Link is new Mercer County Fair Queen

Kathleen Conway/Staff Reporter

“Under the Big Top” was the theme for the 2014 Mercer County Fair Queen Pageant that was held Tuesday night, July 8, at the Mercer County Fairgrounds, Aledo.

Pageant Director Joni Caldwell and many dedicated members of her support team designed a program that created a circus atmosphere. The audience thoroughly enjoyed all the thoughtful details that set the stage for the singular purpose of the event – the crowning of the 2014 Little Miss, Junior Miss, and Miss Mercer County Fair Queens.

The main stage backdrop was a large red and white striped circus tent with a sparking “2014” sign on top and “Circus” in the center. To begin the pageant, each fair queen contestant walked to the edge of the runway and addressed the grandstand audience with a greeting, such as, “Welcome to the Big Top, Mercer County!” and stated her name. After the welcome from each contestant, they performed a group, musical dance number.

To entertain the audience while the queen contestants prepared for the Swimsuit Competition, a group of men and two boys dressed as mimes performed a sketch. In addition to their creative mime performance, the adult mimes escorted the Queen and Junior Miss contestants and the boy mimes escorted the Little Miss contestants onto and off the stage throughout the pageant.

Looking dapper in a black tuxedo, courtesy of Kimball Cleaners in Aledo; WRMJ's John Hoscheidt was the Master of Ceremonies. He read the biographies of the queen contestants in the Little Miss, Junior Miss, and Queen categories as they performed runway walks. The runway walk had three locations on the stage where each contestant stopped, pivoted, proceeded to the next spot, and then exited the stage.

During the Little Miss competition, the little boys mimes guided the contestants on and off the stage. The Little Miss contestants ranged from 5 to 7 years old, so maneuvering on a stage in front of nine judges and the large, grandstand crowd was a bit disorienting for a few girls. The boy mimes displayed chivalry to these adorably confused girls by directing them where to stand on the stage during their three-point runway walks.

Another entertaining element of the evening was the comic relief provided by Zany Janie. Hoscheidt and Zany Janie exchanged witticisms throughout the evening. Zany Janie even tried to join the Queen competition by standing next to contestant Payton Carlson. This audacious act thoroughly entertained the audience and even the queen contestants. Zany Janie's comic relief and improvisation was a great addition to the pageant. To learn more about Zany Janie's entertaining services, her website is

After the competition, she continued to entertain. Many children were mesmerized by her impromptu storytelling as she created their balloon animals. Happy parents snapped photos of their children with Zany Janie as a memento of the simple pleasure that a balloon animal and a clown bring to a child.

The 2013 Miss Mercer County Queen Bryanna Martin, Junior Miss Brynn Bergen, and Little Miss Katy Loving, each prepared a video presentation. The videos that were shown to the grandstand audience highlighted the queens' accomplishments, expressed appreciation for their supporters, and thanked the Pageant Director Joni Caldwell, their families, and God for the opportunities that they received while representing Mercer County in 2013.

After playing the video tributes, the pageant continued to the main event – the crowning of the 2014 Mercer County Fair Queens. The first crown was awarded to the Little Miss.

Little Miss Mercer County for 2014 was Ingrid Esther Hays. Ingrid, 7, is the daughter of Bill and Jill Hays of Aledo. Her interests include drawing, coloring, painting, gardening, and gathering eggs. She has two brothers, Jonah 5 ½, and Silas, 3. She has a dog, Daisy; and two cats, Whisker and Marshmallow. Her future plan is to become a nurse.

Grace Hoffpauir, 11, was crowned Junior Miss Mercer County for 2014. Grace, daughter of Greg and Jamie Hoffpauir of Viola, attended Matherville Intermediate School. She enjoys all types of artwork, writes music, plays volleyball and softball. Grace has two brothers, Garrett, 13, and Gavin, 6. Having a flair for hair, Grace hopes to be a stylist in the future.

The Queen contestants came on the stage as the judges' votes for all the events were tallied and the finalist list was prepared. Contestants earned points in each of the events. The Interview portion of the competition was held in the afternoon, and the evening events included the Swimsuit, Prepared Speech, and Impromptu Question competitions.

The winners of the 2014 Mercer County Fair Pageant included 2014 Miss Congeniality, Miss Photogenic, and the Mercer County Fair Queen and her court were chosen. Miss Congeniality was Samantha Jones, 19, daughter of Anna and Tim Jones of Sherrard. Miss Photogenic was Payton Carlson, 16, of Viola, daughter of Steve Carlson and Dalana Schmidt.

The pinnacle event of the evening was the crowning of the 2014 Mercer County Fair Queen. Master of Ceremonies, John Hoscheidt, then announced the queen and her court. Fourth runner-up was Anna Willems, 18, daughter of Cleta and Kirby Willems of New Windsor. Third runner-up was Haley Peterson, 18, of Sherrard, daughter of Brenda Minteer and Keith Peterson. Second runner-up was Samantha Jones, also awarded Miss Congeniality. First runner-up was Payton Carlson, also chosen as Miss Photogenic.

The 2014 Miss Mercer County Fair Queen title was awarded to Shelby Lynn Link, 18, daughter of Jeff and Kim Barman of Alexis. A 2014 graduate of United High School, Shelby will attend Morrison Institute of Technology in the fall and major in Construction Technology with plans to work for the state or county government in Construction Management.

Having a strong agricultural background, interests and experience, Shelby showed purebred Boer goats at ABGA shows. Her awards include the Showman Award at the North Henderson Livestock Show, Grand and Reserve Champion Buck at the Illinois State Fair, and Bronco Welding Queen of her Agriculture Mechanization and Technology course.

Pageant Director Joni Caldwell is excited about working with her 2014 Queens Shelby, Grace, and Ingrid. Caldwell is pleased with the judges' choice of 2014 Mercer County Fair Queen. “Shelby is what a county fair queen should be. She is 'ag-minded' and articulate. She showed goats and knows what a county fair is all about,” said Caldwell. Queen Shelby will represent Mercer County residents at the Illinois State level competition in January, 2015, at Springfield, Ill.