Mr. Healdsburg finalists ready to strut their stuff
By ELIZABETH COSIN / Healdsburg Correspondent
This year’s finalists for Mr. Healdsburg come from a variety of interesting backgrounds and careers, among them is a retired banker and a youngster just starting his career, a winemaker from South Africa and a landscaper whose family has been here since the 1800s. But they all share one thing in common – they love Healdsburg.
Ronald Du Preez still remembers the day in 2000 when he walked out of his parents’ house in his native South Africa on his way to an internship at Jordan Vineyards.
“I had a duffel bag and a small backpack and $300 in my pocket,” says the 35-year-old winemaker who is also general manager of Draxton-Du Preez;. “I told my parents “I’ll be back next year or maybe I won’t.” Well, I never went back.”
Du Preez says he fell for the California climate, the easy access to the mountains and beaches and the food and, of course, wine. And now, after hearing about Mr. Healdsburg pageants for years from his friends, at least three of whom are former winners, he now hopes to represent his adopted hometown when the event is staged Feb. 23 at the Raven.
“It’ll be cool to go into bars wearing the sash,” he joked. “That could work for me.”
Daniel Gene Bishop, a cook at the popular local Ravenous Café, moved to Healdsburg when he was 16 and finds himself a devotee at 30, living here with his girlfriend Megan and their two young children, Daniel IV and Gia.
“I have many friends that have been there for me,” he says, adding he has long wanted to participate in a Mr. Healdsburg competition. “Mr. Healdsburg to me is someone who’s on the front lines of this town, meeting, greeting and making folks feel welcome. To win would be a great honor.”
Musician Brandon Hassur never thought he’d be in a Mr. Healdsburg Pageant but got nominated and the showman inside him couldn’t resist. An accomplished singer/songwriter and guitarist, Hassur, 28, moved to area with his family from Lassen, Ca. in the mid 90’s and loves the creative culture of Healdsburg.
“It has the best of the best,” he says. “Amazingly talented people, great food, great adult beverages, great scenery and gosh darn good living, yes sir.”
The pageant’s oldest finalist this year is Paul Downey, a successful investment banker who discovered Healdsburg two decades ago when he and his wife, SF OB/GYN Hallie Beacham, were looking for a spot to spend weekends in wine country. They bought a home on a small vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley 1995 and were hooked.
“We quickly fell in love with Healdsburg,” says Downey, 74. “So much so that we found our work-weeks in San Francisco getting shorter and our weekends in Healdsburg longer.”
By ’97, the couple had moved full-time to the area with Dr. Beacham moving her practice here and serving on the staff of Healdsburg Hospital.
The New England native, Downey continues to root for his hometown Boston teams but he remains a steadfast local booster who is looking forward to his chance to become Mr. Healdsburg.
“As a very senior citizen,” he says, “I can think of no greater honor than to represent my beloved community for the next year.”
Chris Rovetti’s Healdsburg roots go all the way back to the 19thCentury — his great grandparents on his mother’s side founded the Minaglia Ranch in the late 1800s, moving here from Italy.
“My mother grew up on the ranch, which the Russian River runs through,” he says. “I spent a lot of happy times there as a kid.”
Rovetti, 34, an accomplished musician who plays a number of instruments including the violin and banjo, owns his own landscaping business and says he enjoys living in a place where most people know each other.
“It seems nearly everywhere I go, I run across a friendly face from Healdsburg,” he says, adding he has a vision of himself if he wins Mr. Healdsburg. “I can totally see myself riding the swan while playing the banjo.”
Mark McKenzie’s first exposure to Healdsburg was as a performer of sorts – he was 22 and walked into Souverain to ask for a job. The manager wanted him to sing “Old Man River” and when Mark asked if it was a singing waiter position, the manager said it wasn’t, he just wanted to hear him sing it. Mark sang the song and got the job.
McKenzie, who is a server at Ralph’s likes to say he’s “an actor who really wanted to be a waiter.” But it was acting that saved him when he was a kid. He almost got expelled from high school until his drama teacher encouraged him to try his class. He found a home there and believes trying for Mr. Healdsburg is his way of giving back.
“It’s not about me; the Raven offers this same sort of opportunity to kids in Healdsburg that I got from drama class in high school,” he says. “By supporting the Raven in this fundraiser, I’m helping to keep the doors open for other kids who may find their place in the world and a sense of belonging and acceptance through theater.”
The youngest finalist is fire fighter Eric Smith who not only has ties to Healdsburg the town but to the pageant itself, which is celebrating its 10th year in 2013. Smith’s grandfather Norm, is the honorary first Mr. Healdsburg, having been appointed to the position so the pageant’s first winner would have a torch-bearer to pass the crown.
Born and raised here, the younger Smith, 21 loves adventure. An avid motorcyclist who rode 7600 miles in 16 days last summer, he recently began what he hopes is a long career with fire service. But first, he wants to get the Smith family another Mr. Healdsburg title.
“I would follow in my grandfather’s footsteps,” he says. “I want to be the best Mr. Healdsburg for this great city.”
Mr. Healdsburg, which will be held Feb. 23 at the Raven, is an all-male spoof of the classic beauty contest and is among the most popular local events each year. Contestants compete in a variety of categories including interview, beachwear, evening wear and talent. General Admission is $40 in advance and $45 at the door, though in recent years the show has sold out well before the performance. Runway Circle seats — 20 reserved seats near the stage — are already sold out. The event is the leading fundraiser each year for the Raven Performing Arts Theater, the 400-seat theater that plays host to a wide range of music, theater, movie and charity events.
PHOTO CREDITS: Rick Tang Photography
You can reach Healdsburg Towns Correspondent Elizabeth M. Cosin at email@example.com