A decade ago, Rena (Stewart) Arnold was crowned Miss St. James. This time, it was her sister, Makayla Bates' turn to take home the crown at the annual Grape and Fall Festival’s Miss St. James pageant.
“I won Miss St. James 10 years ago, and now she is following in my footsteps,” Arnold said with a huge smile.
Even though it does not happen regularly, Renee Ridling, the emcee of the pageant and a former president of the St. James Chamber of Commerce, said this is not the first time sisters have both earned the title of Miss St. James.
When the competition first started, it was an event for local grape growers' daughters, and then it was common for the queens to be related, Ridling said. Moreover, there have been other sisters since that time, although none recently.
Although Bates had seemingly “royal” blood flowing through her veins, she still faced some tough competition before claiming the title of Miss St. James.
In total, eight young women vied for the crown in this year's queen pageant. The competitors included Bates, Stormie McWhorter, Marin Van Dien, Casey Hoffmeister, Julia King, Hayley Portell, Gabrielle Townley and Kara White.
This year's Miss Congeniality award went to Julia King.
Ridling said the Miss Congeniality award always is a special honor.
“This is the honor that the candidates all vote on,” she said. “They pick Miss Congeniality.”
The second runner-up was Hayley Portell, who was also selected as Most Talented.
First runner-up was King.
For the talent portion of the competition, Portell played and discussed a video of herself sketching Si Robertson, from A&E's hit show “Duck Dynasty.”
Other acts in the talent portion included McWhorter singing Gwyneth Paltrow's “Coming Home,” Van Dien presenting her equine talents, Hoffmeister doing a cheerleading/dance mix to the song “Check it Out,” King singing Justin Beiber's hit song “Born to Be Somebody,” Bates singing Kelly Clarkson's hit “Because of You,” Townley playing “Ordon Village” on clarinet while being accompanied by a recording of herself on piano, and White dancing to “Slow Me Down” by Emmy Rossum.
Something new to this year's pageant was the raffling of gift baskets donated by local businesses.
Pageant attendees purchased tickets, and 100 percent of the funds went to support Camp Milt, a local nonprofit organization that, according to its website, offers “a respite for all ages suffering from illness and disabilities.”
In total, Kayla Klossner, the pageant director and the 2009 Miss St. James, said $636 was donated to Camp Milt as a result of the fundraiser.
Page 2 of 2 - “The raffle brought in $318, and Hutcheson Ford has generously offered to match that amount, bringing the total to $636,” she said.
All of the contestants were supportive of the idea to have the funds raised go to help Camp Milt, Klossner said.
Klossner said she was proud of all of the competitors in this year's pageant.
“It has been such a joy to be part of such a wonderful program,” she said. “I would like to extend a sincere thank you to the chamber of commerce for allowing me this opportunity, and to all of the family and friends who have helped me along the way ... I have enjoyed every pageant-filled minute over the past few months.”
The Grape and Fall Festival continues this week at Nelson Hart Park, concluding Saturday with the annual demolition derby.
For more information about the festival, contact the St. James Chamber of Commerce at 573-265-6649.