The Cottage Grove Armory was the scene of this year’s Miss Lane County competition on Saturday (April 16) as 25-year-old Hannah Garhofer was crowned with the county title.
“I feel incredible. I feel humbled and honored,” said Garhofer. “I truly can’t believe I get this bonus year. I started competing when I was 13 and they extended the age limit this year. And so, I’m 25 and I competed one last time.”
Garhofer said she was most looking forward to mentoring youth in the community and specifically advocating for children’s rights.
Awarded a $500 scholarship, Garhofer will have a chance to compete against other Oregon county winners in Seaside in June for the title of Miss Oregon.
Each participant in the program must have a social impact statement. Garhofer’s platform of “Live You Dash – Leave You Legacy” encourages people to be actively involved in things they are passionate about and make a lasting difference.
The University of Oregon graduate performed a tap dance to “Emergency” by Icona Pop during the talent portion of the event.
Candidate Kaylin Salladay, 24, was named Miss Lane County runner-up and candidate Kaytlin Smith, 21, was named People’s Choice winner.
Other candidates that night included Emma Mather, 21, Bianca Parsons, 18, and Justice Williams, 21.
The night consisted of candidates showing off their oratory skills, dancing and vocal talents and formal poise.
The Lane County competition was just the first of three levels which culminate with someone being crowned Miss America.
The annual Miss America competition started in 1921 “as a way to extend the summer tourist season,” said Annette Titus, executive director of Miss Lane County. “It literally was a bathing suit contest – a stunt.”
Since then, the organization has gone through many changes. In 1944, it began compensating winners with college scholarships, making it “the oldest women’s scholarship program in America,” said Titus.
As of 2018, there is no longer a swimsuit portion to the contest, or consideration of physical appearance.
“In the past, a lot of people thought of this as just a beauty contest. Our contest is actually a lot more evolved,” Titus said. “Each girl has to have a 3.0 verifiable GPA. Each girl has to have a talent. … Each girl has a social impact statement.”
The chance to win scholarships is an attractive feature of the competition, too. The reigning Miss America last year walked off the stage with a $100,000 scholarship. It is also Miss America’s duty to travel 20,000 miles per month throughout the country.
The organization provides other benefits and candidates to not have to win a crown to enjoy them. On top of scholarships, participants get 65 percent of what they sell in fundraising.
“I began competing in this program when I was 13 and because of that, I’m able to graduate with my undergrad degree debt-free,” said Garhofer. “I will be attending law school in the fall. And I’m able to do that because of the scholarships that I’ve gained from this program.”
While the financial aid is a definite plus, the organization boasts of other personal gains candidates achieve as well.
“The job opportunities I’ve gotten and the networking skills are truly incredible,” Garhofer said. “And most 25-year-olds don’t get this unless they participate in the program. It teaches you how to walk into a room with five strangers and get asked any question under the sun – current events, about your platform, whatever it may be – and have that confidence and that grace and that voice to answer.”
Miss Oregon 2021 Abigail Hayes attended Saturday’s event and spoke of the timeless relevance of the organization.
“I think that’s the amazing thing about this program: is that if you truly believe in yourself and your sisterhood around you and you also believe in yourself, than you can be absolutely anything you want to be,” she said.