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Fair Queen's perseverance pays off

By TOM CAMPBELL

Sara Alford's reluctance to sign up as a contestant for the 2010 Wells County 4–H Fair queen contest was understandable.

The previous two years, she had been chosen as runner–up. She didn't want to make it a three–peat.

Tom Campbell

Sara Alford has several favorite places at the Indiana State Fair, including the Pioneer Village, a living museum of Indiana agriculture.

"I didn't want to be known for that," said Alford, a Purdue University agronomy junior from Poneto, a northeastern Indiana town of 200 people south of Fort Wayne. "I didn't want to be a three–time runner–up."

It was her mother, Jackie, who persuaded her to give it one more shot.

The third time was the charm. Alford not only won her county fair competition in 2010, but shortly after, she also was selected as the 2011 Miss Indiana State Fair.

"It was crazy! The state fair competition was held on the last day of the 2010 Indiana State Fair. I won, and the next day I had to be in class at Purdue," said Alford, whose win fulfilled a childhood dream.

"Every girl wants to be a princess," she said. "Nobody thinks they can do it, but I did it."

More than a year has passed. Alford's reign as state fair queen has ended. But the details of her coronation will always be fresh in her mind.

"There was a ton of people in the Pepsi Coliseum, and I was very nervous," Alford said. "Before they started calling out the 10 finalists, I had calmed down because I wasn't expecting anything. I was just thinking, 'OK, at least now I get to go sit down and get off these high heels.'"

She made the cut from 87 entrants down to the final 10.

"They called out my name first. I was so honored to be in the top 10, but then I thought, 'Oh, no. Now I've got to answer an onstage question.'"

In the moment that terrifies most contestants, the judge asked Alford, "What are two qualities every woman should have?"

"I kind of messed up," Alford said. "I started off strong and said leadership and perseverance. I explained what I meant, and I felt like I was doing fine. But I didn't know how to finish my answer, so I just kept talking."

Whatever she said must have worked. The next thing she heard was the master of ceremonies proclaiming, "The 2011 Miss Indiana State Fair is Miss Wells...."

"That's the only thing I heard because there was such a huge roar from the crowd. I didn't even hear my name being called," Alford said.

The night before the pageant, Sara's mother had helped prepare her daughter for the emotions that would be felt by the 86 contestants who would not be named Miss Indiana State Fair.

"Now don't be disappointed if you don't win tomorrow," her mother said. Not a chance.

"I never thought I would win, so I knew I would not be disappointed. But I think my mom had more confidence in me than I had in myself."

In the audience, Jackie Alford screamed and jumped up and down with the joy only a mother can feel.

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