By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Miss Illinois Megan Ervin met her goal — and then some — in Saturday night's Miss America Pageant.
Hoping to make the Top 15, the Rushville resident finished in the top 10 in the competition among contestants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
The competition for the 86th title aired live on ABC from the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
The winner, Miss New York Mallory Hytes Hagan, takes home a $50,000 scholarship and will spend the next year on tour, speaking to groups around the country and raising money for the Children's Miracle Network, the organization's official charity.
Ervin will continue her reign as Miss Illinois and work with her personal platform, the "Heptathalon of Healthy Habits."
Ervin participated in the swimsuit, evening gown and talent part of the live pageant but fell short of the final five and a question from hosts Brooke Burke-Charvet and Chris Harrison.
A live chat, hosted by The Quincy Herald-Whig, had people sharing thoughts on Ervin and the pageant.
"It's tough to have come so far. Megan deserves applause, applause, applause," said chat participant Mary Lee Inzerello Noonan, a Miss Adams County who went on to be Miss Illinois 1966 and appeared in the Miss America Pageant. "You know these young women are all winners and will have many opportunities as a result of this experience. Having been ‘a loser' I can attest the many benefits including knowing your own resilience and capacity for work and responsibility."
Miss Gem City Celeste Niemann offered congratulations to Ervin.
"Megan made it to the top 10. She surpassed her personal goal and I'm so happy for her. I know her family, friends and all of Quincy are proud of her," Niemann said in the live chat.
"Quincy will be proud of her for years and years! Megan acquitted herself well in every competition. She obviously is a dynamic young woman. I wish her well in any endeavor she chooses in future. I can tell her that in 40 years people will remember and know she is beautiful," Noonan said.
The pageant marked the end of a whirlwind week-plus in Las Vegas for Ervin.
Three nights of preliminary competitions, along with an interview by pageant judges and rehearsals for the pageant's production number, kept the contestants busy.
Ervin won Wednesday night's lifestyle and fitness (swimsuit) competition in a black two-piece Catalina suit taking home a $1,000 Amway scholarship, dazzled in a red "streamlined" and "very couture" evening gown and danced to "Faithfully," a contemporary lyrical piece by Journey, in the talent segment.
"Surprising to me that the talent choices are so similar to the ones performed 40 years ago," Noonan said. "The winner in 1966 was Miss Oklahoma, who conducted the orchestra as her talent."
Cheering her on throughout the week were at least 75 well-wishers — the largest contingent for any contestant in this year's pageant — including family, friends and Miss Illinois pageant officials.
Prior to the pageant, Ervin said she was in a "win-win" situation with the opportunity to be Miss America or continue serving as Miss Illinois.
Just competing in the Miss America pageant was a dream come true for Ervin, who was crowned Miss Quincy in March and Miss Illinois in June.
As a little girl, the daughter of Cindy and Jeff Ervin of Rushville watched the Miss America pageant wanting to be on that stage someday.
Ervin played five sports, danced, performed in drama and was a member of the National Honor Society in high school in Rushville before heading to Western Illinois University, where she graduated in May.
She also competed in pageants, winning titles like Miss Schuyler County Fair and Miss Macomb.
As Miss Macomb, she was first runner-up in the 2011 Miss Illinois pageant, then decided to give the state pageant another try by competing in the Miss Quincy Scholarship Pageant. She won that title, then topped 24 other contestants from across the state to take the Miss Illinois crown. Preparations for Miss America began almost immediately while she also carried out her work as Miss Illinois.
The Miss America Organization is one of the nation's leading achievement programs and the world's largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women. Last year, the Miss America Organization and its state and local organizations made available more than $45 million in cash and scholarship assistance.
Five Miss Americas have come from Illinois — Lois Delander of Joliet (1927), Judith Ford of Belvidere (1969), Marjorie Vincent of Oak Park (1991), Kate Shindle of Evanston (1998) and Erika Harold of Urbana (2003).
Ervin is the third representative of the Quincy area to wear the Miss Illinois crown.
Quincy native Viola Hutmacher Palumbo was crowned Miss Illinois in 1948. Noonan of Chicago, then a Quincy College sophomore, was crowned Miss Illinois in 1966. Both took part in Miss America pageants, with neither finishing in the top 10.