Miss Missouri 2009

The Final Lap

Well…I’m on the last leg of my journey as Miss Missouri 2009, and what a year it has been! I cannot believe how quickly time passes when you’re filling your days with the things you’re most passionate about.  But before I get too sappy, let me fill you in on my last batch of adventures.

I had a chance to brush up on my golf skills recently at the Missouri Western State University Celebrity Golf Classic in St. Joseph, Missouri.  Missouri celebrities like former Kansas City Royal Jeff Montgomery, former Kansas City Chief Art Still, and I had the opportunity to golf with the dozens of teams gathered to raise money for the YWCA Shelter for abused and homeless women in greater St. Joseph and the MWSU Athletics Department.  Art and Jeff each paired up with a team as the celebrity golfer in the four-man scramble, while I was stationed at Hole 1 as the celebrity putter for the two days of the tournament.  You would imagine that after two straight days of putting at the same hole, I would be getting pretty good, but I learned that golf is much harder than it looks!  I did surprise myself (and the teams!) with my skills more than I anticipated, and I think that next time, I’ll be ready to try teeing off.

After wrapping up each day at the Moila Country Club golf course, the golfers, volunteers, and celebrities gathered for an evening event.  From live and silent auctions to award ceremonies, an abundance of funds and awareness for the Shelter were raised.  I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the people of St. Joseph, Missouri, and learned a thing or two from them too! Ever heard of noodling? You’ll have to ask to hear that story, but it made my trip to the Golf Classic one I won’t soon forget!

I headed back home to St. Charles to get ready for my good friend Katie’s wedding at St. Cletus Church.  Katie and I have been friends since high school, as members of the cheerleading squad and dance team, and she has been one of my biggest cheerleaders since I became involved in the Miss Missouri Organization.  Now it was my turn to cheer for her on her big day!  After a beautiful Mass followed by a night of fabulous food, music, and dancing, I am proud to congratulate Mr. and Mrs. Gerwel on their marriage!

If I thought that flash back to high school felt like ages ago, I was sure in for a surprise when I was invited to speak at a DARE graduation for the fifth graders at Mid Rivers Elementary.  Their presiding DARE Officer, Tom Forgue, was celebrating his last graduation (57 over the course of 17 years as a DARE Officer!) before retiring from the St. Peters Police Department.  Of those 17 years of service, I am proud to have called Officer Forgue a role model, mentor, and friend for 16 of them.  When I began the DARE Program as part of my third grade curriculum at Sts. Joachim and Ann, Officer Forgue was my instructor.  Over the years, I have been honored to speak as a DARE Role Model to younger classes, apply my knowledge when I served as a mentor for juveniles in drug rehabilitation at Preferred Family Health Care in Northeast, Missouri, and to speak on behalf of the program during my school tour as Miss Missouri this year.  Officer Forgue has had an enormous impact on my life, and it I couldn’t have been prouder to deliver a speech on the importance of self-esteem, respect, and the power of making positive choices to the fifth grade DARE graduates.  Over a dozen police officers from the St. Louis area were present to support and congratulate Officer Forgue on his service and dedication to DARE. Best wishes, Officer Forgue, on your retirement, and many thanks for the thousands of lives you have touched during your years of service!

The Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri sponsored P.A.V.E. – Project Anti-Violence Education Rally in downtown St. Louis at Kiener Plaza.  Over 700 Girl Scouts attended the rally, where I spoke to them about the “Uniquely Me” Program, promoting self-esteem, self-respect, and developing a healthy lifestyle, giving them the opportunity to earn a badge! Afterward, we enjoyed special performances by Miss River City – Erin Bagby and Miss Metro St. Louis – Claire Thorpe-Klinsky, motivational speeches by troop leaders, the biggest dance party I’ve ever attended, and an endless supply of Girl Scout cookie samples. Needless to say, I was in heaven!  I signed hundreds of autographs and took pictures with the girls, and we had a chance for some “girl talk,” discussing the types of pressures they feel at school every day and ways to be a positive role model in their communities.  Thank you so much to Mary Ann Owens for arranging my visit and for one of the most memorable appearances of my year!

As the state’s goodwill ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network, I have found myself doing everything from making Blizzards at Dairy Queen to flipping pancakes at IHOP to making friendship bracelets with pediatric hospital patients this year.  My most recent CMN endeavor took me back to Mexico, Missouri, to fundraise at Wal-Mart, a proud corporate sponsor of CMN.  Alongside the CMN team from the University of Missouri-Columbia Children’s Hospital and Wal-Mart associates, I helped sell root beer floats, sign autographs, and collect donations to raise money for the Children’s Hospital.  My very first appearance as Miss Missouri last June was at the exact same Wal-Mart.  So it was quite fitting to find myself back at the Mexico Wal-Mart, working the check-out lines once again, almost one year later, but all in the name of the CMN kids.  Things really do come full circle, as they say!

Even though I joke that being Miss Missouri is far from the glamour you might expect, I did get to feel like a bit of a movie star, as I filmed the Miss Missouri commercial promoting the pageant and the city of Mexico!  This year’s Miss Missouri Pageant will be broadcast on KRCG, along with a 30 minute “behind the scenes” documentary featuring the contestants, preliminary competitions, and one-on-one interviews, so the board and I had the chance to spend the entire day with the KRCG team, which just built up the anticipation for pageant week! From the Historical Society to Presser Hall to the front gate of the Missouri Military Academy, the commercial highlights some Mexico favorites, which have truly become a second home to me this year!  After wrapping the Miss Missouri commercial, we headed to Melody’s Quality Jewelry on the square to film a commercial for her store.  Not only does Melody provide Miss Missouri with a gorgeous pearl necklace each year (I can’t stop wearing mine!), but she also graciously sponsored the 30 minute documentary, and wanted to feature us in her commercial!  Keep your eye out for both – you’ll see some familiar pageant faces! Big thank you to Susie, Deb, and Jimmy from KRCG and to Linda, Susan, Alice, and Dana from Mexico for being a part of the day!

Have you ever experienced pure pandemonium? I thought I had until I made a trip to Parkway Northeast Middle School recently to speak to the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students as part of my school tour.  Since it was my final school visit as Miss Missouri, it was a bittersweet day for me, but they made sure I had the time of my life!  802 autographs, 567 hugs, 343 Facebook friend requests, and just one bottle of water later, I was spent.  But I had so much fun sharing my message of goal setting, perseverance, and making positive decisions with the students, and having the chance to chat with so many of them. I had a question and answer segment at the end of each presentation, as I always do, and the kids really kept me on my toes for this one.  Everywhere I go, I always get asked my age, which I usually don’t mind answering because most people think I’m 5 years younger than I actually am…hey, I’ll appreciate that someday!  You can imagine, then, my shock when one of the boys was telling everyone I was 40 years old.  All I could think was – Is it my hair do? My outfit? Are my jokes dorky?!?!  Turns out, it was none of the above.  He had read on my autograph sheet about the 40th Anniversary, and instead of finishing the sentence to see that it was referring to the pageant being held in Mexico, he assumed it meant the 40th anniversary of my birth. Young minds never cease to amaze me!

I owe a big thank you to Amber Jansson (and Mr. Sachs!) for arranging my visit, acting as my tour guide for the day and especially for the pizza party at lunch!

I traveled to Fort Leonard Wood for the second time this year to partake in the military base’s annual Safety Day Fair, promoting good health and injury prevention on base.  After a tour of the entire base, I had the chance to speak to the troops and thank them for their service to our country each day.  These men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice by fighting for our freedom, and to be able to partake some of their daily activities opened my eyes to a whole new world.  One of the most interesting parts of my visit was drown-proofing with the troops.  In full military fatigues, the privates jumped into the pool and learned how to use their jackets and pants as flotation devices, how to swim the length of an Olympic-sized pool holding a rifle above their head, and what it’s like to jump off a high dive blind folded with a regulation military weapon.  I was supposed to join them in this activity, but due to scheduling conflicts, I had to settle for watching from the sidelines.  But I thought it looked like so much fun that they invited me back to join the troops for basic training at 0500 one morning, and I’m going to take them up on this offer!!

At the fair, I met with General Quantock and his wife and daughter, where I learned a little more about life as a military family and some of their personal experiences.  We later joined Miss Pulaski County, Miss Texas County, and their Outstanding Teens for lunch at Tony’s and had the opportunity to teach General Quantock about what the Miss America Organization is all about.  Thank you to Chris Billadeau for hosting my visit, to my Aunt Ginger and cousin Aaron for accompanying me on the event, and to all our military troops at home and abroad for their dedication and service.

In the last days before I give up my crown came to a close, I wanted to spend a day with the very first person I got to share the moment of being named Miss Missouri 2009 with – my Miss Missouri Little Sister, Annie Farrell.  Annie and I enjoyed a delicious lunch at Applebee’s, caught up on pageant and school gossip, and talked about our year together.  Afterward, we headed to the nail salon to get a pedicure together in preparation for the pageant! I’ve said before that we have a very special sisterhood, because it spans much longer than most others. I have known Annie since she was born, and she has been a part of my life for many important occasions. I’m so proud to be her big sis and to watch her grow into the beautiful young lady she has become, and if she’ll entertain the idea, I’m convinced I see a Miss Missouri crown in her future someday.

My very last appearance as Miss Missouri took place in my hometown of St. Charles, at the St. Elizabeth/St. Robert Parish Picnic.  I kicked off the parade activities at the SESR School back in April, so I was excited to join them for their parade and to sign autographs for the day.  I also helped out at the Cake Walk booth and even got to go for a ride on the swings with a fabulous group of third grade girls! After the thousands of miles I’ve traveled across the state and beyond this year, finding myself back at home among so many familiar faces was the perfect note to end on.

Now, I find myself caught in between piles of things – shoes, clothes, jewelry, photos, and sparkles – as I attempt to pack, just one last time, for the Miss Missouri Pageant in Mexico.  The contestants and I will arrive to the Missouri Military Academy on Sunday and dive straight into meetings and rehearsals, with a nice break for a golf tournament on Sunday afternoon.  Our week is jam-packed with events, and I can’t wait to watch the week unfold. I’ll be posting updates, pictures, Facebooking, and Twittering from the pageant all week, so be sure to check back often for the latest behind-the-scenes scoop!

And if you’d like to meet the young women I’ve been blogging about all year and see for yourself what Miss Missouri is all about, be sure to stop by Mexico June 9-12 to watch the competition. Tickets are available at the Mexico Chamber of Commerce and range from $6-12 for general admission. Celebrating “Forty and Fabulous,” we sure hope to see you there!




Spring in the Show-Me State

I can’t believe there are less than six weeks left of my year as Miss Missouri. The realization of how quickly time passes when you’re doing something you love has left me trying to fill each day with the new people, places, and opportunities.  Most recently, I have been enjoying traveling everywhere from Webster Groves to Washburn to Waynesville, and everywhere in between!

As part of my partnership with McCallum Place Eating Disorders Treatment Center, I have been fortunate enough to visit Webster Groves High School on multiple occasions this year to promote my platform program, “Portion Distortion:  The Truth about Eating Disorders.”  I spent the day with Mrs. Unterreiner’s Basic Foods and Nutrition classes discussing body image, nutritional habits, healthy decision-making, and the dangers of eating disorders.  Although the students were well-versed on how to maintain a balanced diet, the impact of the information we discussed was apparent.  Most students I speak to are aware of the physical effects of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa, but they have no idea how devastating the effects can be.  Through stories, pictures, and testimonial videos, they students are able to view an eating disorder through the affected individual’s eyes to understand that it is not a glorified diet or a quick way to lose a few pounds.  It is a real disease affecting both the body and the mind. The students shared stories of how eating disorders have affected the lives of their family and one student even shared with me her personal struggle with anorexia at the end of the session.  Educating students about the different types of eating disorders and warning signs and teaching them how to get help is the most empowering part of my job as a spokesperson for eating disorders because early intervention saves lives.

My next event focused on life as well…wildlife, that is!  I joined the Missouri Trappers Association in Edina, Missouri for An Evening with Wildlife, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.  I had the opportunity to learn about some of our state’s unique wildlife and ways to preserve it.  As I ventured from booth to booth, I got became the proud new owner of a twig (which promises to someday grow into a red bud tree), pose with the world record non-typical white-tailed deer antlers (the deer was found in St. Louis County and amazingly, wasn’t even hunted!), and hold a black rat snake (which wasn’t quite as comfortable for me as one would think).  I even had the chance to show off my beautiful fur coat as well!  Special thanks to the Trappers for always treating me like royalty and for continuing to teach me new things about Missouri wildlife! I have certainly enjoyed spending the year representing the MTA and appreciate their generous sponsorship of my official autograph headshots.

I checked another box off my “to-do list” when I met with Miss Missouri volunteer, David Pickering, to record my farewell speech.  This was one of the most difficult tasks I have had to face this entire year.  There were so many people to thank for being a crucial part of my year and my life, and it was so difficult to fit it all into my two-minute time limit. But I can’t wait to see the finished product at the Miss Missouri finale!

Speaking of crucial, I finally had some much-needed family time over Easter and enjoyed catching up with everyone, especially my sister, who is still away at Truman State University.  Although we’re finally back living in the same state, our schedules have been so hectic this year, I feel like I have hardly gotten to spend time with her, so Easter did just the trick!  And in case you’re wondering, that’s our puppy, Sadie, and she was excited to see Jenna too.

As you know, one of my favorite parts of the job is my school tour.  But my visit to Hardin Middle School was a special one because it was arranged by my good friend Bailey Jung.  When I competed in the Miss Missouri Pageant for the first time in 2007, Bailey came to cheer me on, and she has been there every step of the way since – she’s my little good luck charm!  So I jumped at the opportunity to visit her at school and share my platform presentation with her classmates.  I owe a big thank you to Mrs. Orlando for a great visit and to Bailey for being such a fabulous tour guide for the day.

My next school visit was to St. Elizabeth-St. Robert School in St. Charles, Missouri.  The day started off with an all-school assembly where I kicked off their annual parish picnic celebration.  With incentives like pizza parties and prizes like a Nintendo Wii and cold, hard cash, the kids were ready to sell raffle tickets to raise money for their school!  I shared my story of how being Miss Missouri is all about making a difference in my community and encouraged them to make a difference in theirs too, beginning with being role models in their school.  I then spoke to the junior high students in greater detail about the importance of role models.  With celebrities often  in the media for making bad decisions, we discussed what it means to be human and that everyone makes mistakes, but it is important to learn from those mistakes and live with a forgiving heart rather than a judgmental one.  The kids shared some of their favorite celebrity role models with me, and then we talked about how they act as role models in their school and community.  I shared the four points of my crown with them:  scholarship, style, success, and service, and how they apply to everyone who wants to be a role model, not just a beauty queen. 

I visited the classrooms of the younger students and signed autographs and passed around my crown.  I was amazed at how many future Miss Missouri’s I met, because the crown was a perfect fit on so many of the students heads J Afterward, I had lunch with two students from every grade, selected by their home room teachers for outstanding merit.  We dined on Bosco sticks (one of my favorite grade school lunches!) and had a chance to chat one-on-one about what they’re learning in school, their hobbies, and everything they wanted to know about being Miss Missouri.  I can’t wait to for the weekend of June 5th and 6th, when I will be hosting their SESR Parish Picnic, and performing my final duties as Miss Missouri 2009.

Springfield was the next stop on the map, where I joined Miss Gateway to the West, Katy Reed, for a day full of activities. Our morning started out at Reed Middle School with an event sponsored just for the girls by the Girl Scouts. I had the opportunity to welcome the girls and speak to them about the Miss America Organization and what it means to be a role model in society today, with an emphasis on taking care of the earth responsibly. Katy and I led a “Go Green” activity where the students were divided into groups and relay-raced their way to recycling everyday household items. Afterward, we brainstormed ways the girls can be leaders in the movement to go green by using aluminum water bottles rather than plastic ones and fabric shopping bags rather than paper or plastic ones. It was a wonderful opportunity to pitch not only the “Green is Gorgeous” platform Miss America has adopted this year in collaboration with Nature’s Bottles, but also the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Organization. Hopefully we met a future MMOT in the bunch!

Next, Katy and I headed to the Missouri State University campus to film a television interview for Ozark News Journal, where Katy spends much of her time as a broadcast journalism major. With Katy asking the questions and me in the hot seat, we made quite the pair as we discussed the Miss America Organization, my platform work with eating disorders awareness, the Children’s Miracle Network, and my quest for the Miss America crown. Finally, we rounded out our day at Cox Children’s Hospital in Springfield, were we had the chance to visit the pediatric ward as ambassadors of the Children’s Miracle Network.  We didn’t have many patients to visit with, but this made me so happy because it meant they had received the love and care needed to return home and live the life of a healthy child.  We visited with 6 month old Peyton, a little girl with a big smile from Joplin, Missouri. Peyton had spent over a month in the hospital and had undergone cranial and brain surgeries, but she was all smiles for us as we spent time with her before she headed home later that day. I owe a very special thank you to Cox Hospital and to Katy Reed for arranging the visit and welcoming me so warmly.  I enjoyed my day in Springfield and am so proud of the amazing work our local Missouri title holders are doing to promote the Miss Missouri Organization and the Children’s Miracle Network.

Miss Missouri has a long-standing relationship with Variety, the Children’s Charity, and I was so proud to represent our organization as Miss Missouri this year after first becoming involved with Variety as Miss Gateway St. Louis in 2008. Variety has been helping children with physical and mental disabilities reach their full potential for more than 75 years.  Saturday morning, I was introduced on the main stage as a guest of honor, alongside the President of Variety, David Steward, and other celebrity guests, including the 2008 winner of America’s Got Talent, Neal E. Boyd.  I rode in the parade through downtown St. Louis in style (a Viper!), but the truly incredible part was watching the Variety kids taking part in the parade.  Some road on floats, some waved from inside cars, and some took to the parade route in wheelchairs and walkers, all so excited and proud to be a part of this experience.  The Variety kids are such an inspiration to work with and a constant reminder of the accomplishment of overcoming obstacles.

I could have stayed all day and spent time with the Variety kids and volunteers, but duty called me to Washburn, Missouri, to the Southwest Little Theater for the 2010 Angel Awards just a few hours later. So I headed to the southwestern corner of the state where I met the junior high and high school students of the Southwest R-V School District drama department, led by Mr. Wyatt Hester.  The show started with a comedic skit starring senior actor Devon Munday (and yours truly!)…then the real show began. The actors presented a series of comedic skits, with some monologues and dramatic scenes in between.  I performed the routine I won Miss Missouri with – a musical theater tap to “A Wild, Wild Party” and emceed the Angel Awards, recognizing students for their theatrical achievements with awards like Best Actor/Actress, Best Supporting Actor/Actress, and Best Production.  Congratulations to all the members of the Southwest Little Theater group for a fabulous show and for their hard work all year, and to Mr. Hester and the SLT patrons for inviting me to be a part of the event and continuing the decade-old tradition of having Miss Missouri as their host.

The next day, my mom and I headed to Waynesville, Missouri, to watch Waynesville High School’s production of Romeo and Juliet.  It was great to be back at WHS, as I have spoken there about my platform for the past 3 years, but this time I was there for a very different reason.  My cousin Aaron, a sophomore at WHS, was starring in the production as Romeo! Though this was his first play ever, he is no stranger to the spotlight, as he is quite musically inclined and involved in the marching band and music competitions.  But on a whim, he auditioned for the play and landed the leading role.  Aaron did a fabulous job as Romeo, and I couldn’t be more proud of his accomplishments. Congratulations for the entire cast for putting on a fantastic production and for the continued hospitality of Waynesville High School!

I had another special school visit the following week, to the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles, Missouri.  My Miss Missouri Little Sister, Annie Farrell, is in the fifth grade at ASH so I enjoyed visiting her at school and the chance to speak to the fifth and sixth grade girls about body image, self-esteem, and self-respect.  A very special thank you to the Academy for a great visit and the time spent with the young ladies!

Later in the week, I headed to Columbia to meet with the KRCG marketing team to recruit sponsorships for the 2010 Miss Missouri Pageant “Behind the Scenes” documentary.  The program will feature clips of the contestants from orientation, pageant week activities, and prelims.  We visited over 13 businesses in Columbia and Mexico and I am so excited to work with the KRCG team to film the promotions, commercials, pageant, and documentary – and to see the finished product! Be sure to tune in KRCG and its sister stations in Quincy/Hannibal and Kirksville to see the promotions for the pageant beginning this month.

My next school visit was to Kennerly Elementary in Sappington, Missouri, where I visited two more special friends, Jake and Brady Lange, and their classmates.  I spoke at an all-school assembly about the power of setting goals, working hard to achieve them, and making good decisions.  Thanks to all the students for their excellent listening and very thought-provoking questions. One of the more interesting questions from my visit was from a second-grade little boy who, after the assembly dispersed, tracked me down to find out, “How many grams of fiber are in vegetables?”  Well, the number of grams of fiber is different for each type of vegetable, I told him.  “But what about broccoli?”  Turns out he’s been listening to his parents tell him to eat his veggies, and was curious as to the validity of his mother telling him how good broccoli was good for him.  I have to admit, I’ll forever remember him every time I get a heaping helping of broccoli on my dinner plate!

I also visited Brady’s third grade classroom and students had the chance to ask me more one-on-one questions – everything from “How much money do you make when you’re Miss Missouri?” to “How do you keep that crown on your head?”  In Jake’s first grade classroom, the students had similar questions (and plenty of personal stories to share as well!) and we read a book about a man after my heart, a tap dancing grandpa called The Song and Dance Man!  Many thanks to Jake and Brady’s parents for setting up my visit and to Ms. Christopher, Principal of Kennerly Elementary, for ensuring I had a great day!

After much anticipation, I FINALLY had the chance to go to my first Cardinals game of the season that Friday night, against the Cincinnati Reds, and I couldn’t wait!! Those of you who know me (and probably even some of you who don’t!) know how big of a Cards fan I am. Even though the weather forecast that evening was nothing but thunderstorms, I wasn’t going to miss the game…especially since it was Cardinals Snuggie giveaway night!  I enjoyed as much of the game as possible in the seats, and then headed for cover to watch the game from the big screen. No amount of rain was going to keep me from my Molina!  After a very long rain delay, and finally scoring some trash bags to wear as ponchos as we made a run back to the car, I was disappointed to learn that the game eventually restarted and the Cards lost 2-3.  But I had so much fun and it was great to see my Redbirds back in action – can’t wait for more games this summer!

As I finish out my last few weeks as Miss Missouri 2009, I will be staying busier than ever and spending time with the people who made my year such a success – the board members, volunteers, family, and friends who have helped me along the way.  Be sure to check back soon for more pictures and stories!

 Love, Tara

Springtime Travels

Missouri is famous for our fickle weather – if you don’t like it, just wait 24 hours and you can experience a completely different season!  This winter, I experienced my fill of rain, sleet, snow and ice, and needless to say, I’m relieved spring is finally here, because the beautiful weather is making my road trips much more enjoyable!

I recently attended the Deer Classic in Columbia as a guest of the Missouri Trappers Association, a long-standing sponsor of the Miss Missouri Pageant.  I signed autographs and visited with guests all morning, then had the opportunity to check out the vendor booths at the event.  From camouflage to a live Kodiak bear, anything and everything in the outdoors was there!  I met vendors from across Mid-Missouri and beyond who were there representing their various organizations, promoting wildlife foundations, selling hand-made goods, and learning more about the great outdoors.  Thank you to Jonathan and the Trappers for showing me a great visit!

Another classic in Columbia took place that evening – the Miss Columbia Pageant!  Congratulations to Miss Columbia 2010, Alexis Albright, a violinist who will be representing Columbia in the 2010 Miss Missouri Pageant!

School visits are always some of my favorite appearances, because I love working with children and teenagers.  I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Webster Groves High School in St. Louis, as I shared my eating disorders presentation with six different classes!  My visit was made possible through the McCallum Place Eating Disorders Treatment Center, my platform partner.  As a community outreach spokesperson for McCallum, I have been able to reach even more audiences this year with a positive message about eating disorders education and prevention.  Thank you to Mr. Wright and Mrs. Unterreiner’s classes for your excellent questions and attentiveness and for showing me around your school!

With spring just around the corner, I was so excited to head to the Lake of the Ozarks to be the Grand Marshall in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade! But in typical Missouri fashion, Mother Nature decided to send a cold front our way for the day.  Fortunately, any weather is good weather for having fun at the Lake, because the streets were lined with people excited for St. Patrick’s Day!  There was plenty of green, plenty of candy, and plenty of bling in the parade – I was joined by Miss Lake of the Ozarks – Sydney Friar, Miss Lake of the Ozarks Outstanding Teen – Taylor Deen, and the Little Miss Lake of the Ozarks title holders – Aiyanna, Siegrid, and Jasmine! A very special thank you to Wendy White for arranging our appearance and to Austin White for being my fabulous driver in the parade! I had so much fun catching up with my former board members, the new titleholders, and meeting new friends at the Lake this weekend!

Another school visit was in store for me Monday, this time in Vandalia, at the Van-Far elementary, junior high, and high schools.  I spent the morning visiting with each classroom from kindergarten through sixth grade, speaking about the Miss Missouri and Miss America Organizations, answering questions, and signing autographs for the kids.  Though many of the students had never seen the Miss America Pageant on TV, they all knew exactly what a beauty pageant was, even if they weren’t quite sure how one goes about winning a pageant.  The best explanation of the day was from a second grade boy when I asked if his class knew who Miss Missouri was.  His little hand shot up into the air and he was so excited to announce to his class, “YOU! You are Miss Missouri! And you won because you were the best lookin’ girl in the state!”  I will forever think of that little boy every time I have a bad hair day…

During lunch time, I met the older students and spent the hour signing autographs and taking pictures in between bites of the school lunch – a cheeseburger and fries that brought me back to my own high school cafeteria.

After lunch, we headed to the gym for an assembly with students from 7th grade through 12th grade.  This time, my presentation was a little different than usual – I spoke to them about character building and how to break the cycle of self-destruction.  I quickly learned that there was a significant drug, alcohol, and tobacco problem at this school, and shared my experiences as a juvenile drug rehabilitation mentor in college to illustrate to the students how one destructive decision now can affect them for life.  This was by far the most impactful school visit I have had all year.  After my presentation, students lined up to share their stories and ask advice about relationships, behavioral problems, and health issues they are currently facing.  For an hour and a half, we talked and hugged, laughed and cried, as the students opened themselves up.  I can only hope that I have changed their lives even a fraction as much as they have changed mine, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to visit the students at Van-Far.

One of the students I met there, JaLee, is actively involved in FCCLA and holds a state officer position, so after my visit, we spend some time chatting about leadership and fundraising ideas.  She told me that FCCLA had recently adopted the Children’s Miracle Network as its community service project, so I shared some of my experiences and ideas on how to promote the CMN in her school and community.  A few days later, JaLee emailed me to see if I would be interested in speaking to all the FCCLA students at their state conference in Columbia!  I was honored to join her at the Missouri FCCLA Conference and speak at a break-out session about FUNdraising, specifically on behalf of the new partnership with CMN.  Later in the afternoon, I accepted the money raised by the students for CMN – $1,250!  I am so excited about the partnership between FCCLA and CMN, and wish congratulations and the best of luck to all the organization’s members as they fundraise for the cause and for their own chapters.  I saw some familiar faces in the crowd too – students from schools I have visited this year, along with Missouri’s very own McKensie Garber (Miss Gateway to the West’s Outstanding Teen) and Samantha Caraway (Miss Kirksville’s Outstanding Teen)!  Thank you to JaLee and Van-Far’s FCCLA for inviting me to be a part of the day!

Next up was an event I have been a part of for six years – the Heartland Task Force’s Annual Daddy/Daughter Dance in Kirksville! I first became involved in this event as a member of Eta Sigma Gamma, an organization at Truman State University that sponsors and volunteers at this event.  I am a passionate advocate of the Heartland Task Force and the work they do to provide positive experiences and build strong relationships and personal character within the community of Northeast Missouri.  I was joined by Miss Northeast Counties – Mary Bauer, Miss Northeast Counties’ Outstanding Teen – Madison Chambers, Miss Kirksville’s Outstanding Teen – Samantha Caraway, and Miss Kansas City’s Outstanding Teen – Morgan Carnes.  We signed autographs, took pictures with the girls, and danced the night away!  I had so much fun catching up with Dr. Carol Cox, one of my professors from Truman State University, the members of Eta Sigma Gamma, and of course, my sister, a junior at Truman!

Bright and early the next morning, I headed to downtown St. Louis to emcee the National Eating Disorders Association Walk in Tower Grove Park.  With over 200 registered walkers, we had a great turnout to raise awareness and money for eating disorders.  Volunteers staffed booths selling eating disorders awareness ribbon jewelry, providing ED and behavioral medicine information, and contributing to a community art project by the attendees of the walk.  After coffee, fruit, and bagels provided by Starbucks and Whole Foods, walkers participated in a warm-up, and then they were off!  They took the one-mile route by storm, all in the name of their friends and families affected by eating disorders.

After starting the walk, I headed straight to Mexico for the Miss Missouri Contestants’ Orientation.  Although I missed the morning activities, I felt right at home with the contestants, directors, and volunteers when I arrived.  I shared my experiences as Miss Missouri, and talked to the contestants about what to expect leading up to pageant week and after the crowning, whether they win or lose.  I am so proud of our 24 contestants this year – they truly are a wonderful group of young women.  I am enjoying my last few months as Miss Missouri, but they are bittersweet, because as much as I love this job and all the opportunities it brings, I am so excited to see these girls in action and to see who will be crowned Miss Missouri 2010.

I have plenty more appearances and events on my calendar in the coming weeks, so I hope you’ll check back soon for more updates!

Until next time,


On the Road Again…

The dust has finally settled, and I am back in full swing traveling across the state of Missouri and loving every minute!  I have been privileged to share my platform with thousands of individuals this year, and National Eating Disorders Awareness Week was no exception. I kicked off the week with a visit to Maryville University as they celebrated “Body Pride Week,” a collaboration of campus-sponsored events to raise awareness for eating disorders and body image.  I was joined by Annie Seal, an advocate for eating disorders, and her daughter Katie, who is a recovered eating disordered patient.  We shared our experiences and answered audience members’ questions, leaving them feeling empowered to raise awareness and fight the epidemic of eating disorders in their school and community.

The next morning, I was up bright and early to head to Columbia for National Pancake Day at IHOP.  Children’s Miracle Network is the national platform of the Miss America Organization, and the local, state, and national title holders all serve as ambassadors, raising funds and awareness for the CMN-sponsored children’s hospitals across the country.  IHOP is a corporate sponsor of CMN, and on National Pancake Day, customers can receive a free stack of pancakes and make a donation to CMN.  I was joined by local title holders Melanie Collier (Miss Spirit of St. Louis) and Abby Grimmett (Miss Audrain) at the IHOP in Columbia, where we seated guests, waited tables, and collected donations all morning. I even had the opportunity to join Cosmo and JC of Y107 as a guest on their morning radio show as they broadcasted live from inside the restaurant!  Thank you so much to IHOP for your incredible support and generosity to the Children’s Miracle Network and to Molly, Brandy, and Laura representing CMN at Children’s Hospital – MU for allowing us to be a part of the day!

After a day of fun and flapjacks, it was time to get back to business, and I headed to Mexico for a Miss Missouri Board Meeting, where I spoke about my Miss America experience and had the chance to thank all the volunteers for their endless support, encouragement, and hard work to help get me to Las Vegas.  I was also excited to discuss plans for the 2010 Miss Missouri Pageant, which is celebrating 40 years in Mexico this June!  From camera crews to cocktail dresses for production numbers, we talked about it all! I am looking forward to seeing the production plans continue to unfold, and I can assure you that you’re in for one fabulous show this year!!

Next, I was off to Lebanon, Missouri, for Lebanon High School’s “Big Man on Campus” Show!  This was one event that couldn’t get here soon enough, because I had been hearing rave reviews and was so excited to be a part of it this year!  My first stop was to Hairy’s Salon, where I was truly treated like a queen.  After having my hair and makeup done for the show, I was greeted by the 16 contestants in the pageant – all senior boys at LHS!  We had a chance to enjoy appetizers while I learned about their backgrounds and why they wanted to become the BMOC. And then the walk-off began!  After sharing some of my modeling knowledge, the boys practiced their fiercest catwalk struts and received some last-minute finishing touches to get them ready for the show.  

This year’s theme was “The Notorious BMOC,” and the show featured all things old-school gangster.  With a soundtrack from the musical Chicago, and an entire cast of characters, LHS truly outdid themselves this year! The guys partnered up with members of the dance team for a fabulous opening number, and I had the opportunity to perform my Miss America talent – a tap solo to “Sing, Sing, Sing.”  When the pageant finally began, contestants like Derek “Sharp Shooter” Scovell and Anthony “Not So” Single competed in Swimwear, Talent, Evening Gown, and Onstage Question competitions.  Though the competition was fierce, the judges finally came to a decision:  First Runner-Up went to Dylan “Big Red” Burd, with his show-stopping talent performance of Michael Buble’s “Feelin’ Good” and Mr. BMOC was awarded to Dave “D. Smooth” Stewart, who undoubtedly stole the show with his custom evening gown, showing his wild side with plenty of zebra print detail!  Congratulations to all the men for competing in the show and raising money for the school’s Senior Night after Graduation!  Thank you to everyone in Lebanon who made my stay unforgettable and for inviting me to be a part of the show!

Mr. BMOC wasn’t the only one crowned that night…Congratulations to the newest members of the Miss Missouri family:  Amanda Sasek, Miss Moberly; Mary Bauer, Miss Northeast Counties; and Tippe Emmott, Miss Pulaski County!

With such a busy week behind me, I was excited to get back to St. Louis to wrap up National Eating Disorders Awareness Week at Washington University.  My audience for the evening was a very unique group – the sorority women from the Wash U campus, sponsored by Reflections.  I shared my educational presentation with them and answered questions about eating disorders, pageants, and stereotypes.  Then we participated in a group activity dealing with body image issues, pressure to look or act a certain way, and problems we face as women.  We ended the evening with a pledge to respect our bodies and break the vicious cycle of self-judgment, and we each wore a pink bracelet as a symbol of that pledge.  Thank you so much to Reflections for inviting me to speak and to all the audience members for being a part of NEDA Week.  Your willingness to educate yourselves and pledge to spread awareness are the most important part of ending the cycle of eating disorders and negative body image!

Be sure to check back soon for more stories and photos!



Life After Miss America

Welcome back! I hope you made it through my Miss America novel and are ready to hear my latest adventures! After returning home from Miss America, I had only one day to rest up before heading to the State Capitol in Jefferson City to lobby on behalf of eating disorders with local titleholder Jessica Sullivan, Miss Springfield.  We joined a group of speakers including Rebecca Lester, Katie Seal, and Coach John Culp to discuss why health insurance coverage for eating disorders is so crucial.  The legislative sponsors of our bill, Representative Rachel Storch, Representative Rick Stream, and Senator David Pearce, spoke about the legislative process and encouraged the crowd to continue educating elected officials about this disease.  Getting a bill passed takes consistency, effort, and commitment, and I am proud to act on behalf of this cause and represent this group.

As you know, the job of Miss Missouri is extremely diverse, so I went from lobbyist to lip sync judge in just a matter of 24 hours.  I was invited to judge Rock Bridge High School’s Golden Cow Lip Sync Competition as a celebrity judge alongside JT Tiller of the Mizzou Men’s Basketball team, JC from the Cosmo and JC Radio Show, and Emily Schromm from MTV’s The Real World, D.C.  The event featured teams of students and teachers lip syncing and dancing to everything from 90’s beats to today’s radio hits, all in the name of raising funds and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis.  It was a close competition, but prize went to the Seniors’ 90’s group as the winners of the event! Thanks to everyone at Rock Bridge for showing me the Golden Cow spirit and a great time!

My next stop was to West Plains, Missouri, to partake in the Outdoor Adventures Sports Show, where I saw a little bit of everything.  I had the opportunity to meet with sponsors and vendors from across Missouri and Arkansas, and everyone I met had something new to teach me about the great outdoors.  From sparkly bass fishing boats to stink bait, I had a great time at the event, and even had some time to catch up with my good friend Mary Bauer who was there to sing the national anthem.  One of the most interesting parts of the weekend was the turkey calling competition, where I learned that turkeys don’t just “gobble, gobble.”  I learned that they make sounds ranging from the fly-down cackle to the putt and purr.  After listening to some of the most vocally talented men in West Plains, I got to try my hand at bird calls.  I was the surprise guest entrant in the owl hooting competition.  That’s right, owl hooting.  Coming from the girl who thought all turkeys did was “gobble,” I’m sure you can imagine my owl hoot.  But I listened to the pros and did my best to imitate them, coming in first runner-up, just short of the grand prize – a pie from the Ozark Café.  Well, there’s always next time, right?

I left West Plains and headed back to Mexico, Missouri, to attend the Missouri Military Academy’s Annual Valentine’s Dinner and Dance.  This is one event I have been looking forward to since the day I was crowned and it was just as much fun as I anticipated.  Each year, the Junior Class hosts the Ball, and this year, they truly outdid themselves.  I was escorted by the Junior Class President for the evening.  After being presented with a rose wrist corsage, we dined with General Flanagan and his wife, among others, before beginning the Grand March.  As the court was presented, I crowned the Queen, and then the DJ took over and the Cadets danced the night away.  I’ve never seen so many men in uniform doing the Cha Cha Slide…or any men in uniform for that matter…but I guess it’s just one of the perks of my job 🙂

The next morning I headed to Chillicothe, Missouri, to attend another outdoor sports show on behalf of the Missouri Trappers Association, a proud sponsor of the Miss Missouri Pageant.  Remember when I said there’s always a next time? Famous last words.  I found myself in my second owl hooting competition not long after I arrived (I guess word travels fast?!).  This time, my opponent was the National Owl Hooting Champion, James Harrison.  Good news – I placed first runner up again! I also had the chance to meet with more sponsors and vendors from across the state and learn about what they do.  Thank you to the Trappers for their generosity and for a fun-filled morning!

Braving the ice and snow, I headed back to Mexico to attend the Miss Audrain Pageant.  I was so excited to see Miss Audrain 2009, Amelia Gandara, who now lives in Kentucky, so we had a chance to catch up before going to meet the contestants. It felt good to be back on “home turf” at a pageant, and to see so many familiar faces competing for a chance at Miss Missouri.  Congratulations to Miss Audrain 2010 – Abby Grimmett and Miss Audrain’s Outstanding Teen 2010 – Courtney Thomure!  

Being Miss Missouri always entails trying new things, so I tried my hand at a talk show just a few days later, appearing on the Best of the STL show, filmed in downtown St. Louis.  I had the opportunity to talk about my Miss America experience, my personal platform and work with Children’s Miracle Network, and give some “behind the scenes” pageant tips to all the aspiring beauty queens out there.  I had a blast and am really excited about the positive exposure this show will give to the Miss Missouri Organization.  Thank you so much to Gary Bogener for setting up the event and to Schalene Houston for ensuring the show went smoothly.  Keep your eye out for our episode!


As my post-Miss America whirlwind began winding down, the reality that local pageant season is winding down set in.  With just a few titles remaining, girls across the state are working hard for a chance to compete in the Miss Missouri Pageant in June.  Congratulations to the latest addition to the Miss Missouri Class of 2010 – Miss Greater Kansas City – Lauren Alumbaugh, Miss Kansas City – Kari Gai, Miss Greater Kansas City’s Outstanding Teen – Mattie Elliott, and Miss Kansas City’s Outstanding Teen – Morgan Carnes!

I have lots in store next week, so be sure to stop back by for stories and pictures!

Love, Tara

Miss America: The Novel

My journey to Miss America has finally come to an end, and what a ride it’s been!  I cannot even begin to find the words to describe my experience, but I really can say that I’ve had the time of my life.  If you don’t follow pageants, it may seem like going to Las Vegas to compete in Miss America was like a vacation in stilettos, but so much hard work went into preparing for this opportunity, and I want to take a moment to thank the individuals who helped me along the way.

Every bit of help I received was done at the hands of volunteers.  From the Miss Missouri board members to the sponsors and from the local directors to my prep team, you offered your time, your generosity, and your feedback because you wanted to, and I cannot say thank you enough.  To every single person who sent cards, emails, texts, and gifts of encouragement and support at my send-off party, to my room in Vegas, and when I returned home – thank you for your overwhelming support.  To my family and friends – thank you for being a part of this long and strenuous journey.  Thank you for being by my side to cheer me on along the way and for never giving up on me!  I represented the state of Missouri with great pride and I couldn’t have done it without each and every one of you.


When I arrived in Las Vegas, the first thing I saw stepping off the plane was a slot machine.  Typical Sin City? Perhaps.  But I think it was also a reminder of the next ten days to come.  A pageant is a complete gamble.  Each contestant is the very best in her state; each one is smart, talented, and giving; each one is ready for the job of Miss America.  I knew I had trained, studied, practiced, and prepared as hard as I could, and the rest was up to fate.  A gamble. 

After being picked up in a limo and checking into Planet Hollywood, I had just a few moments to unpack before being rushed to wardrobe fittings and filming private interviews for Miss America: Behind the Curtain.  Our first group event took place that afternoon, at the arrival ceremony where all 53 contestants were introduced and presented with a rose.  Just in case I forgot I was in Las Vegas or that I was competing in the Miss America Pageant, I was quickly reminded by the local paparazzi.  I have never seen so many camera flashes in my life, but it was kind of fun to feel like a celebrity for the week! It was also fun to be reunited with all the girls again since we hadn’t seen each other since Orlando in August.  And just when we thought we had time to breathe, our whirlwind week began. 

You can probably guess that it took a lot of practicing to perfect our opening production dance or to get our modeling patterns for Swimsuit and Evening Gown just right.  But here’s what you don’t get to see on television… When we woke up in the morning, we had to carry our entire day’s wardrobe around with us because we weren’t able to go back to the room to change.  We spent about eight hours per day rehearsing.  We’re very resourceful and will use any size mirror or shiny object to make sure our hair and makeup look picture perfect for our events throughout the day.  While we were treated to meals at some fabulous restaurants like PF Change and Buca di Beppo, most of our meals were spent at the Spice Market Buffet…and we ate like we were at a buffet!  And the part I’m most proud of is that as the week went on and the competition heated up, we didn’t change.  We stayed friends and genuinely supported each other.

Some of the highlights of the week were the Fashion Show Mall Event, where we all managed to chaotically organize ourselves in alphabetical order into a glass box, rise from the floor to a mass of cheering fans, and strut down the runway so fiercely that even Tyra Banks would have been proud!  

I also enjoyed the Pole Position Raceway Event, which showcased some of the fastest go-karts in the world and the contestants’ true talents of defensive driving.  While the top ten fastest times got to compete for the title of Miss Pole Position, awarded to none other than Miss New Hampshire (ironically, the only state where wearing a seatbelt is not mandatory), I proudly brought up the back of the race, placing second to last.  Disappointing? I think not! Rest assured, Missouri, that you and I are both safe while I’m on the roads!

Once the competition started, it felt like the journey was in fast-forward.  Late nights and early mornings turned into even later nights and even earlier mornings, and some days I got no more than 3 hours of sleep.  But the adrenaline really does keep a girl going, and thank goodness!  On Tuesday night, I competed in Swimsuit and Evening Gown; on Wednesday, Talent; and on Thursday, Onstage Question.  

My favorite part of my competition days has to be a tie between the time spent at rehearsal with the girls and the time spent at visitation with my family and friends.  I couldn’t happier to be blessed with such a supportive group, both onstage and off.  I knew my family and friends would be there with the perfect words of wisdom or cards to make me smile, but I was a little skeptical of my friendship the other 52 women.  As they say, Miss America is the Super Bowl of Pageants, and I wondered if things would change once the competition started or if the friendships I developed during those ten days would hold out after the heels came off and the hairspray washed out.  One of the most popular questions I’m asked is if the contestants are like the ones you see in movies such as Miss Congeniality or Drop Dead Gorgeous.  Well, I’m proud to say that they aren’t.  I spent ten days with some of the most genuine and authentic young women in America. 

If you watched Behind the Curtain, you probably already know about the little snafu with my talent costume – the clasp to my top broke just a few seconds into my dance, leaving me at the mercy of gravity.  But even though I wasn’t able to give 100% in that performance, I did the best I could given the circumstances, and I can honestly say I left Miss America with no regrets.  Although I didn’t come home with the crown, or even advance to the Top 15, I left as a better person.  I was honored to be recognized as a Quality of Life finalist for my community service work with my platform, “Education and Prevention of Eating Disorders,” which meant just as much to me as winning the crown because community service is what the Miss America Organization is all about.

The Olympics couldn’t have come at a better time to remind me that you can prepare and train for something for years, but in one moment, if the cards don’t fall just the right way, your fate can change permanently.  I have watched rookie athletes nail the perfect figure skating routine and break records in speed skating.  I have also watched veteran athletes crash on downhill ski slopes and miss shots they have successfully made hundreds of times.  What separates the winners from the losers isn’t a hundredth of a second in a race or a hundredth of a point in the Evening Gown competition.  It’s how you react to the situation and how you choose to respond.  Sure, I was disappointed that my name wasn’t called into the Top 15, but instead of dwelling on what I could have done differently, I chose to focus on what I learned as a result of being a part of such an incredible group of young women and the most intense competition I have ever been a part of in my 23 years.  I was ready to hit the ground running as Miss America, but instead, I came back to Missouri, ready to run harder and faster, and make the most of my remaining months as Miss Missouri and I am so proud to be back!

Here’s to the next four months,


Countdown to Vegas

Hello friends!  It certainly has been awhile since I’ve blogged, so we have a lot of catching up to do!  Just after the holidays, I headed to Jonesboro, Arkansas, with my mom to meet with one of my sponsors for Miss America – Shelley Kelley and Clark’s Bridal and Formal.  Shelly graciously has provided me with my walk-on gowns for Miss America, along with my onstage question dress, appearance cocktails, and my talent costume.  A special thank you to Shelley and her team for all their hard work and generosity to ensure I looked my best at Miss America! I had so much fun working with you all, and can’t wait to see you again soon!

Just a few days later, I headed to the Lake of the Ozarks to pass on the crown of my local title.  It was such a bittersweet weekend because I have grown so attached to the Lake board members, volunteers, and community during my year as Miss Lake of the Ozarks.  Without them, I wouldn’t  be where I am today, and I wasn’t quite ready to give them up! I don’t think they were quite ready to give me up yet either, because Mother Nature did everything she could to keep me from arriving in a timely fashion.  Battling rain, snow, sleet, and ice, I finally arrived in one piece to the Resort and Yacht Club, the official hotel sponsor of the pageant, and checked in to my gorgeous suite for the weekend.  Thank you to the Resort and Yacht Club for making me feel like a queen during my stay!  The next morning, I headed to see my friends Stacy and Steve at 101.9 The Wave for one final radio interview as Miss Lake of the Ozarks.  Then, it was off to finish shopping for Miss America!  I’m fairly certain that the Osseck family single-handedly keeps the BCBG store at the Lake Outlet Mall in business, because they know me by name!  No one should ever shop that much…  But once again, the girls at BCBG had me looking fabulous and ready to head to Vegas by the end of our shopping trip. 

It was great to see so many familiar faces competing for the Miss Lake of the Ozarks and Outstanding Teen titles, as well as so many new ones!  With eleven Miss and five OT contestants, we had our work cut out for us at rehearsal, but the show went off without a hitch!  I owe a very special thank you to every single person who played a part in helping me become Miss Missouri this year.  I love you all so much, and you each played such an important role in helping me to achieve my dream.  Thank you for an incredible year and for your constant support and encouragement!  Congratulations to Miss Lake of the Ozarks 2010 – Sydney Friar – and Miss Lake of the Ozarks Outstanding Teen 2010 – Taylor Deen!!  You girls have such a great year in store for you and I am so proud to call you sister queens.

(L to R): Miss Missouri’s Outstanding Teen – Lauren McCreight; Miss Missouri – Tara Osseck;  Miss Lake of the Ozarks – Sydney Friar; Miss Lake of the Ozarks Oustanding Teen – Taylor Deen

Sunday morning, my family and I packed up and headed to Mexico for my Miss America Send-Off Party!!  I had anticipated this day since I was crowned back in June, because that point marked the final countdown to Miss America.  I have been working so hard for the past six months and was so excited for my family, friends, and pageant fans to see!  I owe a huge thank you to Presser Hall at the Missouri Military Academy for allowing us to use the auditorium, to Bruce Oliver and Edward Jones for sponsoring the event, and to Phil Kimmi for hosting the send-off.  I modeled everything I would be taking to Miss America, from my arrival outfit to my walk-on gowns, and everything in between.  I received really encouraging feedback from the audience and Miss Missouri board members, which gave me that extra boost of confidence I needed before I hit Vegas!!  Thank you so much to my special performers – Lauren McCreight, Stephanie Patton, Maggie Rowland, and Mary Bauer.  Without my involvement in the Miss America Organization, I would have never met these four incredible young women, and I am so thankful they shared their time and talents at the send-off, but more importantly, for being such great friends.  Another big thank you to everyone who came out to show their support – your words and gifts meant so much more than you’ll ever know!

I had one last appearance before heading to Miss America – the military base at Fort Leonard Wood.  I spent two days visiting the troops there and signing autographs for some promotional events at the Commissary.  During my first day on base, I helped promote a healthy eating campaign sponsored by the Commissary.  With professional chefs doing a live cooking demonstration and plenty of free samples of healthy foods, the troops and their families were in store for a treat. We even had SpongeBob SquarePants on hand to help me greet the little ones!

On the second day, I kicked off the fundraising efforts for the Special Olympics, sponsored by Proctor & Gamble.  Ever since college, I have been involved with the Special Olympics, so to expand my efforts to the Fort Leonard Wood area was a great opportunity.  I owe a big thank you to everyone who helped make my visit possible and especially to our troops for their service and sacrifices.

Until next time,


Winter Travels

Hope you’re all staying nice and warm in this winter weather!  I thought I’d take a break from Christmas shopping and cookie baking to share some of my most recent holiday events with you.

I was recently invited to join the Mexico Chapter of P.E.O. (Philanthropic Educational Organization).  P.E.O. was initially founded by seven women in 1869 and has since grown to almost a quarter of a million women in the United States and Canada.  The P.E.O. Sisterhood is passionate about its mission: promoting educational opportunities for women, and the women in Mexico are extraordinary examples of that mission.  I joined them for their December meeting at Mexico Country Club where we were treated to a delicious dinner and dessert.  Afterward, I had the opportunity to speak to the chapter about my journey toward becoming Miss Missouri, preparations for Miss America, and the educational opportunities which have been provided to me through my participation in pageants, similar to the educational opportunities their organization promotes for young women.  It was wonderful to see so many new faces during the evening, but I had the chance to catch up with some very familiar faces to the Miss Missouri Organization – Susan Atkins, Executive Director of Miss Missouri; Pat Gruber and Jackie Barnett, Head “Dorm Moms”; Nancy Oliver, Contestant Hostess; and Judy Dye, Host Mom to Miss Missouri for the past 24 years!  Thank you to the P.E.O. of Mexico for welcoming me so warmly and for the opportunity to learn more about what you do and share in our passion for promoting education.

I was so exited to travel to Hannibal, Missouri, for the Miss Hannibal and Miss Mark Twain pageants later that weekend.  The trip was twice as much fun because I was joined by Miss Gateway St. Louis, Erika Hebron, and Miss Gateway to the West, Katy Reed!  Congratulations to the new title holders, Mindy Jennings – Miss Hannibal, Jenna Terry – Miss Mark Twain, Katie Walker – Miss Hannibal’s Outstanding Teen, and Maddie Steele – Miss Mark Twain’s Outstanding Teen!  And a very special thank you to the Hannibal community – contestants, directors, parents, and volunteers – for such an appreciated welcome and all the good luck wishes as I head to Vegas in a few short weeks.

After the crowning of Miss Hannibal – Mindy Jennings and Miss Mark Twain – Jenna Terry

Miss Mark Twain’s OT – Maddie Steele & Miss Hannibal’s OT – Katie Walker

Catching up with Miss Hannibal 2009 – Amanda Morrall

Not long after returning from Hannibal, I headed off to Waynesville, Missouri to visit my longtime friends at Waynesville High School.  This was my third year returning to speak to the students there, but without a doubt, the most exciting one!  I spent the day with over 500 students talking about goal setting, making positive decisions, and reaching their dreams.  Having graduated from high school in 2004 myself, I always enjoy speaking to this age group because we have so much in common, especially in terms of overcoming obstacles.  Thank you to Sean McCullough, Will Harris, and Tammy Beckler of the Health and Physical Education department for arranging my visit and to Ginger Keeton of the Science department (and my aunt!) for a fabulous visit!

After my visit to Waynesville High School, I stopped by the military base at Fort Leonard Wood to visit my uncle and the employees and armed forces – and to spread a little Christmas cheer.  After meeting so many wonderful people and learning about our shared interests, I was invited back in January for some promotional events.  I can’t wait to share more details soon!

My most recent school visit was to the Adrian R-III School District in Adrian, Missouri, near Kansas City.  Of all my school visits this year, Adrian has made the top of my list.  I had the chance to read one of my favorite books, Not Norman, to the elementary school students.  Not Norman is about a little boy who has a pet goldfish – the namesake of the book – but he isn’t satisfied with Norman as a pet.  During the story, the little boy encounters many different situations, and throughout all the trials and tribulations, Norman is always there for him.  Afterward, we shared stories about our own pets – and these kids had some very interesting pets!  Since many of them live in the country, cows, horses, donkeys, and ducks were all crowd favorites.  I used to have a pet duck too, named Oliver.  But since we don’t live on a farm or in the country, Oliver got his water time by swimming in our bathtub.  I bet you can imagine how much my parents loved that!  Well, the kids thought it was hilarious, which spurred all sorts of fun stories about their own pets.

Kids say the darndest things.  Like the four little boys at the table in the picture above.  Their little cluster was called the “Missouri Table,” and when they learned that I was Miss Missouri, they wanted to know if I came to be the queen of their table.  They were adorable.  But the funniest quote of the day came from a first grader who asked me my name.  I told him my name was Tara, and he looked crushed.  When I asked him what was wrong, he said, “You were much cooler when I thought your name was Missouri.”  Trying to keep a straight face, I asked him why he thought my name was Missouri.  “It says so right there on your name tag. Duh!”  He meant my sash.  Shame on me for not labeling myself properly 🙂

I also visited the fourth graders who had so many great questions to ask me about being Miss Missouri and what I am doing to prepare for Miss America.  The most asked question everywhere I go, no matter the age group?  Everyone wants to know how I keep the crown on.  They didn’t fall for my duct tape joke, but they were quite impressed at how some simple elastic and bobby pins can work wonders.  They asked me plenty of questions to prepare me for my Miss America interview too – everything from politics to global warming.  These kids sure know their stuff!  Thanks for the mini mock interview, Blackhawks!

Mid-morning I headed to the gym to speak to the high school students about the dangers of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use and how to make good choices, even in the face of peer pressure.  I shared some powerful stories about the years I spent as a mentor in a juvenile drug rehabilitation center in Kirksville, Missouri, and what it is like for young people struggling with addictive disorders.  I had my second question-and-answer session for the day with the high schoolers, who wanted to know everything from how I would solve the ongoing economic crisis in the United States…to my shoe size.  I love young minds.

A few hundred autographs later, I was treated to a delicious Italian lunch prepared by some of the students.  I had the chance to chat with many of the students and learn more about them and their town.  Thank you to Principal Chris Shanks for helping coordinate my visit and to everyone who contributed to the day!


Wishing you happy holidays,



Magazine Madness

I was featured in Saint Charles Magazine’s Winter 2009 issue along with Mrs. America 2010, Andrea Robertson, which hit newsstands on December 1.  If you’re not from the St. Charles area and didn’t get a chance to pick up a copy of your own, I hope you enjoy our article below!

Crowned Jewels of St. Charles County

We must be doing something right in the area, because we have the distinct honor of being home to both Mrs. America 2010, Andrea Robertson, and Miss Missouri 2009, Tara Osseck.  If the first thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘pageant’ is overly made up little girls with pushy stage mothers, be prepared to change your way of thinking.  Last year alone, the Miss America Organization and its state and local organizations made available more than $45 million in cash and scholarship assistance – the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women – making the pageant system a very viable option when it comes to funding a college education.  While the Miss America program exists to provide personal and professional opportunities for young women to promote their voices in culture, politics, and the community, the Mrs. America pageant is the foremost competition for married women, devoted to emphasizing that America’s 70 million married women are extraordinarily beautiful, poised, articulate, and versatile.

Saint Charles Magazine recently had a question and answer session with these two talented, passionate women, and here’s what they had to say:

When did you earn your current title, and what is your next competition?

Miss Missouri:  I was crowned Miss Missouri on June 6, 2009, and leave for the Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas on January 21.  After three nights of preliminary competition, Miss America 2010 will be crowned live on TLC on January 30.

Mrs. America:  I was crowned Mrs. Missouri in March 2009 and Mrs. America in September 2009.  The competition for Mrs. World is currently underway and will be decided November 22nd in Vietnam.

What charities are closest to your heart and why?

Miss Missouri:  As Miss Missouri, I serve as the state’s goodwill ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network.  This charity is important to me, not only because it is the national platform of Miss America, but because I spent the last year working in a children’s hospital and am working toward a career as a pediatric hospital administrator.  On a daily basis, I witnessed how CMN provided care and changed the lives of patients and their families.

The other charity I actively advocate for is the National Eating Disorders Association.  I became involved with this organization after my college roommate struggled with a severe eating disorder for two years, and I realized how little knowledge the general public has on eating disorders.  With my background as a health educator, I have been able to reach thousands of students to educate them on developing a healthy body image and proper health practices to prevent this disease from escalating further.

Mrs. America:  I am an ambassador for the Women’s Sports Foundation and a board member for the St. Charles chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  I also hold a special place in my heart for the Open Arms Adoption Ministry at my church.

What impact do you think pageants have on the self-esteem of young girls?

Miss Missouri:  In the right environment, pageants can do wonders for a young girl’s self esteem.  Pageants provide a forum for girls to develop social skills, public speaking skills, performance opportunities, and poise.  The most common misconception of child pageants is that behind every girl is a ‘stage mom’ pressuring her to win – but this is the exception, not the rule.  Most parents provide a healthy environment for their daughters to learn the value of competition and develop character, just as the parents of children on sports teams do.

Mrs. America:  I will say that in judging the pageants that I have been a part of, it is amazing to see how well prepared and intelligent those young girls are.  It is interesting because they are called beauty pageants but the scoring is typically 50 percent interview.

What other activities are you involved in?

Miss Missouri:  I started dancing competitively at age three, so I’m happy to still have opportunities to perform my talent.  I also volunteer at McCallum Place, which is an eating disorders treatment center in St. Louis, in partnership with my personal platform, “Education and Prevention of Eating Disorders.”  But prior to being named Miss Missouri, most of my time was spent as a graduate student at the University of Memphis, working on my Master’s in Health Administration, and working as an Administrative Resident at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee.  I had to take a year off from both, as being Miss Missouri is a full-time job, but I am planning on returning to complete my degree next year.

Mrs. America:  I am a competitive triathlete, and a member of the St. Louis Triathlon Club and TriSmart USA triathlon team.  I actually just qualified for Team USA to compete at the World Championships in Budapest Hungary in 2010.  I LOVE coaching my daughter’s soccer team and helping coach her and my son’s basketball team with my husband.

What are the best and worst things about this kind of competition?

Miss Missouri:  The best part of competing in a pageant is the personal and professional opportunities gained from the experience, win or lose.  The most difficult part of pageants, as in any sport or activity, is maintaining a healthy, competitive edge mentally.

Mrs. America:  I love to be challenged and Mrs. America was one of the greatest challenges I have ever taken on.  I think the time it takes to prepare s a bit of a challenge, but in the end it is definitely worth it!

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

Miss Missouri:  I would like to thank the Miss Missouri Organization for the opportunity to visit schools and speak with students from kindergarten through college.  It’s the part of the title that I enjoy the most.

Mrs. America:  I would like to thank local business owner Jennifer Bonacorsi from U Design Jewelry for sponsoring me and supplying all of the jewelry to coordinate with my competition wardrobe.  Also, I would like to thank everyone for their well wishes as I represent our country in Vietnam.

I was also featured in two other magazines this month – Streetscape Magazine in an article about health, nutrition, and fitness and Missouri Life Magazine featuring my famous gooey butter cookie recipe!  Hope you get a chance to check all the articles out this month!

Best wishes,


Home for the Holidays

There’s nothing like gearing up for the holidays with a pumpkin spice latte…and thank goodness I had a supply of them as I set out for over 2,000 miles on the road over the past few days!  My first stop was to Columbia, Missouri, where I met with my protocol and interview coach, Melanie Brown, over lunch at Sophia’s.  Melanie and I have been working diligently to ensure I am at my best for my Miss America interview and in the right state of mind during the next few weeks before I leave for Vegas.  Afterward, I set out for a little shopping in downtown Columbia, where I discovered a store called “Breeze.”  It has only been open for a few months, but if you haven’t stopped in yet, you must!  Breeze has the most adorable clothes, shoes, and accessories, with a great staff to boot.  Thank you so much to everyone at Breeze for their help in picking out some outfits, and for providing me with a fashion-forward belt to take to Miss America!

Friday evening I donned my cutest little black dress (compliments of my clothing sponsor for the year, Cache!) and removed all my makeup before heading to model in a fashion show fundraiser benefitting the Rainbow House of Columbia.  Seems a little backward, right??  Well that’s because the spectacle of the event was for the crowd to watch the models get ready for a night on the town in one of three holiday looks – festive, feminine, and fierce.  Through hair by Salon Rouge, makeup by Skintuition Medical Spa of DeSpain Dermatology Center, and jewelry by Perlow-Stevens Gallery, two other models and I transformed simple black dresses into hot looks for the season.  A special thank you to the sponsors listed above for sharing their time and talents and to the Perlow-Stevens staff for hosting the fundraiser.  By selling raffle tickets for $100 gift certificates to each of the sponsors’ facilities, we raised $443 for Rainbow House, a local children’s emergency shelter and advocacy center for neglected and abused children.

Makeup courtesy of Skintuition Medical Spa

Models “decked out” with Festive, Flirty, and Fierce looks

Posing with the Salon Rouge Staff, proud sponsors of Miss Missouri

The next morning, I headed to Osage Beach for the Professional and Business Women’s Expo.  Over 70 local businesses had booths set up at the expo to sell merchandise and services – everything from one-of-a-kind jewelry to energy drinks!  I had a table, too, representing the Miss Lake of the Ozarks Scholarship Pageant and the Miss Missouri Organization.  I signed autographs, sold copies of Sam Haskell’s Promises I Made My Mother, and talked about my experiences as Miss Missouri and preparing for the Miss America Pageant.  As many of you know, the Lake of the Ozarks was home to my 2009 local title, so it’s always so much fun to return to visit!  Thank you to Wendy White and Melissa Carroll of LO Profile Magazine for making my visit such a success!

As soon as I was finished at the Expo, I headed straight for Jackson, Missouri, for the Miss Jackson Pageant.  With six Miss contestants and five Outstanding Teen contestants, it was great to see so many new and familiar faces!  I had so much fun catching up with Mary Bauer and Laurie Clippard, the Jackson title holders for 2009, and hearing about their plans for the coming year.  Congratulations to Darbi Fuhrman, Miss Jackson 2010, and to Jenna Terry, 1st Runner Up!  Thank you to Terri Tomlin and Kirk Williams for hosting a wonderful pageant and for welcoming me so warmly to Jackson – and to Kirk for throwing a fabulous after-party for the judges, volunteers, and new queens.  Kirk, this is my official application to be a future judge for your pageant, if it means I can have some more of your famous home-made meatballs 😀

Miss Jackson 2010 Darbi Furhman & First Runner-Up Jenna Terry

Miss Jackson’s Oustanding Teen 2010 Adrienne Burfield & First Runner-Up Jessie Ritter

Sunday morning took me back to Columbia for the annual Jaycee’s Holiday Parade!  I have never seen so many excited children at one parade in my life, nor have I seen so many perfect Miss America waves…it was hilarious!  Thanks to the beautiful weather, we had a great turnout for the parade, and I had no need for the Snuggie Lou packed, just in case. But I’ll save that story for another day!  I owe a big thank you to Susan Atkins for letting me ride in her convertible and to Lou and Alice Leonatti for driving me in the parade.  We had a blast!!

Monday morning, I headed to Kansas City for interview prep and talent review.  After putting the finishing touches on my dance and music with the help of Bill Wolfe, I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief! At long last, we have a routine that I cannot wait for everyone to see!  Thank you to Phil Kimmi and Bill Wolfe for all their advice and feedback.  I am feeling more and more prepared for Miss America every day, which is good news because I leave in only 58 days!

Now, with a much-anticipated few days off to spend with family and friends over the holidays, maybe I’ll have just one more pumpkin spice latte… while I think about all I am thankful for, this year more than ever.  I hope your family has a very happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing you the best,