Alumni, ZCoBbers, ZingLife

An Interview with Miss Michigan (and Zingerman’s Deli Alumn) Heather Kendrick

Heather Kendrick is a Deli alum—and she’s also Miss Michigan 2017! The former Deli employee of five years was crowned on June 17 and is on her way to compete for the title of Miss America later this summer. She was kind enough to share some Deli memories, her road to becoming Miss Michigan, what it’s like to perform a Lady Gaga song on violin, and how she’s preparing for next month’s Miss America competition.

Zingerman’s: Tell us a bit about yourself.

Heather: I’m from Port Huron, Michigan, originally. I started playing violin at a very young age and hated it. My family always loved Zingerman’s, so whenever we had a chance to come over to Ann Arbor, we always made a Zingerman’s stop—I remember my favorite sandwich ever was #62 Jay’s BBQ Chicken. I went to school over that way and ended up liking violin a little bit more as time went on. When I was 14, I applied to Interlochen Arts Academy and ended up finishing up my high school degree there. From there, I came to Michigan for my undergrad, and when I was deciding on schools, really what drew me to Michigan was a great violin teacher and a wonderful research university, but I though, “Oh my gosh, if I go Michigan, I can work at Zingerman’s!” That was a huge determining factor.

Z: Do you remember your first day at the Deli?

H: My first day at the Deli was the Notre Dame football game “Under the Lights”, so it was outrageous on a Saturday. But, then I started going to school at Michigan and studying violin and Music Education, and my time at Zing really just opened my eyes to how important organizations are to society and how much good they can do. Ari actually encouraged me to apply to the Organizational Studies program at Michigan, and I did that and really got interested in arts organizations. I feel so mentored by everyone at Zingerman’s—I learned so much about life and about being a good person from my experiences working there.

Z: So, now you’re the director of an arts program at the University?

H: Yes! Now, I run a program at the School of Music, Theater and Dance called the M-Prize Chamber Arts Organization. It’s an international chamber music competition that we host at the School of Music, and we bring ensembles, between two and ten members, from all over the world to compete for prize money and presenting opportunities. We partner with UMS, the University Musical Society, so we bring back our winners to perform at a UMS Chamber Arts Series concert the following year. We also bring them back to do guest artist residencies with our students, so I coordinate those. We have the largest prize pool for chamber music in the world. It’s very exciting stuff! But that was the only reason I stopped working at Zing. I would have worked there forever. I try and come back for a graduation weekend or around the holidays, and I come to the Speaker Series [Lectures at ZingTrain] all the time. I’m a fangirl.

Z: How long have you been competing in pageants?

H: I started competing in 2013, and I did my first local pageant. In the Miss America organization, there’s a national level, which is Miss America, and then there’s a state level right below that, and then below that is the local level, which would be a county pageant. When I was younger, I was performing a lot, playing the violin, and I was pretty personable. I had gotten the question of “Have you ever considered doing this because this could be good scholarship money going into college?” I thought, “Oh my gosh, no.” I was totally a hippie and went to art school, and I was not a pageant girl. Then, I really thought about it, and thought, I have the talent part down, it’s a great opportunity to practice my interview skills, and you know, I have a prom dress, so I’ll just throw my hat in the ring. I did my first local pageant, and I didn’t win, but I did well. I thought it was a great experience—I didn’t win but a great girl did—and the next year, when it came around again, I just thought, I’m just going to give it one more shot. I did, and I won, which was very exciting. Then I had the opportunity to go to Miss Michigan.

Z: How did that go?

H: I went to Miss Michigan in 2014, and it was a wonderful experience. I met a lot of friends, and it’s a very cool thing to compete on the state stage for the title of Miss Michigan. I didn’t make it to the top 10 that year, I didn’t place or anything, but I really learned so much and had a great experience. At that point, I kind of closed the door and thought, back to school, I want to finish my degree, I love my job at Zing. And actually that summer, the door opened up for me to take on the Program Director job with M-Prize, so I ended up going to school part time, and I was working full time. It was universal forces aligning because if I had won in 2014, I would have never had that opportunity to be a director of a program while I’m in school. Then, this past fall, I saw that the Miss Washtenaw pageant was coming up, so I thought, oh my goodness. I have all the clothes, it’s been a while, but I’m also getting too old to compete because the cutoff age for the Miss America organization is 24, so this will be my last year. I thought, I’m just going to do it one more time. What’s the hurt? It’s a Saturday, it’d be a blast. I did it, and I won!

Z: What are some of the responsibilities of being Miss Michigan?

H: We all have our own personal platform. Within the Miss America program, every woman who competes has their community service platform that they will promote during their year of service. Actually the platform program was created by our former Miss Michigan, who went on to win Miss America in 1988, named Kaye Lani Rae Rafko. My platform is keeping the arts in education, advocating STEAM, which includes the arts among science, technology, engineering and math. My main objective for this year is to promote STEAM, to promote the arts and education in our state, and hopefully, greater. And then also, a personal goal of mine is to figure out a way to pursue legislation to make the arts a requirement for graduation in public schools. That’s my goal! And then also, the Miss America organization is a partner with Children’s Miracle Network, so as Miss Michigan, I’m the state ambassador. I’ll be traveling to the different Children’s Miracle Network hospitals throughout the state.

Z: We loved your performance. How did you choose to do “Bad Romance”?

H: I am a classically trained violinist, and something else that inspired me about the program was that I can play my talent, but I only have 90 seconds to be entertaining and be relevant. It’s really difficult to get on stage and play classical violin for 90 seconds and make an impact. I actually perform with an electro-pop violin and DJ in a band called Nuclassica, and it’s a band out of Detroit. It’s a group of friends of mine, and we all found each other. My friend Jordan Broder is the creator of the group and the artistic director….When we were brainstorming together, he said, “We’ll come up with an arrangement. We’ll work on it together.” It was just such a blast to go through that process, and we decided on “Bad Romance.”

Z: When do you start preparing for Miss America?

H: I’ve given myself a couple days to get home and get re-acclimated, but our Miss America paperwork is due next week, so I’m working hard on that. I leave on August 28, and then we’re there for two weeks. Miss America finals night is September 10, so that’s when it’s on TV…Obviously, it’s quick. It’s coming up, it’s the end of summer. We’re all so excited, and then, of course, my intention is to go and come back with the crown, and at that point, I’d be all over the place and would not be coming back to Ann Arbor immediately. But, if I was to come right back to Ann Arbor afterward, then I have a full seven or eight months to be Miss Michigan and that really lets me focus on my platform and be more visible around the state and really do good with my year. I’m excited to be able to focus on Miss America for now, and then, hopefully be Miss America in September. But if I’m not Miss America, then I can come back and really focus on being the best Miss Michigan I can be.

We wish Heather the best of luck! If you’d like to see Heather’s perform “Bad Romance” at the Miss Michigan pageant, you can check it out here.