By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Megan Ervin and Celeste Niemann, both of Quincy, are among 25 young women competing this week for the Miss Illinois title.
Ervin, 22, earned the title of Miss Quincy in March, while Niemann, 20, won the title of Miss Gem City at the same event. They are now in the southern Illinois town of Marion for weeklong activities associated with the Miss Illinois 2012 pageant, which concludes Saturday.
Preliminary competitions will be held Wednesday and Thursday nights. The pageant's 10 finalists will be announced Saturday, with the eventual winner selected that night.
The winner will advance to the Miss America pageant in January in Las Vegas.
Ervin, daughter of Jeff and Cindy Ervin, was first runner-up in the 2011 Miss Illinois pageant, which she entered as Miss Macomb. She decided to give the state pageant another try this year.
"If my heart wasn't in it, I definitely wouldn't have decided to come back again. But it's definitely where my heart is," she said in a telephone interview Tuesday from Marion. "I want this more than anything, and I decided to come back and give it one last shot."
Niemann, daughter of Ted and Suzanne Niemann, is taking part in the statewide pageant for the first time and is thrilled to be there.
"I've been tremendously enjoying it. I've made a lot of friends, and it's been a wonderful experience," she said.
"I've grown up watching pageants, so it's been awesome getting to experience all of the little details and the fun stuff they have planned for us this week -- and all the surprises. It's been a lot of fun competing, and I would love to do it again some day."
On Wednesday, contestants will compete in two groups. Niemann will be in the first group and will take part in the talent and evening gown competitions. Ervin will be in the second group, which will compete in the swimsuit category and answer an onstage question. Then on Thursday, the two groups will switch so everyone will compete in events they didn't participate in Wednesday.
Both Quincy contestants will dance in the talent portion of the pageant. Niemann will perform a tap dance, while Ervin will perform a jazz dance.
Ervin, who graduated in May from Western Illinois University, said the reason she got involved in the Miss America preliminary competitions is because the organization is "service-based."
"I've grown up with a surrounding of doing service activities and being involved in service activities, and what's really important to me is my platform," she said. Her platform is eCHANGE, which stands for Everyone Choosing Healthy Activities and Nutritional Goals Everyday. The platform encourages fighting childhood obesity.
Niemann's platform is Make Your Minutes Matter: Volunteer. The platform promotes community volunteerism and involvement -- two causes important to Niemann, who will be a junior this fall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Niemann's younger sister, Angelica, is also in Marion this week competing in the Miss Illinois Outstanding Teen pageant. She qualified by earning the title of Miss Midwest Outstanding Teen at a pageant earlier this year in Swansea.
Another Quincy girl, Mackenzie Mahsman, who was named Miss Quincy Outstanding Teen in March, also is competing in the same pageant.
The winner of the teen contest will compete in the Miss America Outstanding Teen pageant in August in Orlando, Fla.
Two other Quincy girls also are in Marion this week for pageants:
º Miss Quincy Outstanding Pre-Teen Allison Helton is competing for the title of Miss Illinois Outstanding Pre-Teen.
º Little Miss Quincy Kenley Kurfman is participating in the Miss Illinois Princess program, a noncompetitive mentoring program for girls ages 5 to 12.
Lindsay Hess, a director with the Miss Quincy Scholarship Pageant, said Kenley will spend part of the next year being mentored by Ervin, who became her mentor by virtue of winning the Miss Quincy title.