By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Megan Ervin of Rushville was bursting with excitement Monday in the wake of being crowned Miss Illinois.
"I'm still kind of in shock," she said in a telephone interview from Marion, where Ervin emerged as the winner Saturday among 25 contestants in the weeklong Miss Illinois pageant.
"I've never had such a great feeling in my life as I did on that stage on Saturday night. I can honestly say it was the happiest day of my life," she said.
"I worked all year for that -- more than this year, actually. I mean, I've wanted that for a very, very long time. So when you invest that much time and heart and energy -- and you invest your family in it -- it means so much to you. So for that dream to actually come true for me was just remarkable. I still get chills just talking about it."
Ervin, 22, entered the competition as Miss Quincy, a title she earned in a March pageant open to women in the Quincy area. She has qualified to be one of 52 contestants who will compete in January for the title of Miss America.
Ervin still can't believe she's heading to the Miss America pageant. She said throughout her life she has watched the Miss America pageant on TV, imagining what it would be like to be one of the contestants.
"It's like a Super Bowl for me," she said. "The week that Miss America is coming on, my sisters and my mom and I are ecstatic. We get in the living room with popcorn and snack and invite some friends over. It's pretty special."
This year it will be extra special because Ervin will be on stage in Las Vegas.
After emerging as a top 10 finalist in Marion, Ervin competed in swimsuit, evening gown and talent competitions. Then the final five contestants -- Ervin among them -- were called on stage to answer a question on some topic involving current events. Hers was about legalizing medical marijuana. Ervin said she believes marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes, "but we need to make sure that we define the boundary between medicinal and the general public," she said. "We need to ensure we keep it in the medical arena."
After she was crowned Saturday night, Ervin and other contestants and their families were treated to an "after party" at a restaurant in Marion. Ervin arrived in a stretch white limousine. "They even had a little red carpet waiting, so that was pretty awesome," she said.
Ervin was up until 4:30 Sunday morning. Later that day, she was involved in a series of meetings with Miss Illinois directors to start mapping out plans for the coming year.
"Right now my focus is going to be adjusting to the job and trying to really, wholeheartedly prepare for Miss America," she said. "I really do want to represent Illinois very well there. So that will be a huge task until January."
Ervin will be facing a busy schedule in the weeks to come. Not only will be she preparing for the Miss America pageant, but she will also be making appearances around the state to promote her platform and other causes important to the Miss Illinois organization.
Ervin's platform involves fighting obesity and promoting fitness and good health. She also will be a spokesman for the "Character Counts" initiative promoted for years by Miss Illinois winners, and she will be looking for a way to incorporate her personal platform with a "distracted driving" campaign sponsored by State Farm Insurance.
Amalia Schwerdtmann, board chairman for the Miss Illinois Scholarship Association, said Ervin signed a contract over the weekend that obligates her to carry out certain duties as Miss Illinois. As a result, she is now an independent contractor and will be making a wide variety of appearances on behalf of the organization. She will be paid for some appearances but not others.
As part of the reward for winning the Miss Illinois title, Ervin will work with an image consultant. She also will work with a consultant to hone her speaking and articulation skills. Another consultant will help her prepare for interviews. She also will work with a team to improve her dancing skills, which she will use in the talent portion of the Miss America competition.
In the Miss Illinois competition, Ervin performed a jazz dance rendition to the Tina Turner song, "Proud Mary." Ervin said she's not sure what song she will choose for her Miss America performance.
In another perk for winning the Miss Illinois title, sponsors will provide Ervin with a wardrobe and a gown for the Miss America pageant. She also will receive numerous other prizes, including an $11,500 scholarship she plans to use while seeking a master's degree from Western Illinois University in Macomb. Ervin received a bachelor's degree in May from WIU.
Ervin said it's not yet clear if she will retain the Miss Quincy title that she won in March, because she now won't be able to fulfill all of the appearances normally planned for winners of the scholarship pageant.
"That will be up to them," she said. "I know they have considered giving the option (of taking on the Miss Quincy title) to the first runner-up, which is what usually will happen if she would like that opportunity. But oftentimes those girls will want to repeat (the pageant) themselves, so they may choose not to pursue the title."
The first-runner up in the Miss Quincy contest was Casey Marquess.
The Miss Quincy pageant was held simultaneously with the Miss Gem City pageant. Celeste Niemann won the Miss Gem City title, which qualified her to compete with Ervin in the Miss Illinois pageant.