By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
As the Miss Ouachita River pageant arrived at Hope’s Hempstead Hall on Sunday, the official Miss Arkansas and Miss America preliminary brought with it several familiar faces in the legion of beauty queens and contestants that appeared.
Among them was 2017 Spring Hill graduate Cait Light, who is the newly-crowned 2019 Miss Southern Arkansas University, recently winning the title in Magnolia, and succeeding another well-known name to region, Reagan Grubbs.
Light, now a sophomore at SAU majoring in Elementary Education, performed at Hempstead Hall on Sunday during the Miss Ouachita River pageant with a vocal performance of “Unchained Melody.”
“It seems like its been forever, but its only been two years,” Light said, “And, I am home all the time. I love being here with my family. I live on campus, but I come home any chance I get, but I love being at SAU, too, absolutely.”
For years at Spring Hill High School, Light was a star athlete in basketball as well as a Bear cheerleader, and she was a regular on the school’s honor roll.
Serving as an SAU President’s Ambassador, Light, now 20, no longer participates in competitive athletics as she said “I’m just a student, so I’m not doing sports anymore, though I do miss it. I loved basketball.”
Light, who had been singing in church, upped her game for pageant world as she entered the Miss Southern Arkansas University pageant.
“I’ve been taking vocal lessons since I started training for the Miss Arkansas preliminaries. It actually happened last year at Miss SAU, which was my first time to sing alone in front of people. It’s been a lot of fun. I actually love it,” Light said.
Winning as 2019 Miss Southern Arkansas University, Light punched her own ticket to Little Rock on June 9 for the 2019 Miss Arkansas Pageant. Awaiting her will be the winner in Hope on Sunday night, the new Miss Ouachita River Tiffany Lee as well as her predecessor queen at SAU, Reagan Grubbs.
Reagan Grubbs, from Delight, is presently attending graduate school at UA Fayetteville, and she is now the new 2019 Miss Arkansas River. She will be making her second consecutive appearance at Miss Arkansas in June, where she won a swimsuit preliminary last year.
Grubbs made her name in Hope two years ago emerging as the winner of the Southwest District Fair Queen Pageant, and she was in Hope again cheering on her younger sister, Ryann Grubbs, who competed in the Miss Ouachita River Pageant on Sunday.
“Yes, I was the 2017 Miss Southwest District Fair Queen,” Reagan Grubbs recalled. She has since graduated from SAU with BA in Agri-Business, and she now lives in Fayetteville. Grubbs said she has been back in Hope a couple of times, including in January at the Miss Southwest Arkansas pageant, also held in Hempstead Hall.
As for her sister’s appearance at Hempstead Hall, Reagan Grubbs said “I love the fact that she is getting up here on stage; she actually saw me last year at Miss Arkansas. and she’s seen the confidence and how I’ve grown through this organization. So she said she wanted to complete, and I said ‘Great, let’s do it.'”
Ryann Grubbs, age 21, is herself a senior at Southern Arkansas University, studying Agriculture Education.
“So, I’ve been her pageant coach, hair dresser, and big sister through it all. I love being able to watch her grow. This is her third preliminary, and she is improving every time she competes,” Reagan Grubbs said.
After finishing second runner-up on Sunday in Miss Ouachita River, Ryann Grubbs will travel next to the Miss South Central pageant next weekend. If Ryann Grubbs is successful, then she and Reagan Grubbs could have the unique distinction of being the first sister-and-sister contestants simultaneously at the 2019 Miss Arkansas Pageant.
Another Miss Southwest District Fair Queen was in Hempstead Hall on Sunday as Glenwood’s Jordan Jones participated in the Miss Ouachita River Outstanding Teen competition. Jones finished second runner-up on Sunday night.
Other names and faces from southwestern Arkansas in Hope on Sunday included Allison Garner of Amity; Blaise Batson of Arkadelphia, and Dawn Coffman of Ashdown.
The two universities in Arkadelphia were well-represented at Hempstead Hall on Sunday. Coffman, a graduate student at Henderson State University, received an academic award during the pageant as did Madeline Martin, a sophomore at Ouachita Baptist University.
Jenna Lovett, a junior Biology student at Henderson State University also competed in the pageant, and the eventual winner on Sunday night, Tiffany Lee, is a senior at Ouachita Baptist University.
There were also several familiar faces and names behind the scenes as Pafford EMS CEO Jamie Pafford-Gresham of Hope 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 were on hand Sunday as well. Pafford EMS was one of the Miss Ouachita River pageant’s major sponsors.
As a sidebar, the aforementioned Cait Light also served as a bridesmaid at Barham’s wedding in November 2018 at the Hope Airport. Both are graduates of Hope’s Spring Hill High School.
Barham was also a previous pageant winner, and she went twice to Miss Arkansas, once as Miss Ouachita Baptist University, and then as Miss Southwest Arkansas.
“I’m an old has-been at this point,” Barham joked afterwards, “But, I know on this side of things, I’m investing in young women, whether it is just mentoring them, or being there for them. I think it is really cool that we can be a stepping stone for them in their overall growth as a human being. It is just a neat thing to see them on this journey and learning more about themselves and serving people in the process.”
By Rick Kennedy, managing editor