We are the champions

Ashley Smith · Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Despite the sweltering heat and oppressive humidity, the young women competing for the title of Muscatine County Fair Queen remained cool and collected on the Grove stage on the first night of the fair.

The annual Fair Queen competition is held to determine which candidate possesses the qualities that best represents the spirit of the county fair.

“Holding the competition on the first day of the fair sets the tone. It is a wonderful community event and allows the winner to participate in all of the events of the fair from awarding trophies during 4H shows to being onstage to introduce the grandstand acts,” said community member Jessica Madsen, whose daughter was a member of this year’s junior court.

According to the 2017 Fair Book, eligible candidates for Fair Queen must be between the ages of 16 and 21, and sponsored by an organization or business. The winner of the competition is selected by a panel of three judges, all of whom must reside outside of Muscatine County.

Girls between the ages of 14 and 16 are encouraged to participate in the junior court, said organizer and chairman Stephanie Anderson.

While these girls do not compete for a title, they spend time participating in activities with the queen candidates and learn more about the process of running for Fair Queen in the future.

Many of the contestants return to compete for several consecutive years, said Anderson.

“I've had girls with me for three years in a row. They come out of their shell, and they become more confident,” she said.

This week marks the third year of competition for Kelzi Mather, a 2017 graduate of West Liberty High School.

“My first year [running for Fair Queen] I was going to be a junior in high school and I was very shy so I had a hard time opening up to the others and I didn’t get the same experience that the rest of the girls did,” said Mather.

“I’ve changed a lot since then and I have met many wonderful people through this contest,” she said.

Anderson said she wishes more girls would participate in future contests. “I wish more girls would do it. It's fun, they would be really surprised,” she said.

The candidates participated in a number of activities leading up to the fair, from going out to eat at restaurants to creating projects together at the Tinted Vintage studio in Wilton.

This year’s competition was hosted by 2016 Fair Queen winner Morgan Nichols and 2016 Fair Princess winner Belinda Heckman, both recent graduates of West Liberty High School.

“It has been the most amazing, memorable year that I could ask for. Ever since this crown hit my head at County Fair last year, it’s been insane,” said Nichols, addressing the audience.

As past County Fair Queen, Nichols spent long hours each day at the 2016 fair, handing out award ribbons and meeting with fairgoers. She also represented Muscatine County at the 2016 State Fair in Des Moines.

“There were ten-minute interviews for each of us, plus group interviews and a one-minute Speed Interview,” said Nichols, describing her experience at the 2016 State Fair.

“At the end of the week, we went onto the Bill Riley Stage. Amanda Riniker from Buchanan County won the 2016 Iowa State Fair Queen, and she was definitely deserving of it,” she said.

As past winners of the County Fair Queen competitions, Nichols and Heckman took turns asking interview questions to each queen candidate, while the judges and audience members looked on.

After two rounds of interview questions, the judges selected the 2017 winners.

Reghan McNaul, of West Liberty, was named Miss Congeniality 2017, and Katie Sturmer, of Blue Grass, was named the 2017 Muscatine County Fair Princess.

Makayla Kellor, of Muscatine, was crowned with the title 2017 Muscatine County Fair Queen.

The young women impressed the audience and judges alike with their poise, confidence, and articulate responses to interview questions.

“A good way to boost interest in our county fair is to get younger people out to our fair, because those are the kids who are going to grow up and want to show their animals or present their projects,” said McNaul during her interview. “Our future is in their hands.”

Sturmer reflected on her community service experience during her own interview. With 250 community service hours to date, she hopes to reach a lifetime goal of 4,000 hours.

“I really enjoy working with the environment and working with kids and education, so in the future I hope to be able to teach kids and people of all ages about the importance of conservation and preservation, and what it means to take care of the environment,” she said.

For her interview, 2017 Fair Queen winner Makayla Kellor told judges about the personal pride she takes in her faith.

“There are always things that you can put your heart into and not get anything out of. But with your faith it’s really your own thing, and you can choose how you pursue it,” said Kellor.

“Throughout the past few years of high school, I’ve learned that it’s something that I can take pride in and use to show others how to be positive, and to keep a good attitude about everything you go about in life,” she finished amid loud cheers from the audience.

Following the competition, the 2017 winners reflected on their experiences.

“My favorite part was being able to meet new people from around the county, getting to know their stories and make new friends,” said Sturmer, who participated in last year’s junior court.

“I would definitely say the same,” said McNaul, who has been part of the Fair Queen competition for three years.

When asked what advice she would give future candidates, Kellor was quick to describe how supportive the other participants were.

“I would just say go for it. There’s really nothing you can lose,” she said.
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