Good morning, troops. It's Wednesday, May 1.
The Heart of Illinois Fair in Peoria has been held for 70 years. But it's never crowned a queen, apparently. At least not in the past 45 years or so.
When the fair is held again this summer, that situation is to change.
The first Miss Heart of Illinois Fair Queen and Little Miss pageants are to be conducted July 16 at Exposition Gardens. That is the first day of the fair, which this year is to run through July 21.
Informational meetings are scheduled for Sunday at the opera house at Expo Gardens, 1601 W. Northmoor Road. The Little Miss meeting is set for 2 p.m., the queen meeting at 3 p.m.
Although the fair is in an urban setting, the pageants are intended to bring the event closer to its farm-based origins.
"We're trying to remind folks how important agriculture is to the community," said Brimfield resident Haley Ebeling, the pageants director.
Ebeling has plenty of first-hand experience with the subject. Originally from Athens, located north of Springfield, the Bradley University graduate was the queen of the 2009 Menard County Fair.
"Back home, the county fair is a big deal, because we're a small community and the fair is the highlight of the year," Ebeling said. "I've always wondered why didn't the Heart of Illinois Fair have a queen pageant."
A search of fair records revealed no evidence of a pageant, according to Roxy Baker, one of the annual event's directors.
The inaugural queen competition is open to females aged 16 through 21 who reside or attend school in Fulton, Knox, Marshall, Mason, Peoria, Putnam, Stark, Tazewell or Woodford counties.
Contestants will compete in personal-interview, evening gown and swimsuit categories, Ebeling said. They'll also deliver a one-minute speech on a topic of their choice.
Swimsuits are one piece and conservative, according to Ebeling.
"They're not judged on who's in the best shape or who's the skinniest," she said. "It's all about confidence and poise."
The Little Miss event for girls aged 5 through 8 won't be a judged pageant, Ebeling said. Entrants are to receive a tiara, a goodie bag and a T-shirt.
Whoever wins the HOI event is to advance to the Miss Illinois County Fair Queen competition. It's held during the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs convention each January.
Ebleing, who now is a member of the IAAF board, won the state pageant in 2010. The champion there presides over the Illinois and DuQuoin state fairs later that year.
In Peoria, the HOI queen is to win a $1,500 educational scholarship, among other things. Ebeling said she's been spreading the word at local high schools and Bradley sororities.
Public-speaking and interview practice and networking are among the intangibles, according to Ebeling.
More tangible might be an opportunity to help revitalize what once was the must-attend event of the summer around Peoria.
"It's bringing a little bit of some new life into the fair," Ebeling said. "I would love for the fair to stay relevant. We live in a fast-paced world, but sometimes it's nice to slow down and get back to our roots."
The song heard on the way to work was more than fair during the "Golden Age" of MTV, back in about 1982 and '83. Back when the HOI Fair grandstand would be packed for concerts by big names, although INXS probably was a little too exotic for Expo.