When news broke last week that Wendy's had agreed to be sold to Arby's parent company, Triarc Cos., I immediately wanted to call my best friend, Lauren.

When news broke last week that Wendy's had agreed to be sold to Arby's parent company, Triarc Cos., I immediately wanted to call my best friend, Lauren.

"Did you hear that Wendy's was sold?" I asked Lauren as soon as she picked up the phone.

"What?" she said. "That's so sad, Brittiny. That's our childhood."

For several years she and I participated in the annual "Looking for Wendy" contest. Every spring since 1988, Wendy's has hosted a contest to find a spokesperson, attracting young women from all over central Ohio. In 1998 more than 200 girls tried out for the coveted title, which was narrowed to 15 finalists. Lauren and I each made the cut.

The winner that year received a prize package including a one-year paid service contract as Wendy's spokesgirl, a $1,500 U.S. savings bond, a video session from Audio Visual Technologies, a 13-week self-development program from Noni Modeling agency, a photography session from Greg Miller Photography and a media training session from Wendy's.

For several years I tried out but never seemed to make it past the initial, informal interview held in the lobby of the company's headquarters on West Dublin-Granville Road.

In 1998 my luck changed. As a finalist I had the opportunity to visit patients recovering at Children's Hospital and compete in the contest, where I recited a speech, performed a monologue that I wrote and answered impromptu questions. Not to mention, I got to dress up in the red wig and iconic blue-and-white stripped dress with matching bloomers.

I didn't win, but I was proud of my performance. And I remembered all my lines. My friend, Lauren, was named first runner-up.

When I was 16 years old, competing for the title was a monumental experience -- it was an event that I had looked forward to every year. Clearly, by the number of girls who also tried out, I was not alone in that thinking.

Growing up in central Ohio I was familiar with the fact that Wendy's was a hometown company. I think I passed the headquarters on a weekly basis. As a teenager I didn't understand the larger implications of what it meant to have a company of that size headquartered in Dublin, but I did realize it was important. Plus, there were those loveable commercials featuring Dave Thomas. Who could turn down a burger from him?

Nowadays, when my friends see the pictures of me dressed up as Wendy, they burst out in laughter. I don't blame them; it's actually pretty entertaining. But every time I've showed the photos to friends I've always done so with pride.

It wasn't easy to be selected as a finalist and I always felt special knowing that several people thought I might make a good representative for the company.

With the sale of Wendy's pending, I dug out the photos of me dressed up as Wendy.

There I stood on my parent's front lawn dressed up in the costume, freckles scattered on my face. I smiled from ear to ear, although a part of me felt a little sad.

Does the sale mean girls will no longer have the same experience that I did? Does it mean there will no longer be an annual "Looking for Wendy" contest? I just don't think I would have been nearly as excited to be Miss Arby.

Wendy's spokesman Denny Lynch couldn't speculate on the fate of the contest.

"That is one of those details that will have to be worked out later, which is natural in the transaction of this size is announced," he said.

The experience of being a finalist in the "Looking for Wendy" contest was priceless. It taught me poise, compassion, how to handle myself under pressure and it was fun.

I can only hope that Triarc will see the same benefit in the contest that Wendy's executives saw when it was created two decades ago.

Brittiny Dunlap is a Villager reporter.

Brittiny

Dunlap