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Alyssa's living a dream

By Joseph Slacian

When she was 11 years old, Alyssa McKillip showed swine at the Indiana State Fair for the first time.

During a break in the action, her family took a walk outside when they happened to bump into Indiana State Fair Queen Mariah Huff and her court.

McKillip and her brother, Brandon, had their picture taken with them. That photo sparked something in her. Call it what you will -- a dream, a hope, a wish, a desire -- to one day wear the crown and sash and reign over the fair.

“I just remember meeting her that day,” she said, sitting in a room in the State Fairground’s Communications Building, her headquarters during the 18-day run of the fair. “Without even seeing that picture, we just found the picture the other day, I knew exactly what I wore that day. It was just a vivid memory.

“From that point forward, I always wanted to be the State Fair Queen. I never really knew what she represented. I just knew at that point that she had a pretty crown. That was enough for me at that time.

“But when I came to the State Fair more and more, I got to tour the fair and it meant more and more to me to be the queen.”

That was 10 years ago.

In 2020, McKillip was crowned the Wabash County Fair Queen. Her desire to be the State Fair Queen was nearly derailed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the fair was canceled, local fair queens from that year competed with queens from fairs that took place in 2021 with a chance to reign over this year’s fair.

Part of the pageant took place virtually in January. Then in April, the contestants gathered in Indianapolis for the second portion of the event, this one in person.

“I would say the whole moment after hearing my name was surreal,” McKillip said. “I don’t think it ever, really sunk in because there were so many girls that day. When you’re competing with over 100 contestants, you can’t possibly think that any of them were less than outstanding. They were all very talented and very motivated to do well in the competition. Just to make the Top 16 was just incredible.

“Then to hear my name called and see my family come up to the runway, overjoyed, it was just so surreal.”

She said she thought her virtual interview went well, “but then you had a few months to take a break and think about your interview in April.”

“It was just a great experience overall.”

The Queen’s duties

As State Fair Queen, McKillip has various required events she must attend. During The Paper of Wabash County’s visit with her on Wednesday, Aug. 10, her schedule was fairly light. She had just three events she had to be at.

The rest of her day was spent strolling the fairgrounds to meet the public.

“This afternoon we’re heading over to Pioneer Village; they’re doing the lifetime pass ceremony,” she said, talking about what that day would entail.

During the ceremony, she presented lifetime passes to eight individuals who had a major impact on the fair throughout the years.

Later that evening, McKillip participated in the daily parade around the fairgrounds. Following that, she was off to the Free Stage where she spoke to the crowd attending the concert by country singer Trace Adkins.

Not every day is as light as Wednesday was.

“I’ve gotten to meet the governor,” McKillip said, recapping some of the things she did during the first eight days of the fair. “I’ve got to judge the U.S.A. Mullet Championship. That was funny.”

She also spent some time in an area she is quite familiar with – the livestock barns.

“People are always really happy to see the queen in the livestock barns,” she said. “But I was a swine showman, so that’s what I enjoy. There are kids in there whose mouths gape open when they see the queen.”

That, McKillip said, makes her reign worthwhile.

“I was asked the other day if I was a real princess,” she said. “I said, ‘I think so.’ Then she said, it was a little girl, ‘I thought princesses were only in fairy tales.’ It was really sweet.”

She’s also visited the various display areas, such as Mama Town, an area where various animals and their litters are on display, and the World of Speed, an area dedicated to Indiana’s role in the automotive industry. This year’s fair theme is “Fun at the Speed of Summer.”

On Wednesday, she chatted a few minutes with characters standing in front of the Ghostbusters’ car in the World of Speed. She also tried her hand at changing a tire at an Indycar pit stop display.

McKillip also got to attend a ghost hunt in one of the fairground buildings.

“They invited in a group, they have a TV show called ‘Paranormal X Road’ and they set themselves up in the Indiana Arts Building, and my aunt and I went to check that out on Saturday evening,” she said. “Apparently that building is haunted. I never knew that, obviously. But there are resident ghosts that live in there.

“I don’t know if I believe in ghosts or not. I feel if I had my own encounter with one, then maybe. But, some of the things they encountered it is hard not to believe. They were able to connect with family members of some of the people there. I don’t know. It’s just hard. I have a lot of questions about that.”

The taste of the fair
Donning her crown and her sash – she has three sashes from which to choose – she began her walk around the fairgrounds. Her first stop was going to be one of the many food booths where she and her escort for the day, 1992 queen Pam (Nash) Dobbin, were to have a quick lunch. This day’s fare – pickle pizza.

She has gotten to sample an ample amount of fair food the last two weeks.

“I love the ‘Mac Diggity Corn Dog,’ she said. “It’s a corn dog with pulled turkey on top and mac and cheese on top of that.
“Whenever we would come to the State Fair with my family, we would always go to the Dairy Bar or the pork tent. We really didn’t venture out. So, it was my goal this year to try the fair food and review them on Instagram to help promote them.”

Another of her favorites was the cow pie, and ice cream sandwich made with two chocolate chip cookies as the outer portion and a scoop of ice cream between. She and her mother, Toni, shared one earlier at the fair.

“We tried to break it apart – we each didn’t want a whole one – we tried to break it apart, but that wasn’t going to happen. It’s very, very yummy at the ribeye tent.”

Of course, not all fair food is the same. McKillip readily admits the Mexican street corn wasn’t among her favorites.

“I don’t like mayo,” she explained, “and it had a lot of mayo in it. But I’ve heard a lot of people like it.”

The Queen’s escorts

Throughout her reign, McKillip has an escort to help her on her ventures around the fairgrounds. The escort is responsible for keeping the queen on schedule for her various appearances.

The escort also helps by taking photos of the queen and the various people she meets throughout the day, as well as keeping her company during her walks.

Among her escorts were 1991 State Fair Queen and former Wabash County resident Bobbi (Leckrone) Bates. She also had 2014 State Fair Queen Alyssa Burns.

“I’ve gotten to spend time with some family,” she continued, adding that Julie Echard, the Wabash County Fair Pageant Coordinator, also was down one day. “It’s kind of a variety. It’sa good mix. It’s fun.”

McKillp said she enjoys her time with past State Fair queens.

“I get to hear about what their fair was like, what their experience was like,” she said.

The future

McKillip’s duties during State Fair ends on Sunday, Aug. 21. The next day she begins her junior year at Butler University.

But her work as queen – she is considered an employee of the Indiana State Fair – doesn’t end when the fair does. She has a few more visits to make, “mainly just to celebrate my reign.”

Among her appearances will be during the Roann Covered Bridge Festival when she rides in the annual parade.

“That is something my family does every single year, since it’s so close to home,” she said. “I’m excited to be back with people that I know, be with family, and be in that parade.”

She also had a Randolph County teacher reach out to her, asking her to speak to his fourth grade class.

“So I might have a few experiences that pop up that makes the last day of the State Fair a little less bad, because I have some other things to look forward to, as well,” McKillip said. “But at that point, it won’t be promoting the State Fair. It will just be celebrating my reign.”

She will relinquish her title in January during a three-day event in Indianapolis when she crowns the new queen.

“The girls will be here for three days, like it normally is held” she said. “I had the chance to meet some of the queens throughout my summer travels, and I’m excited to get to see them all come together and get to know one another, because that’s the one thing that we really didn’t get the chance to do, given that our whole competition was in one day.

“You really didn’t get to know the girls all that well. You kind of were just meeting the girls who were in your dressing room, the ones who were standing there in line waiting to get on the stage.”

McKillp said she spoke briefly with Olivia Dale, the 2022 Wabash County Fair Queen, during her visit to the Wabash County pageant.

“I know she is a very talented girl who will do great,” McKillip said.

She said it would be wonderful to be able to pass the crown to another Wabash County resident. Having a queen from the same county in back-to-back years has only happened one other time in the 62-year history of the fair.

“Vandenburg County won in back-to-back years,” she noted, “so that would be pretty cool.”

Advice for others

McKillip won the Wabash County title in her second attempt at the pageant. She first entered in 2018, then sat out the 2019 pageant due to other commitments, returning in 2020.

She doesn’t know if sitting out one year “made a tremendous difference.”

“I think it’s important to continue practicing, especially interviews” she said. “It’s always a good idea to stay sharp on those skills.”

A young lady must be at least 18 years of age to be eligible to place in the top 16 with the possibility to be crowned the Indiana State Fair Queen. However, those under 18 are still eligible to compete.

“My first year, in 2018, I was not old enough to win (at state), but I still competed and I placed on court and I got to learn what it was like to interview, what it was like to model and speak in front of a crowd,” McKillip said. “That’s one of the things I advise girls who are too young to win the crown to do. They can develop the skills that they can use to win.”

The rules change, Dobbin noted, following a 2012 incident in which a horse cart carrying the queen and others flipped, injuring five people.

McKillip said she often tells girls in her brother Brandon’s class to participate in the pageant. Many say they will consider it, but only when they are old enough to win on the state level.

“Go out now,” she said. “You can’t win, so there’s no pressure. Just go in with no expectations. Go in and learn, then you can come back and do really well.”

Dobbin believes that is excellent advice for the younger girls.

Family time

Her time as fair wouldn’t be possible without the support of her parents, Troy and Toni McKillip.

“Mom and Dad have been awesome,” she said. “They’ve been great the entire summer. My brother plays travel baseball; my Dad is the coach for that. So, you can imagine, it was kind of difficult at the beginning of the summer.”

She had, what the family dubbed “her bible,” a binder with her schedule and lists of appearances throughout the summer. That was passed around to all family members who signed up to accompany her on her various trips.

“We could kind of divide and conquer who was going with me and to what county,” she said.

McKillip traveled more than 8,000 miles this year, visiting 43 of the state’s 92 counties.

When trying to decide which parent should attend traveling baseball games and which should attend fair events, her brother, Brandon, told their parents to devote time to his sister.

He said he would be playing baseball for several years. For Alyssa, he reasoned, this is a once in a lifetime experience.

Her final advice

“I encourage everyone to come out to the Indiana State Fair,” she said. “It’s the best 18 days of the summer.”

As a swine showman, McKillip said she really didn’t get a chance to experience the entire Indiana State Fair.

“You thought you got to experience a lot of it,” she said. “But now that I’m actually the queen, and I’m getting to go around and enjoy the exhibits, there’s so much more that I’ve gotten to see these last few days then I have the entire time I was at the fair.”

And, who knows. Maybe one of the young girls with whom she has had her photo taken with during the run of the fair will one day get to wear the crown and reflect on that day they were at the fair and met Queen Alyssa.

 

 

 

Posted on 2022 Aug 18