Tonganoxie woman wins state pageant
Tonganoxie's Rachel Saunders doesn't think of herself as a beauty queen.
But last weekend, Saunders was crowned Miss Kansas USA 2005 in ceremonies at Johnson County Community College. And next spring, she will compete in the Miss USA pageant in Baltimore.
Not bad for a kid from Tonganoxie whose friends and family remember her playing in the dirt at soccer games.
"I was always outside roughing around," the 21-year-old Saunders said in an interview on Monday. "Having two older brothers, you definitely can't be a beauty queen."
But now, nine years after another Tonganoxie woman -- Danielle Boatwright Hayes -- was crowned Miss Kansas USA, Saunders is preparing for a year filled with preparations for the national pageant and work on behalf of charities.
"It's just really, really an honor to me," Saunders said.
And somewhat unbelievable.
"Last night, I went to bed about 1:30 a.m., and I put my little box with my little crown so I could see it and remember that it really happened," the 2002 Tonganoxie High School graduate said.
Last year, Saunders entered the 2004 pageant, at the urging of others.
"You're only young once," she said, "and I didn't want to look back and have any regrets. ... I decided to do it."
She did well for a pageant newcomer -- placing in the top six and winning the mentor award that contestants in the Miss Kansas Teen USA pageant give to the person they feels best acts as a "big sister" to them.
But deciding to enter a second time took more thought.
"I'm the type of person that when I commit to something, I give it my all," Saunders said.
And she didn't want to fall short of fulfilling her duties as Miss Kansas USA. The job entails working with charities, including the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and Sunflower House child abuse prevention center in Shawnee.
Saunders focused on preparing for the pageant. She took a cycling class. She worked out. She watched what she ate. And friends and family interviewed her.
The actual pageants, though, are intimidating, Saunders said, because contestants are so well-prepared.
"They know how to pivot and turn perfectly, and then there's me -- practicing backstage before I go on," she said, laughing.
At the pageant, a Tonganoxie contingent cheered her on. Boatwright Hayes, who was on the front row, had helped Saunders prepare for the judging, which included an interview, along with swimsuit and evening gown competitions.
"She helped me with any questions," Saunders said. "She was definitely a huge support."
And so were the people with whom she works as a bridal consultant at Evening Extraordinaire in Shawnee. And her parents and an older brother and sister.
"I had real support," Saunders said. "A lot of people from Tonganoxie came and cheered me on. They were the loudest in the theater. They were great. It was awesome."
And she can't say enough about her parents, Stephen and Edna Saunders.
"They're so supportive," Saunders said. "... They're very proud. It makes me feel very good."