Craving competition and new challenges, Ashley Voeller, a 20-year-old from Hallsville, started entering local pageants. Early on, she realized she loved the atmosphere that surrounded pageants and the support she got from competitors who quickly became her friends.

“We practice talents together. We do mock interviews together,” Voeller said. “And it’s not, ‘Oh, there’s only one winner.’ It’s, ‘We’re all rooting toward a common goal.’”

Voeller and 23 young women will compete in the 2021 Miss Missouri Pageant on June 16-19 in Mexico, Missouri, after the pageant was delayed a year because of COVID-19.

Voeller holds the title of Miss St. Charles County, a preliminary pageant for Miss Missouri that she won in January 2020. If she wins Miss Missouri, Voeller will be crowned by reigning 2019 Miss Missouri and 2020 MU graduate Simone Esters and go on to compete in the Miss America pageant.

As part of the pageant, the women are asked to find a social impact initiative. Voeller created “Healthy Nutrition for a Stronger Generation,” a plan to better educate children and adults on healthy eating and how it can fit into their everyday lives.

“I like to tell people my passion behind it is because I’m a dietetics student,” said Voeller, a rising junior at MU.

Beyond her social initiative impact, Voeller hopes to encourage people to step out of their comfort zones and try something they otherwise might not think they could.

“Talking in front of large groups wasn’t necessarily my forte,” Voeller said. “I’d never done evening gown before. The private interview especially was really scary.”

Once she pushed herself, she said, her interview skills greatly improved. And Voeller, a 2019 graduate of Heritage Academy in Columbia who grew up on a Hallsville farm, relied on her 12 years of dance lessons and 10 years of competitive dance to perfect her stage presence and get her through new situations.

“I’ve always been the kind of person who doesn’t get nervous up until I’m right about to go on stage. And then I get super, super nervous,” Voeller said. “And so, I just calm myself down the same way. I kind of take deep breaths, and I remind myself that I’m a hard worker and that I’m prepared, and that’s going to show.”

  • Hannah is a summer reporter at the Columbia Missourian. Studying investigative journalism. Reach her at hrbk34@umsystem.edu, or in the newsroom 882-5720.

  • Elizabeth Brixey is the Columbia Missourian's education editor and an associate professor in the Missouri School of Journalism. She can be reached at (573) 882-2632 and brixeye@missouri.edu.

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