CARTHAGE, Ill. -- Carthage resident Alexis Hellyer, 7, recently returned from the Miss United States Agriculture pageant as the National People's Choice.
Competing for Illinois, Hellyer, the daughter of Ryan and Hannah Hellyer, secured the title in the Little Miss Division. She was also named first runner-up and won best interview.
"I think this has strengthened her love of agriculture," Hannah Hellyer said. "I'm very proud of her."
The pageant has two required areas of competition, formal wear and the on-stage question. Other areas, such as the interview, photogenic, state fun fashion and the essay are optional, requiring contestants to participate in at least one. Hellyer participated in every event. She was sponsored by the Augusta Farmers Co-op, Marine Bank and Trust, Carthage Dairy Queen, Celebration School of Dance, friends and family.
"State fun fashion was tricky," Hannah said. "You had to find something that was agriculture-related that also pertained to your state."
Alexis dressed as a Monarch butterfly by wearing a black dress to match the insect's body color and a set of wings.
The answer to her onstage question, "What is your favorite holiday?", was Christmas, because "you get to watch people open presents, and you get to open your own presents," Alexis said.
Her response drew laughter from the audience, which made Alexis equally nervous and excited.
"She was really scared to do her interview," Hannah said, "but one of the girls from the Miss Division, who was contestant number one like Alexis, started talking to her. She was asking her questions about her farm and her state and told her she would do great, because the judges would ask all the same questions."
The interaction with the older contestant helped Alexis to relax during her interview.
"After the interview, she came running up to me, jumped in my arms and said, 'Mom I think I won,'" Hannah said.
"And I did," Alexis added with a huge grin.
Having been named first runner up, Alexis hopes to be able to return to Birmingham, Ala., the site of the competition, next year to pass on her crown.
"When she did the (Hancock) County pageant, she was very shy and would hardly smile, but she wanted it very badly," Hannah said. "She wanted to travel and talk about her animals. She practiced, and she really overcame a lot of fears."
Agriculture is deeply-rooted in the Hellyer family. Alexis has, among other animals, 84 chickens she cares for.
"I think this is going to continue to have an impact on her, especially once we do all of her community service," Hannah said. "She's a very easy learner and a compassionate girl. I think, when she starts doing things for the community and seeing that it makes a difference, it's going to do a lot for her."
The family recently handed out poppies to support veterans, and they are planning another veteran-oriented event later this summer. Alexis hopes to continue competing in pageants as she grows older.