When it comes to Fourth of July on Vinalhaven, there are certain traditions: The parade, a fog bank, and the Little Miss Vinalhaven pageant.
This holiday weekend, seven island girls sang, sashayed and smiled their hardest for a chance to be crowned Little Miss Vinalhaven 2011 at the fifth annual competition, held July 1 at the Smith Hokanson Memorial Hall. Girls entering fourth, fifth and sixth grades at Vinalhaven School were eligible to compete.
And the winner: 10-year-old Deja Doughty, who has participated in the pageant for three years. Eleven-year-old Gilleyanne Davis-Oakes, another three-year veteran, was voted first runner-up.
But there are no losers in this contest. Each contestant received a title, including “Little Miss Manners,” Carmen York, age nine; “Little Miss Enthusiasm,” Ashlyn Littlefield, 11; “Little Miss Reporter,” Molly Wentworth, nine; “Little Miss Community Service,” Richelle Walker, eight; and “Little Miss Friendship,” Hannah Newton, nine. Newton was also voted “Little Miss Congeniality” by her peers.
Emcee and organizer Carolyn Augusto said the individual titles help show the girls that the pageant isn’t all about winning the grand prize.
“Even if they don’t win, they know they’re an important part to the pageant,” she said. “They get a crown, a sash, flowers. They like to participate.” Some girls don’t want to win just so they can compete the following year, she said. Once a Little Miss title-holder, you’re out of the running next year.
Augusto became mistress of ceremonies five years ago at the request of Jeannie Conway, who revived the pageant after several hiatuses. Vinalhaven has held several pageant competitions for different age groups over the years. The very first Little Miss Vinalhaven winner is now 24 years old.
Augusto, Miss Vinalhaven of 1989 at age 16, initially tried to put together a pageant for teenagers, but it didn’t spark enough interest. “I think the little girls get into it more than the older girls,” she said.
For that reason, Augusto thinks Little Miss Vinalhaven, sponsored by American Legion Post 18, will become a lasting island tradition. The crowd at the competition bolstered her view. Even counting an abundance of relatives in the audience, the auditorium was filled with friends, summer visitors and longtime fans of the pageant.
The girls start months in advance learning and rehearsing songs, dance numbers and monologues. “It’s always fun,” said Augusto. “Sometimes it was stressful at practices, like any practice. But it’s a good group of girls.”
And it’s not all about the competition. The girls also participate in a photo shoot and a judges’ social, featuring tea with members of the island’s Red Hat Society. After the pageant, the girls get to ride on their own float in the town’s Fourth of July parade.
In keeping with this year’s Fourth of July theme, “Breaking News,” the little girls not only sang, recited poetry and danced, but they also delivered their own “newscasts,” dressed like reporters in dresses, glasses, jackets and ties. Each contestant reported to the audience what she had learned about famous events, drawn randomly from a hat, including the first Moon landing, Amelia Earhart’s disappearance and this year’s Royal Wedding.
Another part of the pageant is Project Caring, community service and volunteer work. The contestants raised money for charity and volunteered their time at the eldercare and daycare services on Vinalhaven. A total of $1300 was raised for both local and international charities, Augusto said.
Joanna Reidy, mother of Little Miss Vinalhaven 2007, Ellie Reidy, thinks Project Caring helps get the girls in the habit of volunteering and serving their community. “When Ellie was in the fifth grade [the year she won the crown], she sponsored a little girl in Guatemala and she’s still doing it. The pageant starts it but they continue it on. It’s a good thing to see.”
For some, the pageant is pure pleasure, but not everyone. “It’s the worst to judge,” said Thea Nelson, an island artist and one of the contest’s five judges. Picking a winner among the girls is hard. “They’re all really special.”
Nelson doubles as the pageant photographer. “This experience takes you back to being 9 years old again,” she said. “It’s one of the most special things Vinalhaven has to offer. It’s innocence at its best.”
Judge Jen Desmond, Vinalhaven’s nurse practitioner, was impressed, as always, by the girls’ dedication and effort. “It’s my fourth year doing the pageant [judging] and I’m always amazed at all the hard work they put into it,” she said. “It’s amazing how much more than just a pageant it is. It’s a great event for the community.”
And it is a community effort, involving volunteers who produce the programs, play music and help oversee rehearsals.
For Augusto, her favorite part of the show is sitting in the audience and watching the girls do their thing. “They are so cute. They put all their energy into it.”
As for winning? Just ask the reigning Little Miss Vinalhaven. “It feels good,” said Doughty. “It’s fun to ride in the parade.”
Claire Carter is a Vinalhaven resident and is participating in The Working Waterfront’s student journalism program.