The 2006 Apple Queen chose to do more than sign autographs and wave from a convertible, and she hopes the 2007 winner follows her example.
â€œTake advantage of every opportunity to go out in the community and make a difference because you only get one year,â€ said Valerie Fite, 20, who will crown the newest Apple Queen Saturday night at the James W. Warren Citizens Center.
Fite, a West Lincoln High School graduate and student at Appalachian State University, has come home every week of her reign.
Sheâ€™s given speeches, visited nursing homes and talked to students in all 23 Lincoln County schools.
Sheâ€™s also perfected the pageant-queen presence.
â€œI finally got my wave down at the end of the year,â€ she said.
Fite considers herself more of an athlete and student than a beauty queen.
â€œIâ€™m definitely not a pageant girl,â€ she said.
Or at least she wasnâ€™t a pageant girl.
â€œI wasnâ€™t into the whole scene, but itâ€™s really grown on me this year,â€ she said.
Fite has discovered that when wearing a crown, all sorts of doors open. She started a mentoring program at her alma mater, worked with the Special Olympics and spoke at Relay for Life, the March of Dimes and the United Way Keel Club Leadership Dinner.
She says the speaking engagements never made her nervous.
â€œMaybe itâ€™s being a ministerâ€™s daughter and being up in front of the congregation,â€ she said.
She believes her lifelong faith also helped her gain the crown. Before the interview, which counts 40 percent in the competition, Fite made a point to pray. After that, she felt fine.
â€œI just started talking like I talk to my friends,â€ she said.
The swimsuit competition was a different story.
â€œThat was weird â€“ just walking out in front of over a thousand people in a two-piece, that was a little unnerving,â€ she said.
Her advice to 2007 contestants?
â€œBe yourself â€“ donâ€™t look to the left or the right,â€ she said.
Saturday night will be the last time sheâ€™ll wear her crown (which requires a pile of bobby pins and barrettes), and she wonâ€™t be too sad to let it go.
â€œThe hardest part was putting the crown on,â€ she said.
She will, however, miss all the other things that go along with being the reigning Apple Queen. The children she spoke to, however, wonâ€™t soon forget her position.
Over the past year, sheâ€™s learned that little eyes are always on her, whether sheâ€™s wearing her crown or buying shampoo at the grocery store. Whenever she meets a young fan, she tells them, â€œWhatever you set your mind to, you can do it.â€
As for Fite, sheâ€™s set her mind on graduating college and pursuing a law degree.
â€œI know I can make a difference going into law,â€ she said. â€œI can help people.â€
Want to go? The Miss Lincoln County Apple Queen Scholarship Pageant takes place at the James W. Warren Citizens Center in Lincolnton Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and children 12 and under.
by Sarah Grano