The final act of La Mesa’s historic centennial year was five years in the making.
Cassandra Steppat—after finishing first runner-up in 2012 and out of the top spot in four other tries for Miss La Mesa or Miss Teen La Mesa—was crowned the city’s ambassador Friday night at Sonrise Church in Santee.
She made history of her own.
A 20-year-old Cuyamaca College graduate, Steppat is the first woman of color to be named Miss La Mesa in the pageant’s 64 years, says event director Alex Kuty, Miss La Mesa 2000.
Crowned Miss Teen La Mesa from a field of four was Sabrina Mendoza-Wineteer, a 16-year-old student at The Academy of Our Lady of Peace in San Diego.
Daughter of a white mother and a black father, Cassandra Steppat was raised by her grandmother, longtime La Mesan Rhonda Steppat, office manager of a Blossom Valley food service company.
Cassandra’s mother lives in San Diego, Rhonda said. Her father died when Cassandra was young.
“She’ll be very proud,” Rhonda said of her daughter, who is developmentally disabled.
Rhonda said she was very happy for her 5-foot-10 granddaughter, who has an 18-year-old brother, Justin.
Had she lost again, Rhonda said, “I thought I’d have to go and buy her a crown for her to wear around the house.”
But this year, Cassandra won her own tiara—placed atop her head by outgoing Miss La Mesa Lindsey Palser.
Cassandra was well aware she was making history, saying: “It’s always been in the back of my mind. It means a lot to me.”
She said she hoped to see more women of color don the crown in La Mesa, whose first pageant was held in 1952.
Cassandra, who also goes by Cassie, hopes to study communications but eventually become a registered nurse after completing college. She’s been accepted at Point Loma Nazarene University, she said, but is waiting to hear from SDSU, Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Los Angeles.
She was chosen from a field of six young women by a judging panel made up of Anna Lovec (a real estate professional who was a finalist for Miss California in 2007), Doug Wilson (Padre Dam Water District board member), Marcia Tolin (a native La Mesan involved in many boards and commissions) and Chief Judge Michelle Ditomaso of Lakeside (a career counselor and veteran pageant winner).
Both Cassandra and Sabrina won $250 scholarships from EDCO and $100 gift certificates from Grossmont Center. Mayor Art Madrid made presentations as well.
Chosen as Miss Santee was 19-year-old San Diego State student Emily Zobel. Miss Teen Santee is 16-year-old Santana High School student Marissa Lawrence.
Other Miss La Mesa contestants were Katie Hudgins, 18; Heather Bardin, 18; Christy Dodd, 19; Mandy Bakker, 20; and Kaitlyn Foster, 22. The other Miss Teen La Mesa entrants were Aminah-Al Jaber, 16; Kelli Loper, 14; and Susanna Wiggins, 17.
How did Cassandra plan to celebrate?
“I'm going to go eat first,” she said. “I’m starving.”