New Castle News

August 15, 2013

Lawrence County Fair: Laurel teen overcomes speech disorder as Dairy Princess

Kurt Stalma
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Just a few months ago, Lawrence County’s newest Dairy Princess was named.

Rhonda Mitcheltree, 17, continued somewhat of a family tradition by claiming the crown. Her mother, Marlene, was Dairy Princess in 1979.

However, Rhonda’s path to the title held one challenge her mother’s lacked. In order to assume the post that requires her to speak repeatedly to the public, Rhonda first had to overcome a childhood speech disorder.

At age 3, Rhonda’s family noticed she wasn’t making an attempt to speak. A diagnosis from Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh concluded that she had a condition called apraxia. Children with apraxia have difficulty producing sounds.

For the next 13 years, Rhonda had to take speech therapy.

“We had to go to several speech therapists,” her mother said. “It was a process of showing her how to produce the sounds with her mouth and tongue.”

Flash-forward to present day, and you would never know that the soon-to-be senior at Laurel High School ever needed speech therapy.  

“It’s not an issue for me now,” she said, “I just feel like it was an accomplishment for me to overcome.”

Her position as Dairy Princess is one that requires a lot of public speaking, a task that tops the list of things people are most afraid of. Rhonda said she’s required to do radio spots and address the public.

Even competing for the title as princess, Rhonda had to have a three- to five-minute speech and a skit to perform for the judges.

“I said, ‘I don’t care if she wins or not,’ ” Marlene recalled, “ ‘for her to just be able to stand up in-front of people and talk, is a lot.’ ”

Despite how far she’s come, Rhonda said she still experiences a little anxiety when it comes to speech contests, simply because she wants to do well. However, when speaking to crowds in her role as Dairy Princess, she said it just comes naturally.

Rhonda’s speech disorder inspired her to research the subject, and she turned it into what became her senior project.

This week, she’s at the Lawrence County Fair, fulfilling her duties as princess. She said her favorite part of fair week is talking with the little kids, and informing them about the dairy industry.

Rhonda said that she never viewed her apraxia with a negative attitude.

“It’s just a different thing, a unique feature about myself.”