the area. When she was growing up, Vandergon remembers there being too many Belles to choose from most years.
But Pioneer Day and its royalty are a tradition that will not be dying anytime soon.
“We’re trying hard to keep it going,” says Vandergon, whose daughter went to her first Pioneer Day Parade at 7 days old. Today, she helps on the Pioneer Day committee. And the tradition lives on.
Paso Robles Pioneer Day is on Oct. 8. For more information, visit pasoroblespioneerday.org/home