SIDNEY — Each year, since the very first pageant in 1921, one beautiful young lady has been crowned the new Miss America, donning a crown and sash and plunging into a whirlwind year of public appearances, community service projects and promoting a platform.
Each year, all around the nation, hundreds of little girls watch with wide-eyed wonder, dreaming of what it must be like to be Miss America.
More than 30 young women from around our state will take that dream one step closer as they compete in the Miss Heartland scholarship pageant, slated for Feb. 9 at Montcalm Community College (MCC).
“Last year, as our first year, we had around 30 girls come out for Miss Heartland,” Co-executive Director Barb Millard said. “This year we have expanded to include the Outstanding Teen portion and also have three or four local girls participating.”
Twelve of the younger teens will vie for the title of Miss Heartland Out-standing Teen and 23 of their peers, ages 17-25, will compete for the Miss Heartland title.
Collaborating with MCC for the second annual Miss Heartland Pageant, the goal of the local contest is to give one more opportunity for a contestant to qualify for the Miss Michigan Scholarship, the stepping stone to the Miss America Scholarship Pageant, Millard said.
The Outstanding Teen contestants will take the stage at 4 p.m. and the Miss Heartland Pageant will follow at 6 p.m. Admission is $15, $12 for seniors and children under age five are free.
“Cheryl (Smith, who also serves as co-executive director) and I have been involved in pageants before and really love everything about them,” Millard said. “We wanted to let more girls have the opportunity to compete. We tell them all that it doesn’t matter at the end of the night if you walk away with a title or not, you walk away a different person.”
Morgan Lind, the reigning Miss Heartland, agrees.
“When I was growing up in Battle Creek, we didn’t have a local pageant and there was no way to get to Miss Michigan,” said Lind, 24, the daughter of Michael and Dee Lind. “And like all the little girls around the country, I loved watching the Miss America Pageant on TV every year.”
It was during her senior year of high school when an opportunity was presented and Lind went out for her first pageant.
After that, there was no turning back, and Lind has now been involved in the pageant world for the past seven years. As Miss Grand Valley University 2010, she competed in the Miss Michigan contest, placing in the top 10.
“I really wanted to go back and try again, but had begun a job as WOTV-4’s “Face of 4” and couldn’t do it,” Lind said.
In order to get back in, she had to find an open pageant.
“There were several of us who were looking for open pageants,” said Lind, who is now working on achieving her master’s degree at Grand Valley State Universty. “And it is not at all like people think — the girls involved help each other out through word of mouth and social media to help each other out finding pageants. I knew I was aging out of the program, this year would be my last year to be eligible to compete.”
Lind competed in a Miss Stateline pageant, placing second runner-up, and then the very next day, walked into the first Miss Heartland contest.
“I thought, this is it, this is my last chance,” said Lind, who then won the crown and title.
At the Miss Michigan pageant in June, she roomed with Angela Venditti, who later was crowned Miss Michigan.
“I was pleased with how I did, I know I did the best I could, and am thankful for Miss Heartland for providing me one more chance,” said LInd.
As Miss Heartland 2012, Lind participated in numerous Special Olympics events, Children’s Miracle Network events, MCC’s Santa’s Super Sunday, Maddie’s Walk and promoted her anti-bullying campaign.
“The pageants have helped me with so many life skills,” she added, “And though I am at the end of being able to compete, I’m now looking at my next steps and how I can continue to be involved.”
Lind estimates, through competing in pageants, she garnered more than $4,500 in scholarship money.
Correspondent Lori Hansen is a Greenville-area resident.