BELDING — Elizabeth Wittenbach of Belding has grown up as part of the apple industry.
Her grandparents, Ed and Linda Wittenbach, and her parents, Mike and Marnie, are growers at Wittenbach Orchards on 225 acres in Belding that began as a dairy farm.
Elizabeth, 19, will now represent both the apple industry and her family’s business after she was recently named the 2014 Michigan Apple Queen.
“Trying for the title was something I always wanted to do since I was a little girl,” said Wittenbach, a 2012 Belding High School graduate.
The contest was grueling, with the contestants going through a rigorous interview and an essay writing competition, according to Diane Smith, executive director for the Michigan Apple Committee.
“The essay was submitted in the fall, with the interview process taking place in mid-December at the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids,” Wittenbach said. “There are three judges and one person who is a professional in the apple industry, and they interview you over many topics, although most questions are related to apples.”
As a sophomore at Michigan State University majoring in agribusiness management, Wittenbach was still nervous.
“It is hard to know what to expect, it is a very hard interview,” she said. “It is not like a beauty pageant where you have to wear certain kinds of clothing, but you really have to know the apple industry.”
Wittenbach competed as a 16-year-old and decided to try it again this year.
“When I ran before, I was the very youngest contestant,” she said. “All the other girls were in their 20s. It was a great experience, but very intimidating. I chose not to run again the next year, and then last year, the contest was the very same week as finals week. I was a college freshman, and wanted to concentrate on my schooling.”
Winning the title also earned Wittenbach more than $6,000 in scholarships, according to Smith.
“Elizabeth will do a great job for us. She will be a strong representative,” Smith said.
As the Michigan Apple Queen, Wittenbach will attend numerous parades and retail events, promoting the apple industry and helping consumers to know more about the Michigan crop.
“Elizabeth has great connections and a real sense of pride for the apple industry and is very invested in it,” said Smith. “The scholarship money is an added bonus.”
Correspondent Lori Hansen is a Greenville-area resident.