BUCKHANNON — Loar Hall was the venue for the merriest pageant in town on November 17. Organizer Melanie Gillum pulled out all the stops when orchestrating the Miss Merry Christmas holiday themed pageant for some very lovely young ladies and gents. Children of all ages entered the pageant and strutted their best across stage in Christmas attire and formal wear, while benefiting a good cause.
Fifty applicants signed up and paid, but only 43 actually competed in the Sunday afternoon pageant. The cost of the competition was $50, and part of the money raised went towards the purchase of crowns, age division sashes, vinyl sashes, medals and extra awards. Gillum said of the application fee, “We really wanted to raise money, but also make sure the kids had a great time!”
The first set was Christmas wear and some of the contestants got very creative; none were displeasing to the crowd. After all the merry and bright faces finished with theme wear, it was on to formal wear with all the sparkle and glitz of a holiday ball. Although some of the contestants were carried across stage by mommy dearest, the rest dazzled the audience with flare and smiles as they gracefully swayed across stage.
Contestants were judged on several categories: Christmas outfit, formal wear or Sunday best, personality or most fun, photogenic, prettiest smile, Christmas spirit, fan favorite, top donation, and overall winner. Although the spectators were in awe of all the beautiful children, a crowd favorite was definitely four-year-old Liam Trent. When asked of young Trent why he wanted to enter the contest he said, “Because I just thought it would be fun.” Trent also commented that his favorite part of the pageant was, “Me getting all this stuff.” Trent was adorable in his Christmas outfit and the crowd really seemed to enjoy his spiked hair when he came out in formal wear of a black suit and green tie.
The winners were tabulated by H&R Block Tax Preparer Brenda Friend and West Virginia Wesleyan College staff. Friend totaled all of the categories and the contestants with the highest score won their perspective age division.
Event organizer Melanie Gillum said she was prompted to coordinate the Miss Merry Christmas Pageant because of her daughter Channing, who holds a current title of Miss Junior Earth. Gillum stated, “When you hold a title, it is important to represent your organization, find a platform that you love, and spread the word, whether it’s promoting your own platform or just being proactive in your community.” Gillum continued, “When I saw the post about the Parish House needing food items, I sat down with Channing to think how we could get items. Since most of the schools were collecting for other reasons, Channing said, ‘A pageant!’” Gillum’s first thought was that her daughter was joking, but quickly came around to the idea and thought it was perfect. She also had the foresight that there was no better time to hold a pageant than Christmas.
Gillum added the philanthropic twist to the pageant idea when she learned of the needs at the Parish House and because her daughter loves doing community services projects. Gillum stated, “Instead of charging a larger fee, which most pageants of this type do, at least $100 or more, we decided to keep it affordable and non-perishable donations were a must! I couldn’t stress that enough to people.” Gillum put on the pageant application that contestants were required to donate at least one non-perishable food item upon entry, but she was clear in indicating that more than one item was welcome. Gillum’s daughter, Channing, took the final donation to the Parish House with a final count of 207 food items. There was a twist at the end of the event when Miss Sally Dorell from Huntington was awarded a special prize and crown for the individual contributing the largest donation. Dorell donated 32 items and the Parish House certainly appreciates her generosity, as well as everyone who participated.
Not only did West Virginia Wesleyan College generously allow the use of Loar Hall for the venue, but Lowe’s of Buckhannon and Aladdin Food Service also sponsored the event. Lowe’s donated several items that Gillum used to literally set the stage. Aladdin also provided hot cocoa and cookies for those in attendance to enjoy before the show and during intermission. Gillum also had a delightful panel of professional judges and a tabulator. Gillum proclaimed, “All of my judges brought something special and unique to the table. They are all qualified in their own specific way, which is how I knew they would be a great combination.”
The judges all hold familiar titles. Mikaela Gillespie is 2019 Miss West Virginia Earth. “She is Channing’s sister queen because pageant girls are your family,” according to Gillum. Gillum reported that Gillespie drove all the way from Virginia to help out and has been an inspiration to the Gillum’s since joining the Earth system, always guiding, directing, and suggesting ways to help take care of the planet. Gillum furthered, “She is also an amazing friend and knows what to look for in a good person.”
Sophia Martino is the newly crowned 2019 Miss West Virginia Teen USA, “And what an honor to have her as a judge at our hometown pageant,” elaborated Gillum. “Sophia is someone Channing has always looked up to. She is a great role model, very generous, genuine, and of course, she has a great fashion sense,” furthered Gillum. The final judge was a local gal, Chelsea Anderson-Statton. Gillum said, “Chelsea is a family friend and I knew she would be a great addition because she is in the entertainment business and has sang alongside of many celebrities.” Statton has also been involved in pageantry since a young age.
Not one child walked away from this competition without some type of award. Gillum elaborated, “I’m not always one for participation awards, but this time of year does something to a person. It makes you grateful for the things you have, and I hope to teach and instill those same values in my kids. This was a great confidence booster for some of these kids. When they were crowned, you just saw them light up as if it were their favorite present on Christmas morning.” Gillum indicated that she is hopeful to have other events spin off from this pageant. She is organizing a 5K in honor of Earth Day 2020 and is hopeful that the proceeds will help fund clean-ups and the ability to purchase more recycling containers for the local area, in addition to education on other ways to reduce the environmental footprint. Gillum stated, “We already have an order of trees coming from the Arbor Day Foundation that will be distributed to local pageant friends, to donate and plant at a place of their choice. Merry Christmas in my hometown.”
The Miss Merry Christmas Pageant finalists were as follows: Ages zero to one, Baby Miss Merry Christmas Raegan Dean of Buckhannon; ages 2-3, Toddler Miss Merry Christmas Darby Dillon of Williamstown; ages 4-5, Toddler Miss Merry Christmas Addyson Beavers of Philippi; ages 6-8, Little Miss Merry Christmas, Aaliyah Lothes of Buckhannon; ages 9-12, Junior Miss Merry Christmas, Isabella Kelley of Bridgeport and Mister Merry Christmas Liam Trent of Buckhannon; ages 13-15, Teen Miss Merry Christmas, Miah Reger of Buckhannon; and ages16-21, Miss Merry Christmas, Hailey Farnsworth of Buckhannon.
Farnsworth, Miss Merry Christmas for the 16-21 age group, discussed why she entered the pageant and proclaimed, “I entered this pageant because I wanted to help the cause. It not only was helping a little girl with her dream and goal for a pageant that she is attending, but also helping all the people who need the help around the holidays by bringing non-perishable food items for the Parish House. I liked doing this pageant because I got to make new friends and meet a lot of new people, and also watching the younger kids go out on stage and see how happy they were and how much they were having fun just warmed my heart.” Farnsworth continued, “When I was crowned Miss Merry Christmas, I was overwhelmed with joy because I did not think I would win and it just made me happy to know that I was picked to hold the title of Miss Merry Christmas in my hometown.” Gillum is unsure if the pageant will be an annual event, but she told of future event possibilities. “Who knows, it was a great success and it’s possible it may happen again,” she stated. Gillum’s daughter Channing declared, “It was hard work! I did not get to sit down all day, but I am so glad we got as many donations as we did for the Parish House!”
Congratulations to all the participants and to Gillum and her daughter for coming up with idea and incorporating Parish House donations as part of the entry fee.