A new queen is crowned
Sunday evening saw the end of the first day of the Monroe County Fair, marked with a pageant to decide this year’s Monroe County Fair Queen and Little Miss.
After several hot hours in the Waterloo High School auditorium due to a change of venue, Jada Voelker was selected as this year’s queen, with Mila Acock wearing the tiara as her Little Miss.
Due to potential inclement weather, the festivities were moved from the main arena of the fairgrounds to WHS, with the audience packing the auditorium throughout the evening.
Monroe County Fair Association President Don Schrader commented on the move between the Little Miss and queen pageants, saying Plan B had been established sometime earlier and noting it was ultimately unnecessary as the expected storm never came.
Schrader also noted that the venue change happened rather quickly, with fair staff and organizers getting the auditorium stage ready with just over a 30-minute delay.
“We had asked them ahead of time, you know, in an emergency situation if we could have access to it,” Schrader said. “A lot of things fell into place in a half-hour’s time. It’s the best we could do, and well, now it’s not storming and not raining, but so it goes. For the safety of the community and the people… What do you do when it’s half over and it comes?”
This year’s Little Miss pageant saw 10 young girls vying for the title.
Participants this year included Acock, Nora Zellerman, Maisy Schaefer, Lydia Marquardt, Lilyan Miller, Alaina Stumpf, Elizabeth Murphy, Brooklyn Myers, Calianna Greene and Ava Helms.
Though a few of the girls were unfortunately stricken with a case of stage fright as they answered questions posed by 2022 Fair Queen Sophia Dell and Little Miss Kelsey Utz, they all had their chance to shine on stage as they shared facts about the Monroe County Fair or talked about their interests in sports, art or spending time with friends and family.
Acock, the 8-year-old daughter of Seth and Anna Acock of Waterloo, was asked about her softball and baking interests as well as the book she wrote for the Young Authors Conference.
“What inspired my book called ‘Never Give Up’ was actually me, because I tried softball for the first year last year – well, select softball,” Acock said. “And I learned a lot of new things, so I wrote that book called ‘Never Give Up.’”
With the event moving on to the queen pageant, the audience welcomed Tru Schilling, Emma Wittenauer, Amelia Wierschem, Voelker, Erica Runge and Chelsea Nehls to the stage.
The ladies were first seen in their business suits as the evening’s emcee introduced them and gave them time for their opening speeches.
Schilling opened this portion by getting rather personal, speaking about her time overcoming an eating disorder, dealing with bullying and generally learning the importance of never giving up.
“Never give up,” Schilling said. “Those three words changed my life forever. As many know, I have social anxiety, which makes talking to people very challenging. I think about those three words daily, and as a result, I’m overcoming my social anxiety.”
Wittenauer similarly exposed a personal side to the audience. She described how she has been bullied and called “beaver” for having fake teeth, a struggle that has pushed her toward self-confidence while criticizing beauty standards imposed by social media.
“Our humor and conversations are now driven by self-hatred, comparison and embarrassment over the things that we can’t change,” Wittenauer said. “But loving yourself is all about embracing your uniqueness. So always be kind to yourself. And in the words of, well, me, smile! Embrace the beaver.”
Wierschem helped her speech stand out by counting down at certain points throughout, speaking about her relationships with family and her love of Monroe County.
“Five. Five little sheds outline the farm, each organized with a different purpose because, as my family says, every thing has a place and every place has a thing,” Wierschem said. “Monroe County has become a lot like my shed. It’s where I found my place.”
Voelker kept her speech focused on agriculture, specifically discussing the often forgotten mental health troubles farmers face as they strive to put food on America’s plates.
“Envision this: green pastures with a roaming herd of cattle, row crops swaying in the wind and watching a farmer plant the seeds of a spring crop,” Voelker said. “It is very easy to romanticize agricultural life, but behind the scenes, there is a struggle that tends to be unnoticed.”
Runge bookended her speech pointing to her country hero and personal inspiration Dolly Parton. She spoke about how happiness can come in many forms, with the little moments like cry-laughing or singing her favorite songs in the car standing out for her.
“All those moments seem so little, yet create such big feelings,” Runge said. “Dolly once said, ‘Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.’ Don’t be afraid to dream big, make mistakes and live your life on your own terms. And when you’re faced with adversity in your life, ask yourself, ‘What would Dolly do?’”
Nehls dedicated her speech to the idea of life lessons, from the lessons she learned from her parents to those she’s learned from Justin Biggs with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department.
“If you can take one thing away from this speech today, my advice to you is this: sit back, and live in the moment, for you too may learn something in the most unexpected place,” Nehls said.
Following their opening speeches, contestants moved on to the swimsuit portion of the event, shortly followed by the evening gown portion.
Schilling wore a maroon, fully sequined v-neck with a corset back, Wittenauer a turquoise form-fitting dress with lace patterned sequins and Wierschem a royal blue one-shoulder with cutout back, fully sequined velvet and form-fitting mermaid dress.
Voelker wore a fully-sequined form-fitting pink one-shoulder dress while Runge sported a royal blue satin mermaid dress with puff sleeves and Nehls showed off an aqua fully-sequined form-fitting dress.
Contestants each responded to three questions, with topics ranging from the impact of climate change on agriculture to whether or not the federal government should pay off student loans.
Lighter questions included the contestant’s perfect weekend, what the contestant’s best self-compliment would be and the importance of the fair queen role.
The final question posed to each of the contestants was whether they feel women in agriculture are more, less or just as important as men.
It was a broad consensus among the contestants that women are just as important in agriculture as men, with Wierschem saying women can be just as strong and passionate as men and both Nehls and Voelker noting all the women that they have seen in agriculture roles.
Ultimately, Voelker – the 18-year-old daughter of Don and Jean Voelker – was selected as this year’s Monroe County Fair Queen, showing much excitement and more than a few tears when her name was announced.
Additionally, Schilling was named second runner-up, Wierschem was named first runner-up and Nehls was named Miss Congeniality by her peers.
Following the pageant’s conclusion, Voelker was understandably at a loss for words given the rush of winning the crown.
“I’m very excited,” Voelker said. “I’m also very shocked. I really was not expecting it. I’m speechless.”
Her Little Miss shared a rather similar sentiment at the end of the night.
“I am just so excited,” Acock said. “I don’t even know how to explain it. I’m just so excited.”
As Voelker and Acock stepped into their roles, the county said goodbye to Dell and Utz, who were present throughout the pageants.
Dell bid the county adieu, thanking many for a wonderful time as queen – including the fair association, her parents and Utz.
“By coming to the Monroe County Fair, you become a part of something so much more,” Dell said. “It becomes a community of people proud of what they have done and just looking to have a good time, and you all do just that. Thank you everyone. Thank you Monroe County. You truly are the best.”