SPRINGFIELD – Molly Reeves of Danville was feeling a little overwhelmed Monday morning after taking the title of Miss Illinois County Fair Queen at the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs convention in Springfield on Sunday evening.
"Things are a little crazy this morning," Reeves said.
Reeves won the Miss Georgetown Fair competition last August in order to compete with 66 other county fair queens for the title Sunday. Now she will reign over the Illinois State Fair from Aug. 8 through 17.
"I've been very focused," Reeves said. "After my interview, I knew I had a shot at being in the top 12, so I knew I had to get up there and kick some butt."
The 67 contestants competed in evening gown and swimsuit divisions, gave a one-minute speech on stage and had a four-minute private interview with the judges off stage for the first round.
After the top 12 contestants were announced, the slate was wiped clean of scoring. The final round included repeating the one-minute speech, swimsuit and evening gown competitions, and a two-minute private interview, and each contestant was given three questions to answer though they could not hear each other's answers, Reeves said.
"I was contestant number 55 for the first round and contestant number 5 in the finals," she said. "Five is my lucky number – even before."
Reeves signed a contract with the Illinois Department of Agriculture early Monday morning. Her duties as Miss Illinois County Fair Queen will include reigning over the state fair and attending the DuQuoin County Fair and visiting as many county fairs as possible.
"Next year is the 50th anniversary of the state fair queen pageant, so I will be helping to plan for this special convention," Reeves said.
Reeves is taking a semester off from school this spring and will attend Southern Illinois University in the fall, majoring in fashion design and minoring in Spanish.
Perks Reeves receives as the state representative includes access to wardrobe through assistance from pageant sponsors and the Illinois County Fair Queen Directors Association. She will have a car and gas reimbursement when she represents the Department of Agriculture. She will also be employed by the department during the months of June, July and August.
"I knew about the responsibilities and what came with the title, but now I'm getting all the details," Reeves said. "I'm just so grateful to be able to do this."
Reeves was first runner-up in the 2005 Miss Vermilion County Fair competition and won the 2006 Miss East Central Illinois competition, the local title in the Miss America competition.
Reeves has worked with Georgetown Fair pageant directors Karen Thornsbrough and Jill Pope every Monday since she won that title.
"You don't know how excited we were," Thornsbrough said. "Georgetown hasn't had a contestant in the top 12 in 10 years, and we had a top 12 and the winner last night. We knew she was good. She worked so very hard. It's wonderful to see her get the title."
Thornsbrough called Reeves extremely prepared.
"When you can go into an interview prepared, you can go in relaxed for whatever they throw at you and it makes a difference," she said.
Thornsbrough said that Hannah Reeley of Catlin, first runner-up; Aubrey Warner of Catlin, second runner-up; and BreAnna Grant of Potomac, third runner-up, will share the Miss Georgetown Fair duties for parades and other public appearances depending on who is available.
"Georgetown has never had a state fair queen," Reeves said.
"I'm excited about representing this area and tell everyone across the state how much we have to offer."
Reeves is a graduate of Schlarman High School and is the daughter of Art Reeves and Susan Willaman.
Two more area contestants make it into the top 12
Two other central Illinois fair queens were selected as among the best in the state at last weekend's Miss Illinois County Fair Pageant.
Miss Moultrie-Douglas Katie Schweighart and Miss Champaign County Kayla Zacholski both finished in the top 12 of the pageant in Springfield.
Zacholski, a 2007 graduate of Mahomet-Seymour High School and online student at Colorado University, said becoming one of 12 finalists in the pageant was a goal for her. But she was still shocked when she was announced as a finalist.
"In reality, 55 girls don't make top 12," Zacholski said. "The odds were not in my favor, so I was shocked."
For Schweighart, becoming a finalist was a surprise, especially because she'd expected to come to the pageant just to make friends.
"The Moultrie-Douglas Fair was my first pageant, and so whenever they called me, I couldn't believe it at first," Schweighart said. She thought it was a mistake.
"The girl next to me grabbed my hand and said, 'I told you; I told you (that) you would make it,'" Schweighart said.
Schweighart's speech talked of her devotion for the Chicago Cubs, and Zacholski spoke about how the number 7 went from an unlucky number – she received seven stitches after a fall from a swing set as a child – into a lucky number. She was the seventh contestant in the Champaign County Fair pageant and was crowned on 7/7/07.
And when Schweighart and Zacholski learned they made the top 12, they competed again in interview, speech, swimsuit and evening gown portions.
Ronda Scott, the director of the Champaign County Fair Queen Pageant, said she was proud of Zacholski's finish, especially because she had worked so hard.
Schweighart said the weekend's events left her exhausted, but she enjoyed the experience.
Sandy Hoke, the Moultrie-Douglas Fair Queen Pageant director, said Schweighart represented the counties well.
"I'm very proud of her," Hoke said. "She's come a long way since July."