County fair pageant continues tradition

By Katie Demeria

The Shenandoah County Fair Scholarship Pageant is reaching back to its roots.

The event celebrated its 55th anniversary this year, and co-director Tiffany Painter Newland said some changes were meant to highlight the pageant’s nostalgic nature.

“The pageant has become a staple of the fair,” Newland said. “It’s part of the tradition and the history, and if nothing else, at the end of the day people will always care about who won Miss Shenandoah County Fair.”

Sixty contestants competed for the seven different 2014 titles, Newland said.

This year, divisions were changed to reflect what they were in the past. The Junior Teen Miss and Teen Miss divisions have been combined, for example, into the Junior Miss category.

The Mrs. Shenandoah County Fair division was removed this year — a relatively new category, Newland said there has been a decline in participation. It is not clear yet whether or not it will be eliminated entirely, she added.

“But, again, we’re deciding which divisions to have based on what we’ve had in the past,” she said. “We’re trying to get back to our roots.”

Pageants across the state, Newland noted, have seen a decline in participation, and associated costs are likely a leading factor.

In order to offset those costs, as well as to draw emphasis away from attire, all participants in the evening pageant’s opening number were to wear official 2014 pageant T-shirts.

“We put more emphasis on personality, looking for the girl next door appeal — someone who is going to enjoy themselves,” Newland said.

Participants were also asked an on-stage question meant to illustrate their confidence and ability to speak to a large crowd.

“We want a warm, sweet personality that is also the all-American girl next door,” Newland said. “This young lady needs to be poised, well-spoken, we want her to have a personality.”

“Maybe their wardrobe may need a little assistance,” she added, “but that can be fixed. What’s in their brains and their hearts, though, we cannot fix. We want them to be true to themselves.”

Lauren Heishman, Miss Shenandoah County Fair 2013, said she became involved so she could be a role model for younger girls.

Heishman, who was in a hit-and-run incident on Interstate 81, said she was able to use her platform to educate other young people about driving safety.

“It’s a great opportunity for girls, and it’s a scholarship pageant, so it’s a way to earn money for your education,” she said. “It’s a wonderful experience.

The winner of the pageant also competes to be Miss Virginia Association of Fairs, as well. This year, Heishman was awarded third runner up.

Newland, named Mrs. Shenandoah County Fair in 2009, said one of the reasons she likes to stay involved is due to the nostalgia around the event.

“It’s your local county fair, and your hometown title,” she said. “You’re not representing some title that is 200 miles away.”

“Times change, the fair has changed, but while things do continue to change, we still want to keep this tradition alive,” she added.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com