"Being queen gives me the opportunity to give back to my community," said Miss Montgomery County Fair Brielle Marten of Litchfield. "Our community may be small, but it's so full of love, and I enjoy teaching our littles about volunteerism."
Marten represented this county in the 61st annual Miss Illinois County Fair Queen pageant Jan. 16-19 at the Crowne Plaza in Springfield, with 102 county queens from around the state.
"I was incredibly proud of Brielle over the course of preparing for the state pageant," said Montgomery County Fair Pageant Director Ashley Vinyard. "She worked hard and wanted to be her very best. We teased Brielle because she is not a morning person, but she handled her lack of sleep with grace and was all smiles all weekend."
Kelsi Kessler of Carmi was crowned as this year's Miss Illinois County Fair Queen, and although Marten was not named to the top 15 finalists, she was excited for her friend, Maya Marcacci of Macoupin County, who was named first runner-up in the pageant.
"This was her dream," Marten said. "Maya loves to shine on stage, and it was awesome to see her excel this weekend."
Marten added that her pageant dream is to become a coordinator or director some day, adding that she loves to teach young women and help them build their confidence.
The long weekend started on Thursday, Jan. 16, with official photos and fittings for the pageant.
Marten had high praise for local seamstress Mary Beth Vercoglio and Kady Pederson of Formals in Litchfield for coming up that day to fix her swimsuit when it had an issue.
Pederson also helped Marten secure a custom gown from celebrity designer Johnathan Kayne for this year's pageant.
"It was just such a huge show of community support, and I really appreciated it," Marten said.
On Friday, she competed in the interview portion of the pageant, and said that all this year's judges were fantastic. Marten said she expected to be drilled on questions and even studied up on her politics and current events, but found the judges to be very personable.
The highlight of the pageant for her was Saturday's preliminary competition. Queens from 103 Illinois counties competed in evening wear, swimwear and gave a prepared one-minute interview.
"It was a really fun day," she said. "What I didn't expect was to get to know each of the other contestants so well. We have a queen's chat now, and we're all still talking about it. I had a fantastic time."
Marten gives special thanks to everyone in the community that came up to support her as part of Queen B's Beehive, including her best friend, Morgan Byers of Waggoner, who is now a cosmetologist in Springfield.
"She bunked with me and gave up her whole weekend to be here," Marten said of Byers. "She made sure that I always looked the best. It's a true blessing."
The pageant ended on Sunday with all the queens participating in a production number and the top 15 finalists being announced. In addition to Miss White County (Kelsi Kessler) and Miss Macoupin County Maya Marcacci, other top 15 finalists included queens from Henry, Hancock, Sangamon, Perry, Warren, Winnabego, Effingham, Okawville, Cass, Marion, Lake, Moultrie-Douglas and Shelby counties.
"Montgomery County would be very proud of the way she represented them," Vinyard said. "It was a fun and memorable weekend that she will cherish forever. She is now jumping back into nursing school with many assignments due this week. She is the queen of multi-tasking for sure."
Marten, who is the 20-year-old daughter of Jeff and Brandi Marten of Litchfield, is currently a junior at the University of Illinois Chicago College of Nursing in Springfield. She will graduate with her RN-BSN in May 2021, and is currently employed as a patient care tech at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield.
"I really enjoyed building friendships this weekend," she said. "I got to know some of the girls over the summer, but we got to spend lots of time together this weekend. I made such life-long friends, and I'm sure some of them will be my bridesmaids someday."
Marten said the best part of the weekend was learning about other counties, as well as the state of Illinois. She learned lots of things about other county fairs and picked up a few new ideas for the Montgomery County fair as well.
"We have such an amazing community, and I'm honored to represent it," she said.