Portrait contest: Fifty years of crowning 'Sweet 16'

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The first Sweet 16 contest was in the year 1961 by local photographer Paul March.

March had a studio in Defiance from 1944-1978. In 1979, Rod Brown purchased the business and he has continued the contest ever since.

The only requirement to enter is that the girl must be 16 years of age at the time her portrait is created, which is in the month of June each year. The contestants select their favorite pose and a 16x20 contest portrait is created.

In October the portraits are displayed at the Northtowne Mall. Then, the top 10 finalists are selected by a panel of judges from their portrait alone. These 10 girls are invited to attend a personality interview from which the winner is chosen. The contest has become a community event with thousands of girls entering over the past 50 years.

To celebrate the 50th Sweet 16 contest this year, five past Sweet 16 winners attended the recent crowning ceremony. They include:

-- Linda (Bair) Gill, 1964

-- Sharon Hoffman, 1966

-- Virginia (Rieke) Combs, 1969

-- Cathy (Bradford) Roberts, 1990

-- Nicole (Helmke) Sheets, 1994

This year's ceremony was unique in that the winner of this year's contest, Jessica Roberts, was proceeded by her mother, Cathy (Bradford) Sheets who was the winner of the 1990 Sweet 16 contest.

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