GREENFIELD – It was a sea of tiaras at the Greenfield-Central High School auditorium Saturday night, as 21 pageant queens from throughout the state gathered for the annual Indiana State Festival Association scholarship pageant.
Two young women from Greenfield were among those on stage — the reigning ISFA queen Claire Bishop, a 2023 Greenfield-Central High School graduate, and this year’s Riley Festival queen, G-CHS senior Emmy Mills.
In the end, Mills was crowned third runner up in the pageant, which means she’ll assist the new queen — Melanie Gebhart of Roanoke — in promoting Indiana festivals across the state.
“If the queen needs a helping hand, we’re going to be there to help her,” said Mills, who is excited about visiting Indiana’s wide assortment of fairs and festivals.
“There are so many I want to check off my list,” she said with a radiant smile.
Mills was beaming throughout the two-hour pageant, which saw contestants dressed in both formal wear and outfits representing their individual fairs and festivals.
Mills wore a floor-length white gown with a flowing veil, all trimmed in silk flowers to represent the Riley Festival parade of flowers.
After taking to the stage in formal gowns, the top 10 finalists were announced. After each took a turn at the mic answering a question randomly pulled from a bowl by Bishop, the queen’s court and queen were announced.
Gebhart, who is the reigning Roanoke Fall Festival queen, said it was an honor to be crowned the winner among a field of outstanding young women.
“I am in disbelief. It’s an honor and I really can’t wait for the year ahead. I’ve always loved fairs and festivals, and I’m just really excited to be part of it,” she said.
Mills expressed the same excitement for being named to the queen’s court.
“When I was in the final 10 and I had all these girls right next to me, and they’re all incredibly beautiful and smart with their answers, I thought there’s no way I’d advance,” she said after the pageant. “I was not expecting this at all.”
The annual ISFA scholarship pageant recognizes outstanding young women who represent fairs, festivals and parades throughout the state. Multiple scholarship awards are handed out each year.
In addition to scholarships for the queen and her court, $100 cash prizes are awarded for best essay, theme wear, evening gown and interview.
Scholarships are awarded in the amount of $1,000 for queen, $800 for first runner up, $600 for second, $400 for third and $200 for fourth.
In her farewell address as outgoing queen, Bishop shared that being queen is about so much more than winning a scholarship and crown.
“I traveled nearly 3,000 miles to 20 different events across the state. I explored parts of the state I didn’t even really know about and loved it,” she said.
“I went to a Viking festival where I dressed as a viking and lived in the village for the evening. I went to a fairy festival where I drank fairy tea at a princess party. I went to the circus capital of the world and watched incredible acrobats and performers soar through the air and perform the wildest of tricks. I went to Ireland, Indiana where I learned all about St. Patrick’s Day, and even returned home and celebrated our dear James Whitcomb Riley in the town I love most,” she said.
“I loved all the festivals and all the crazy, wild and small and mundane moments and memories I collected from them. I learned a lot about Indiana, about our fairs and festivals, and about myself. I learned that we are not only the home to the circus capital of the world but also the covered bridge capital of the world. I learned that Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana was a thing way before Disney World was a thing,” she said.
“I’ve learned that small town ice cream shops are the best kind, and that nearly any Hoosier is kind beyond measure, with hospitality like no other. I’ll tell you what, us Hoosiers know how to have a good time,” she said.
The Indiana State Festival Association promotes roughly 590 of Indiana’s fairs, festivals and events in all 92 counties, from car shows and carnivals to historic reenactments and music festivals.
This year, the association won a marketing award for Best Advertising Initiative in the state for its use of ISFA1 – a 26 ½ foot promotional van wrapped with highlights from 41 of Indiana’s festivals, fairs and events.
The van features a bubble machine, festive lighting and speakers that can be heard a block away at events throughout the state.
The eye-catching vehicle was parked by the entrance of Greenfield-Central High School during Saturday night’s pageant.
This year’s ISFA pageant winners are:
Queen – Melanie Gebhart, Roanoke Fall Festival
1st Runner Up – Kayla Bell, Circus City Festival
2nd Runner Up – Amber Best, Nappanee Apple Festival
3rd Runner Up – Emmy Mills, Riley Festival
4th Runner Up – Hanna Helt, Little Italy Festival
Best Essay – Saylor Lancaster, Columbus Scottish Festival
Best Evening Gown – Amber Best, Nappanee Apple Festival
Best Interview – Cheyenne Hawley, Marshall County Blueberry Festival
Best Theme Wear – Melanie Gebhart, Roanoke Fall Festival