FREEPORT, Minn. – Ashley Maus is starting a new endeavor this summer – an endeavor she credits to the dairy farmers of Minnesota.
    “I really have to thank the farmers for sticking through [the tough times],” Maus said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.”
    Maus represents Stearns County as a finalist for the 65th Princess Kay of the Milky Way.
    The 19-year-old’s interest in advocating for the dairy industry stems from her youth and being a part of her parents’, Darrel and Lisa Maus’, 60-cow dairy farm near Freeport, Minn.
    “There was a lot of time spent bonding while milking cows with my dad,” Maus said. “I would come home from school and we’d talk about our days.”
    Maus is the second oldest of four children – Nathan, 21, Katherine, 16, and Brianna, 14.
    While Maus’ brother quickly became too tall to help milk cows in the stanchion barn, and her sisters had other chores on the farm, Maus accepted her responsibility of milking cows.
    “Between Mom and I, we switched off and helped Dad milk cows,” Maus said.
    The college sophomore still helps in the barn when she is home.
    Maus is attending South Dakota State University, studying dairy production and manufacturing. She is completing an internship with Valley Queen Cheese Factory in Milbank, S.D.
    When Maus and her father make their way through the barn, it does not take long before that moment becomes one of her favorites throughout the day.
    “We start dancing to music and making memories,” Maus said. “‘80s music is our favorite, and the local radio station plays it every Saturday night. But now, we have a radio with Bluetooth, so we can listen to ‘80s whenever.”
    It is moments like those Maus is eager to share with consumers in her role as a Stearns County dairy princess and Princess Kay finalist.
    This is Maus’ second year as county dairy royalty.
    “I had so much fun with school visits and interacting with people last year that I wanted to do it again,” Maus said.
    Maus has already attended her county’s breakfast on the farm and delivered baskets to the families of newborn babies born in June.
    Throughout the remainder of her reign, Maus will interact with consumers at the county fair and help sell malts for the Stearns County American Dairy Association. She will also be in several parades throughout the summer and have an opportunity to spend time with her fellow finalists before Princess Kay judging and coronation in August.
    “My favorite part about being a dairy princess is seeing the children’s reactions, especially during a parade,” Maus said. “Last year, my mom tossed a cheese stick to a child watching the parade and the kid was so excited. He jumped up, danced in a circle and kept saying, ‘I got a cheese stick.’”
    While Maus’ summer may look a little different serving as a finalist, the messages she hopes to share remain the same.
    “I’m not just representing my home county anymore,” Maus said. “I get to go to different events and reach more people to share the awesome story of dairy. I’m really looking forward to it.”
    Being selected as a finalist was always a goal Maus had.
    In preparing for the competition, Maus reached out to family and friends for guidance and support.
    “My family has helped me get this far,” Maus said. “In the barn, we always chat and find out what everyone has going on. We’ve always done our best to support each other.”
    While Maus felt ready for whatever the results would be, it was not until she returned home when she realized what she had accomplished.
    “It never hit me at the [banquet]. As I got onto our gravel road, that’s when it hit me,” said Maus as she arrived at her family’s 245-acre dairy farm. “I was full of an abundance of joy. I have so much passion for dairy, and I’m proud of what I’ve done.”
    It seems Maus’ hard work has paid off so far, and she credits her accomplishments to the values learned on her family’s dairy farm.
    Growing up, Maus was taught responsibility, time management and a strong work ethic.
    “Every day after school, I’d come home and do chores, then eat supper and start homework,” Maus said. “If I was in an activity at the same time, then I did that, too.”
    Now, Maus is able to rely on the principles she learned while growing up as she pursues the title of Princess Kay of the Milky Way and shares with consumers the industry’s key role in their everyday lives.  
    “It’s amazing,” Maus said. “Farming has been a large portion of who I have become and where I’m going.”