Fraternity's annual pageant benefits Culp family

Written by Muleskinner Staff

Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity's second annual Laura Culp pageant raised more than $3,000 for the Laura Culp Memorial Fund to provide scholarships. (Photo by MARIO GARCIDUENAS, for The Muleskinner)
Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity’s second annual Laura Culp pageant raised more than $3,000 for the Laura Culp Memorial Fund to provide scholarships. (Photo by MARIO GARCIDUENAS, for The Muleskinner)

Story by NICOLE Cooke, Copy Editor—
The Union Ballroom was full of applause, laughter and talent Tuesday night as a full audience cheered on the 14 contestants in the second annual Laura Culp Pageant.
Women from the Greek community and the Health and Fitness Association donned their best floor-length gowns and competed for the title of Miss Laura Culp 2013, sponsored by Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity.
The event had a late start, due to the large number of people wanting to purchase tickets. At one point, the line reached the Union information desk, making it necessary to add chairs to the room, which had already been set up for maximum capacity.
“It’s not usually good to start an event late, unless the reason is because you still have a line of people waiting to get in,” said TKE President Luis Benavides. “That’s a good sign.”
Once the night began, the women were each escorted in by a member of TKE. The women treated the audience to a group dance number, with their TKE escorts joining them for the finale.
Before the pageant continued, Stacy Allen, a high school classmate of Laura Culp and a member of the Laura Culp Memorial Fund committee, said a few words describing the scholarships and thanking everyone in attendance for their support.
John Culp, program development and retention coordinator for UCM athletics, also said a few words. His short speech may have caused a tear or two in the audience as he spoke fondly about his wife, Sandy, who died just a few weeks ago, and his daughter, Laura, who died in 2009. He also thanked those in attendance, as well as TKE for hosting the event.
The talent portion showcased a wide variety of talents, including several choreographed dances, several vocal solos, instrumental solos and baton twirling.
In typical college philanthropy event fashion, there were some awkward time gaps between the talent acts. However, the TKE hosts, Connor Coleman and Tyran Banks, filled the space with their commentary on the acts, as well as with jokes, rapping and testing out their own dance moves.
In the final segment, the contestants chose their own interview question by pulling a slip of paper out of a bowl. The questions ranged from describing the perfect date and what three items they want during a zombie apocalypse, to describing overcoming a challenge and who is their role model.
The judges needed extra time to tally the votes. Then came the announcement of the winners. Amanda Sasek, Miss Alpha Sigma Alpha, received the crown, with Courtney Whitaker, Miss Sigma Pi, placing second and Rachel Spotz, Miss Sigma Kappa, placing third.
“I thought all 14 did great, and it was interesting how long it took for the judges to get the scores,” Coach Culp said. “I would not want to be a judge. So much beauty and talent, and I really liked the questions.”
While the contestants were entertaining, it was the philanthropy behind the pageant that stole the show. All the money raised for the event went to the Laura Culp Memorial Fund, which provides scholarships that are given to Warrensburg High School students that will be attending UCM.
The fund, which was started in 2009, is in memory of Laura Culp. Laura died May 2, 2009, at the age of 31 due to her lifelong struggle with anorexia.
“We started the scholarship because Laura had received her bachelor’s and master’s from UCM,” Coach Culp said. “With her disease, school was so important to her.
“Laura always gave back to others, and we really feel great that we can remember her by these scholarships. Her legacy continues to live on.”
The first scholarship was given out in 2009, and since that first award, the fund has continued to grow. One $400 scholarship was given in 2009. In 2012, two $500 scholarships were given.
Not only has the scholarship fund grown, but the pageant has as well. Last year’s event had six contestants and raised about $1,500. This year’s event raised about $3,000.
Coach Culp and members of his family were in attendance to support the contestants, as well as TKE. Coach Culp is an alumnus of TKE, and currently advises the UCM chapter.
“It’s not so much that the man is a TKE. It’s more of this man is an inspiration,” Benavides said. “He does so much for this town, school and the people that he meets every single day. He is a man that keeps on giving.
“Having Coach and his family there shows the entire community what this event means to them. Laura was a loving woman, wife and daughter. Having them there inspires us to be the best we can and really expand this event.”
Coach Culp also made an appearance at the final rehearsal to speak with the contestants. Benavides said that Coach Culp has made it a tradition to do this.
“I think that is when it clicks to the contestants,” Benavides said. “This is the ‘why’ the contestants do what they do, and also  why we do what we do as a fraternity.”
When Coach Culp talked with the contestants, he gave each one a gold dollar, which he said represents how much his family appreciates the contestants supporting them, as well as those fighting eating disorders.
“I thanked them all for participating and said that there would be no losers in this pageant,” he said.
All the contestants said they appreciated getting the chance to speak with him.
“He is so incredibly supportive of the pageant and of all the girls that competed,” she said. “I was so honored to stand before him as the winner because I know how much it meant that we all took the time to be part of something he cares so intensely about.”
For Sasek, it wasn’t winning the pageant that was important. It was important she was supporting a cause that hit close to home.
“I entered the pageant because I know Coach Culp and I was someone who struggled with an eating disorder throughout high school, so it was personal to me,” she said.
Now that she holds the title, Sasek plans to make the most of her time with the crown.
“I want to be an ambassador for this benefit pageant and encourage the community and organizations on campus to support the cause in years to come,” she said. “Winning this pageant meant so much to me because I personally overcame an eating disorder and I believe more awareness should exist about how dangerous they can be.”
If you would like to make a donation to the fund, contact Benavides at [email protected] or Coach Culp at [email protected]