By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
Amid the sea of beauty queens in Hempstead Hall along with an estimated crowed of 275, two big winners emerged Sunday night at the Miss Ouachita River pageant, an official Miss Arkansas and Miss America preliminary.
Tiffany Lee, of Benton, walked away as the new 2019 Miss Ouachita River, punching her ticket to the Miss Arkansas pageant in June, and Hope, Arkansas, which hosted the prestigious pageant for the first time ever Sunday and may well have it back in Hempstead Hall again next year.
Afterwards her father, Tony Lee said “We’re excited; we are so excited about it. Tiffany decided she wanted to pursue this a few weeks ago, and she got in there and worked hard, and now here she is.”
Tiffany Lee, age 22, does have a regional connection in southwest Arkansas as she is currently a student at Arkadelphia’s Ouachita Baptist University, majoring in Mass Communications. Lee also was named Talent winner, performing a tap dance, and Evening Gown winner in a strong field of 10 candidates.
“I am so excited, so excited for her. She loves Arkansas and loves being a part of Arkansas, and I think she would be a great representative for Arkansas, too” Tony Lee said.
Tony Lee recalled a story where growing up, a young Tiffany Lee went to a school career day dressed up as “Miss America 2020.” As it turns out, later this year, Miss America 2020 will be crowned, but Tiffany Lee’s next stop, as the new Miss Ouachita River will be the Miss Arkansas pageant on June 9 in Little Rock.
The current Miss Arkansas 2019, Claudia Raffo, made a special guest appearance at Hempstead Hall, both performing an artistic dance, and congratulating Lee. Also appearing was the Miss Arkansas Outstanding Teen Claudia Cathey.
In the Miss Ouachita River Outstanding Teen competition, Anna Marie Wright, of Jonesboro, won the title to succeed Sydni Whitfield. Wright also was named talent winner for her musical theatre vocal of “Vanilla Ice Cream.” Also, competing against a strong field, Wright emerged over eight candidates for the crown.
Several familiar faces and names from the southwest region competed Sunday night, including Glenwood’s Jordan Jones, who had been in Hope last year, winning 2018 Miss Southwest District Fair Queen; Ryann Grubbs of Delight, younger sister of Reagan Grubbs; Allison Garner of Amity; Blaise Batson of Arkadelphia, and Dawn Coffman of Ashdown.
There were also several familiar faces and names behind the scenes as Pafford EMS CEO Jamie Pafford-Gresham of Hope now serves as Executive Director for the Miss Ouachita River pageant, and her daughter, Suzie Barham, was assisting Sunday night as a co-director. Many of the same people involved with Hope’s Miss Southwest Pageant, which happened back in January, were on hand Sunday as well.
Afterwards Sunday, Barham said the Miss Ouachita River pageant had historically been hosted in El Dorado, but this year due to scheduling, it had been relocated to Hope and Hempstead Hall. Barham noted that Hempstead Hall had recently hosted the Miss Southwest Pageant, which Gresham and Barham also oversee.
“Since much of our team for Southwest was already here, it made sense to have it here. We did it as an almost carbon copy of the Southwest pageant, and everything went smooth,” she said.
Barham also said while the Southwest pageant qualifies candidates from southwest Arkansas counties, the Miss Ouachita River pageant is an open pageant, which qualifies young women from throughout the state, and on Sunday, brought them and their families into Hope and Hempstead Hall.
“Yes, we had young women from all over the state in this facility; it is really a great location. We are so blessed and grateful to have a place like Hempstead Hall,” Barham said, “We were in here all day. We had interviews in here; they had hair and makeup; that had all of their gowns, and we even had snacks. It was just a really great place to house everybody and to bring everyone to a place called Hope.”
By Rick Kennedy, managing editor