By ANNALISE FRANK
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
"Determination" is Cindy Irvin of Rushville's one word answer to why she thinks her daughter Megan Irvin rose to the rank of Miss Illinois two weeks ago.
"She's one of the most determined individuals I have ever met and will ever meet," Cindy added.
The "Welcome Back" reception the Miss Illinois Scholarship Association held Sunday in Megan's honor served as a testament to her determination. The event was sponsored by Quincy Medical Group and Town and Country Inn and Suites.
Megan called being Miss Illinois and getting the chance to step on the Miss America stage in Las Vegas in January her "lifelong dream," but Cindy gave an explanation for her daughter's success.
"It doesn't make a difference if it was sports when she was in high school, or with this," Cindy said. "She meets everything she wants to do with a full heart."
The reception, held at Town and Country Inn and Suites, included speeches by Megan, Rep. Jil Tracy, Quincy Mayor John Spring, Sen. John Sullivan, Miss Illinois Outstanding Teen Grace Khachaturian and Miss Illinois Outstanding Pre-Teen Maddie Mazzella.
Megan spoke on what led her to this point, who she's thankful for and where she'll go from here. She'll spend an entire year traveling the state, making more than 300 appearances, speaking in schools about her new platform, the "Heptathalon of Healthy Habits," and also presenting on behalf of other charitable organizations that book events with her.
Megan's seven "habits" — fitness, nutrition, staying away from distracted driving, recycling, community service, spirituality and education — combine to create healthy, proactive living, she said. Her first passion was fitness and health, but she's expanded that passion and now she has "a lot to talk about" when visiting schools.
Her coming months will also include extensive preparation for the Miss America pageant. Her Miss Illinois preparation team will assist her in intensive interview practice, personal development, wardrobe and other facets.
"We will be practicing my dance a lot," Megan said. "I'm creating a new routine, so I'll be learning that, trying to keep that in practice as much as I can, as well as maintaining a good physical fitness level, eating healthy, making sure that I'm mentally and spiritually stable, and ready for the great task of Miss America."
First, she had to return from the big city to revisit her roots. Megan said the "Welcome Back" party Sunday gave her a chance to celebrate her title and "just thank everyone for the support they gave me leading up to Miss Illinois."
Donations provided at the event went toward Megan's goal of raising $10,000 for the Children's Miracle Network, which generates funds for children's hospitals. She also accepted monetary gifts for her coming travel expenses, because she can't hold a job while she's racing around Illinois fulfilling her duties.
"(Megan's) basically a local girl, and both my granddaughters do the pageant stuff, and we work real closely with them ... so we try to come along and support (the Illinois scholarship pageant) whenever we can," Quincy resident Glen Predmore said. "It really helps with young ladies ... it's good for them and they do a lot of good stuff for all the young ladies around."
Younger pageant winners Khachaturian, 15, and Mazzella, 12, joined Irvin at the presenters' table in the front of the room for the reception. Both spoke, giving thanks and detailing their individual plans for the coming months, including trips to the Miss America pageants in their own categories.
Khachaturian performed a lyrical dance to the Josh Groban version of the inspirational song "You Raise Me Up" and Mazzella sang Ella Fitzgerald's "Lullaby Of Birdland."
Many speakers during the course of the event agreed with Megan's mother that the new Miss Illinois is a determined individual. Spring said she is "remarkable when it comes to her perseverance" and noted the impact she made on kids when visiting Quincy schools during her year of community service as Miss Quincy.
While many pageant winners are introduced to the state Senate floor every year, Sullivan said Megan "blew (the senators) away" when she visited after winning the title of Miss Macomb in 2011.
"After Megan left, my colleagues said, ‘Wow, she's unbelievable,' " Sullivan said. "I think we knew then (her) future would be very bright."