By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Miss Illinois Hannah Smith stressed one word Saturday to the Miss Quincy competitors.
"Focus on you, focus on what you're doing and never be someone you're not because the minute you try to compare yourself or turn into someone you're not, the judges can see right through that," Smith said in an interview.
The judges liked what they saw in Megan Ervin, who was crowned Miss Quincy.
Ervin's eCHANGE platform, Everyone Choosing Healthy Activities and Nutritional Goals Everyday, is geared toward the fight against childhood obesity and will be the focus during her yearlong reign and as she competes for the Miss Illinois title.
"This has been a dream of mine to become Miss Illinois ever since I was a little girl," said Ervin, 22, the daughter of Jeff and Cindy Ervin. "I can't wait to go forward for Illinois."
Ervin served as Miss Macomb this past year and was first runner-up in the Miss Illinois pageant.
"What happened (tonight) is what I have been wishing for and preparing for the last three months. I'm ready to start preparing for Miss Illinois," Ervin said. "I hope to hit it even harder than last time."
Other winners in Saturday night's pageant were Miss Gem City Celeste Niemann, Miss Quincy Outstanding Teen Mackenzie Mahsman, Miss Quincy Outstanding Pre-teen Allison Helton and Little Miss Quincy Kenley Kurfman.
"It was a long road, but definitely worth it. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to impact Quincy this year," said Niemann, whose platform centers on volunteering. "I hope to go to grade schools and promote volunteering ... and spread the message of helping others and putting other people's needs above yourself."
Smith along with Miss Illinois Outstanding Teen Summer Robbins and Miss Illinois Pre-Teen Kayla Sallenger all were on hand for the Quincy pageant, held Saturday night in the Quincy Community Theatre.
"It means a lot for the ladies to come down here and be a part of our pageant," said pageant organizer Donna Haire. "They bring an amazing message to the girls. They're role models, and they just cement everything we've been trying to tell them."
A year ago, Smith was just like the contestants in Saturday's pageant, competing in her local preliminary pageant.
Winning Miss Chicago led to being crowned Miss Illinois on July 2 and a top 10 finish in the Miss America Pageant in January.
"The main reason I began competing was primarily for the scholarship opportunities. Many people don't realize the Miss America program is the No. 1 leading scholarship program for young women in our country," Smith said. "They provide over $45 million worth of scholarships to young women, something I believe that really gives young women hope."
This year's Miss Quincy pageant provided more than $7,000 in scholarship money.
Also appealing to Smith was the opportunity to share her talent through pageants and work on a platform to help make a difference.
Smith stressed her personal platform of distracted driving, traveling to many high schools throughout the state and also speaking to elementary school students about incorporating respect and treating others the way they'd like to be treated in return.
She's also kept her dancing shoes on, performing a routine as she did on Saturday night at the Quincy Community Theatre, and provided inspiration to the contestants.
After her yearlong reign, "I'll focus on getting back to being Hannah and working on my degree at Northern Illinois University," said Smith, who plans to earn a degree in dance performance and business with hopes of owning a dance studio someday.
In the meantime, interacting with the youngest pageant contestants is a lot of fun.
"I remember being that age and looking up to Miss America or Miss Illinois and seeing this girl with a crown on her head," Smith said.