Though born in California, Jes Walker-Wyse has made a mark on Oak Harbor in a relatively short amount of time.
Since moving to the city nine years ago, she has played a role in providing food to children who need it, helping shape the city’s transportation plan and awarding thousands of dollars in scholarships to high school girls.
Walker-Wyse works as a real estate loan officer at Peoples Bank, but has managed to find time to serve on the city planning commission, volunteer with the Oak Harbor Rotary Club and create the Miss Oak Harbor Scholarship Pageant.
Walker-Wyse and her family are moving to Oregon, and the pageant that has awarded over $41,000 to 62 girls since it began in 2014 is leaving with her.
“It exceeded every expectation I could imagine,” she said.
Walker-Wyse worked with River Powers for four months starting in February 2014 to put together the first Miss Oak Harbor event. She went from begging the first nine girls to compete in it and facing skepticism in the community to double the number of participants and more local businesses calling to sponsor than there are contestants.
As its popularity increased, Walker-Wyse and Powers incorporated a six-week mentorship program in which they helped contestants with skills like interviewing, marketing and public speaking.
“There were so many stereotypes out there and judgments about what we were trying to create,” she said. “And as soon as we got through that first year, it was like there was a shift in the community. Like they got what we’re doing.”
Walker-Wyse, Powers, Mollie Brodt and Cheryl Grehan comprise the Pageant Wyse Inc. board, which unanimously decided to disband the pageant with the news of Walker-Wyse’s departure.
Powers said another board member will also be leaving, and they believed finding two more people who have a similar vision for the event to volunteer as much time as it takes would be “impractical.”
“I think it’s super unfortunate that we’re not continuing the program, but I’m really grateful that we did get to do it for four years,” Powers said.
The organization’s funds will be dispersed into scholarships that female high school students can apply for later this year, Walker-Wyse said.
Powers and Walker-Wyse didn’t know each other before working together to create the pageant, but became close friends throughout the process.
River said she appreciates Walker-Wyse’s community involvement that spans past the borders of the pageant.
“She is such an important part of our community and my personal world,” she said. “It is a great loss, not just to me but to Oak Harbor as a whole.”
Walker-Wyse said community service has always been a significant part of her life. She was a member of the Rotary Club for four years and worked with programming and the organization’s Food4Kids Backpack program, which provides weekend meals every week to students who might not have enough to eat.
“I’ve always had a heart for service,” Walker-Wyse said.
She decided to join the city planning commission around three years ago.
After working as an office manager with the city for a year, she said she wanted to become more involved. During her appointment, she helped work on the transportation plan update and the Windjammer Park Improvement Plan.
“I’ve always felt as a citizen, if you want to say something, you really need to get involved first,” she said.
Walker-Wyse said she’s always felt like the Oak Harbor community embraced her, even as “an outsider.” This was particularly helpful to her when she was stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island from 1999 to 2001 for her first assignment as a yeoman.
“With that acceptance and love,” she said, “I’ve been able to create all the things I’ve been passionate about.”