Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev glided into the UC Davis Children’s Hospital on Friday with a glittering crown perched atop her long blond locks. Some children asked whether she was a princess. Others mistook her for Elsa the Snow Queen from the Disney movie “Frozen.” They hadn’t heard of Miss America or were only vaguely aware of the pageant title.
Kazantsev, who grew up in Walnut Creek, said that’s fine with her so long as she brightens the day of children and parents in stressful circumstances.
“I provide a distraction and a smile and some fun,” she said.
A big part Miss America’s job is to be the goodwill ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network, the Miss America organization’s charitable partner, which raises money and awareness for 170 hospitals in North America. She travels about 20,000 miles per month and rarely stays in one city for more than two days at a time.
In the hallways and playroom of the children’s hospital, she spoke with patients including Audrey Tully, 10, who was wearing a bathrobe with polka dots. Audrey had suffered a ruptured appendix and underwent emergency surgery. She said she’d “kind of” heard of Miss America.
Audrey’s mom Katie Tully said she’d grown up watching the Miss America contest on TV when there were only a few networks and the pageant was a major annual event.
“We didn’t have cable,” she said. “It was a big deal.”
Her daughter has hundreds more channels to choose from, plus online video. They sat down and researched Miss America on the Internet before she arrived, Katie Tully said.
Kazantsev said another role she fulfills is that of a role model for girls. Those who are 10 or 12 tend to know who she is, she said. She often talks to them about setting goals and making good decisions in life.
“I do think she’s a great role model,” Katie Tully said. “She has education, grace and beauty.”
Kazantsev was accepted to law school at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana but deferred admission while she fulfilled her duties as Miss America. She graduated from Hofstra University in New York and won the Miss New York title as a resident of Manhattan. She received a $52,500 scholarship for winning the Miss America title.
She speaks three languages: English, Spanish and her parents’ native Russian. On Friday, she put all to use.
She spoke with young Pavel Smyshkov in Russian, surprising both the boy and his mother, Anna Smyshkov. Pavel was being treated for bleeding in his brain, his mother said. He hadn’t heard of Miss America but enjoyed meeting her, he said.
Markus Moore was all smiles after Kazantsev gently hugged his daughter Emma, 8, who had fallen from a second-story window in their Nevada City home and had broken her back. Emma wore a back brace and used a walker in the hospital hallway but is expected to recover, her greatly relieved father said.
Ruby Talamontes, 5, of Los Banos, was visiting her sick brother and grinned broadly when Miss America said hello.
“Are you a princess?” she asked in Spanish. “Yes, of course,” Kazantsev answered, also in Spanish.
When Kazantsev left the children’s playroom, Ruby called out to her in English: “Bye Princess America!”