Kona contestant named Miss Hawaii

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Former Captain Cook resident and Miss Kona Coffee runner-up Jeanne Kapela on Saturday was crowned Miss Hawaii 2015.

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Former Captain Cook resident and Miss Kona Coffee runner-up Jeanne Kapela on Saturday was crowned Miss Hawaii 2015.

Competing as Miss Kakaako, Kapela, 20, beat a crowded field of 28 other contestants in Honolulu to become the 71st person to hold the title of Miss Hawaii.

She will go on to represent the state in the Miss America scholarship pageant in September.

“When they called my name, my mind went blank,” Kapela recalled in an interview Tuesday. “Everything around me went numb. It was like an out-of-body experience. It was really incredible.”

Kapela last year was second runner-up for Miss Kona Coffee. She said she was inspired to win Miss Hawaii by the loss in August of the beloved grandmother who raised her, Barbara Kapela of Captain Cook.

“One of the last things I said to her before she passed was ‘Grama, I promise you we’re gonna walk across that Miss America stage together,’” she said.

Kapela plans to use her new-found fame to educate the public, especially children, about human trafficking. She notes that there are some 2,500 human-trafficking victims in Hawaii, half of whom are children, and 33 million worldwide.

She’s the executive director of a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the issue, as she calls it “education to end exploitation.” In particular, she said, it focuses on schoolchildren, to teach them to protect themselves. Her hope is to eliminate human trafficking within a generation.

Having just completed her sophomore year at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, Kapela plans to continue on to law school and become a human rights attorney.

First, though, she will take a year off for extensive meetings, travel and, of course, the Miss America competition.

“I am the official ambassador of aloha for the entire state,” she said.

Kapela was one of three Big Island contestants making the top seven and continuing to the end of Saturday night’s competition.

The fourth runner-up spot went to Miss Kahala, Alexandra Roth. Roth, daughter of Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth, also received the Miss America Academic Award. Keahi Delovio, a Kealakehe graduate and Miss Aloha Hawaii, was the third finalist.

“There were three girls in the top seven from the Big Island,” Mitch Roth said Monday. “This shows that we have a lot of talent on the Big Island.”

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Roth said Hawaii Island needs more contests and sponsors to help local contestants represent the island. Currently, Big Island contestants get sponsored by groups on other islands.

Other winners were Miss Paradise Kauai, Sarah Manuel, who was first runner-up and also received the Children’s Miracle Network Miracle Maker Award. Second runner-up went to Miss North Shore, Keala Patterson. Miss East Oahu Halialani Parish was third runner-up.