By Lindsay Peyton

Rev. Patricia Lund knows the buzz that builds when a county fair comes to town. While growing up in Hearne, Texas, she showed rabbits and entered baked goods in the Robertson County Fair. “And I’m pretty sure every little girl wants to be the Fair Queen one day,” Lund added  – herself included.

She still has the vest she wore as a contestant for Fair Queen. “I really wanted to get it for Hearne,” she recalled. “But I didn’t. Still, it was fun. It was a good experience overall.”

Little did Lund know that one day her involvement in the pageant would come in handy. “I never in a million years would have thought this would happen,” she said. “I’ve come full circle. Now I’m paying it forward to the next generation.”

Lund was appointed Pastor at Centerville FUMC in July 2020. When she attended her first Leon County Youth Livestock Show the following spring, she was surprised to notice something was missing. “Do y’all not have a Fair Queen in Leon County?” she asked.

When Lund learned that there never had been one, she reached out to church member Tommy Neyland, who also serves as president of the fair board. “As soon as I asked about it, I knew what was coming,” Lund said with a laugh.

“Would you like to start it?” Neyland asked her. But Lund explained that she did not feel qualified. After all, she only ran once – and lost. Still, Neyland believed in her ability to start a program and convinced the pastor to give it a try.

Lund began calling around for help. “I literally had to start from scratch,” she said.

She reached out to the Robertson County Fair and asked for advice. “How do you do this? What are your applications like? How do you find judges?”

“They laid it out for me and sent me their package,” Lund recalled. She also contacted the Centerville Chamber of Commerce, which agreed to sponsor the event for its first year. A fair queen committee formed and developed the criteria for judging the contestants.

The score is based on participation, previous fair experience, poise, appearance, public speaking and an essay are also considered. An informal tea is held the day of the contest at Centerville FUMC, and the young women take turns being interviewed by the judges.

Lund said that a coach is brought in to help teach the girls interview skills. “We want them to succeed and do well,” she said.

Lund noted that appearance is not what the pageant is all about. “It’s who they are as people,” she said.

Then, the big day arrives. This year, the contest was held on Saturday, April 8 – and there were four contestants.

The young women all appeared at the fairgrounds to answer a final question in front of the crowd. While the judges tallied their scores, entertainment was provided by the Aggie Wranglers, the dance team from Texas A&M.

Then, the winners were announced. The Fair Queen takes the crown, a cash prize, flowers, embossed leather sash and belt buckle. The First Runner-Up also receives a cash prize and flowers. In addition, Miss Photogenic and Miss Congeniality are named.

The young women will have special duties throughout the livestock shows and auction. They also hand out awards – and help clean up on the final day. 

Lund said that after the first year, the organizers of various shows expressed their gratitude to have the young women help hand out awards. In fact, during a pig show, an animal got loose and one of the contestants wrangled it. “They just jump in and help where they need to,” Lund said.

The pastor added that the four young women bond during the months leading up to the contest. “There are a lot of connections being made,” she said. “Last year, two of the girls became best friends through the event.”

Lund said that at the county fair, the 4H and FFA students – and their families – all help and support each other. The same is true now for the Fair Queen contestants.

“You learn a lot of life skills too,” Lund said. “You also learn how to win and lose.”

She said that being part of the fair has been fulfilling for her as a pastor too. Just like in church, fellowship and connection are key. Support, kindness and love between neighbors are all in the air.

It’s a reminder, Lund added, that the church and the town are not two separate entities. Instead, the church can be a part of the community, outside of its own walls.

And it’s a unique way for Lund to meet neighbors. After all, it’s not every pastor that organizes a Fair Queen contest. Evangelism can happen when clergy are out in the community, showing care, dedication and support, as well as acting as a mentor. 

“It’s a cool way for the community to get to know me,” Lund said. “And it’s great to be a part of the fair. It’s a huge honor.”