Rachel Marks has been appearing in scholarship pageants since she was 16, but on Wednesday she had maybe one of her proudest moments yet -- and she wasn't competing.
Marks, the reigning Mrs. Illinois, and a proud Du Quoin native, directed her first pageant ever, on the stage at Du Quoin High School. And in so doing, she brought back a former Du Quoin institution, freshened and updated for 2020.
The Miss Du Quoin contest debuted in 1951 by the Du Quoin Lions Club, and whoever sold the most tickets to the fall festival was crowned queen. The event had a good run, but petered out in the 1980s.
Marks never saw the old Miss Du Quoin pageant, but she heard about it. She is a pageant veteran, who started competing for scholarship money in order to go to college, and fell in love with the concept.
Last June her own pageant life culminated in winning the Mrs. Illinois title. And back in Du Quoin, she became determined to revive the Miss Du Quoin contest, only this time as a scholarship pageant.
"It was fantastic. It was amazing," she said Thursday, the day after the pageant went off without a hitch.
"I sat my judges down and said, 'Good luck, I don't know how you are going to pick.'"
Eight girls signed up to compete for Miss Du Quoin, all students at Du Quoin High School. Contestants were required to be high school students from Du Quoin so private school students were eligible, too. Each girl had to get a recommendation from a high school staffer and each one had to raise $100 as an entry fee.
Raylee Carroll, a junior, was crowned Miss Du Quoin 2020. First runner-up was Cameron Shivley; 2nd runner-up was Avery McClanahan; and co-Miss Congenialities were Trinity Wright and Melena Adams (also named Miss Photogenic). Also competing were Bailey Nehring, Kaylee Stanhouse and Madelyn Saul.
The girls wore "red carpet" wear and "school spirit" wear, but Marks said it was important that none of them go broke trying to compete. For the red carpet competition, most were wearing old prom dresses.
"This should not be about spending money, but about celebrating the girls in our community who do so much and are so involved," she said.
"Raylee (Carroll) is exactly what I set out to have -- her mom said she didn't even buy her a new gown," Marks said. "She did her own hair and makeup."
The scholarship money -- $1,000 for Miss Du Quoin; $500 for the first runner-up and $250 for the second runner-up -- was raised by the entry fees and by the girls selling T-shirts in their own colors. Each girl was required to sell five shirts to be eligible, but some sold as many as 35, Marks said.
Marks was bowled over by the businesses in and around Du Quoin, who gave her lots of in-kind donations to keep expenses down.
"There's a reason I live here and would never move anywhere else, said Marks, an interventional radiographer at SIH Memorial Hospital in Carbondale.
Now that the first Miss Du Quoin Pageant is in the books, Marks is planning for the next one. She imagines a 2021 pageant with even more contestants and even greater business support.
So, stay tuned.