FRANKTON — It wasn’t exactly a runway Emily Betz walked down Sunday to accept her crown, bouquet and trophy designating her selection as the 2020 Madison County Fair Queen.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing was quite the same for the annual event that usually takes place in front of an audience of hundreds at the outdoor pavilion in Alexandria’s Beulah Park.
But this year, the event took place virtually, with the six contestants competing from home in the formal wear, professional wear, speech, interview in impromptu question categories before only the judges.
“I’m so proud, and I’m so happy to represent Madison County,” the Frankton Jr.-Sr. High School graduate said.
The pageant traditionally kicks off the two weeks of the fair. Though Betz, 18, normally would have quite a few duties at the various events, those are postponed at least until the 2021 county fair.
Betz and the 2021 Madison County 4-H Fair queen each will represent the county at the 2022 Indiana State Fair Queen Pageant.
The pageant contestants each were assigned a specific time to report on the Zoom platform.
At 6 p.m., the judges reconvened with all the contestants and announced the winners. At around 7:30 p.m., they and the 2019 fair queen, Anahleisa Forrester, met at Betz’s house so she could be crowned.
“It was a different occasion. It was at my house instead of onstage,” she said. “This may not have been a traditional pageant, but everyone adjusted to the virtual competition and made it a good experience for all of us.”
Pageant director Lisa W. Rinker said though much consideration was given to whether the pageant would take place at all, the valuable learning opportunities provided to contestants, including interview and public speaking skills, and gaining poise and self-confidence, remained too valuable to miss.
“While the pageant was held on a virtual platform, including activities leading up to the actual pageant, this year’s contestants garnered these same learning opportunities,” she said.
In addition to the fair, the queen also serves as an ambassador for Madison County, promoting the 4-H program through appearances, school visits, and award presentations, Rinker said.
“While the format and look of these activities have changed, this year’s queen is still one of the faces of Madison County 4-H and will continue to serve as its ambassador throughout the year,” she said.
Betz, a 10-year member of the Highlanders and Mini Scots 4-H Club, over the years has participated in indoor projects, including sewing, cake decorating, photography and fashion review.
After five years of participation, she also served this year as president of Junior Leaders. In that capacity, she also has a voting seat on the Madison County Fair Board and, because of the pandemic, voted to suspend the regular annual event in favor of a scaled-down safer event.
Like many little girls, Betz saw the pageant and aspired to participate.
“I grew up watching the pageant and dreamed it would be me someday, and I am very proud of the work I put into it over the past couple of months because it paid off,” she said.
At school, Betz, who plans to study elementary education with a minor in special education at Butler University in Indianapolis, has served as a cadet teacher in first-grade and second-grade classrooms. Working with those students, who asked about 4-H after seeing her wear a lanyard with a key ring bearing the organization’s logo on it, also inspired her to compete, she said.
“I have a passion for working with kids,” she said. “Being a cadet teacher gave me hands-on experience working with students, and it proved to me that’s what I want to do for my future job. There’s never a dull moment in a classroom. Children really inspire me to become my best self.”
Betz’s mother, Leisa Betz, described her daughter as a straight-A student who was able to maintain excellence in spite of a busy schedule that included a job and community service.
“I am extremely proud of Emily in everything she does. She is a wonderful person, very caring, loving, and I believe she is going to accomplish great things. I am overwhelmed at everything she does,” she said. “I just believe she will do everything she can to support Madison County and 4-H not only over the next year but forever, because it has been such a big part of her life.”