Oklahoma Sweetheart Ashley Ehrhart was crowned Miss National Sweetheart Sunday night at the National Sweetheart Pageant in the McFerren Park Civic Center.

Ehrhart was selected out of a field of 26 contestants from across the country by a panel of distinguished judges from the pageant world.

Ehrhart is a veteran of pageant competition having competed in the Miss Arkansas competition of the Miss America Organization from 2017-2019, earning second runner-up in 2017 and the Miss Oklahoma competition in 2021, earning third runner-up.

Ehrhart is a 2019 graduate of Arkansas State University where she majored in psychology. In her contest entry form, Ehrhart said she selected this major because she has always been passionate about advocating for positive mental health and created the “Defeating Depression: Promoting a Healthy Mind” initiative, which works with businesses, schools and her state’s legislative members to ensure that a healthy mind is a possibility for everyone.

Her platform statement for the pageant reflects this:

“There’s hardly a warning and you don’t see it coming, but its bite demands to be felt. Depression – an invisible illness that disrupts more than 260 million people’s lives. I know this because I was once one of them. In February of 2016, I was diagnosed with depression. The devastation of a global pandemic has left millions of people feeling as I once did: crippled with anxiety and consumed with sadness. I believe now, more than ever, is my time to stand up and speak out about an illness that attempts to grip the hearts of so many people. I take it as my duty to share my story to show that I have defeated depression, I have created a healthy mind, and I am in control of my joy and happiness. My platform focuses on the reality that depression is a battle, but it can be won, and it’s done through developing a healthy mind.

While depression can affect anyone, at any age, I have focused a majority of my time reaching young people about depression as 1 in 5 youth experience a mental health crisis. I know that through using my voice to speak, my ears to listen and with the opportunities presented to me, I will start a change in the way depression is seen, not just as an illness, but as an opportunity to — just as I have — achieve a healthy mind.”

As for why she wanted to compete at the National Sweetheart Pageant, Ehrhart said the pageant’s focus on tradition appealed to her.

“The National Sweetheart Pageant is about tradition. The tradition of the National Sweetheart Pageant is one of celebration, adaption and growth. I want to be a National Sweetheart Contestant because I believe that I represent the tradition of the pageant. I represent celebration as I consistently look for ways to celebrate not just my own community, but communities across my state. I represent adaption as I continually adapt my personal platform to ensure that I am working to meet the needs of not just a few, but of all. I represent growth as I look for ways to grow myself, working daily to become an effective leader, inspiring mentor and generous friend. This pageant challenges young women while giving us the tools to be successful not just during pageant week, but beyond. It would be an honor to be a part of this pageant’s tradition.”

Pageant Results

The top 10 contestants were: Kentucky Sweetheart Chapel Tinius, North Carolina Sweetheart Anna-Claire Musick, Florida Sweetheart Madison Zavitz, Illinois Sweetheart Isha Jog, District of Columbia Sweetheart Hannah Menzner, Tennessee Sweetheart Noelle Thompson, California Sweetheart Katie Tessier, Ohio Sweetheart Jaeleen Davis, Missouri Sweetheart Holly Enowski and Oklahoma Sweetheart Ashley Ehrhart.

Later in the evening, the field was cut down to the final five.

The top five were: Tennessee Sweetheart Noelle Thompson, District of Columbia Sweetheart Hannah Menzner, Oklahoma Sweetheart Ashley Ehrhart, Florida Sweetheart Madison Zavitz and Kentucky Sweetheart Chapel Tinius.

When it came time to announce the final results, Zavitz was named fourth runner-up, Tinius was named third runner-up, Menzner was named second runner-up and Thompson was first runner-up.

A variety of awards and scholarships are also presented during the pageant. The winners are listed below:

Pat Musk Talent Award: Idaho Sweetheart Sarah Blum

Interview Award: Oklahoma Sweetheart Ashley Ehrhart and District of Columbia Sweetheart Hannah Menzner

Overall Talent Winner: Tennessee Sweetheart Noelle Thompson

Erica Hemphill Award: Vermont Sweetheart Meera Seerly

People’s Choice Award: North Carolina Sweetheart Anna-Claire Musick

Miss Congeniality Award: Iowa Sweetheart Anna Masengarb

Director’s Award: California Sweetheart Katie Tessier

Exercise in Medicine Award: Tennessee Sweetheart Noelle Thompson

STEM Scholarship: Indiana Sweetheart Hallie Wright

Misti Runge Award: Massachusetts Sweetheart Kensi Riley and Maine Sweetheart Nicole Steinhagen

Community Service Award: Utah Sweetheart Katie Hae Hae

Ronnie Reed Community Service Award: Tennessee Sweetheart Noelle Thompson

John Bitner Award: Vermont Sweetheart Meara Seery

Bonnie Berglund Award for Parade Wear: Wisconsin Sweetheart Abby Miller

Eva Leanza Cornett Memorial Scholarship: Ashley Ehrhart

Creating Memories

Prior to crowning the winner, the top five were each asked to share what memory from their time in Hoopeston stood out for each of them.

“There are so many things to be thankful for in Hoopeston,” Tinius said. “You all have the most amazing hospitality that we could ever imagine.”

Tinius said the memory she would remember the most was going to enjoy the carnival rides in McFerren Park with her fellow contestants.

“It was so much fun, we rode bunches of rides,” she said. “I’m a thrill seeker, so we were riding the ‘Scrambler’ and making plans to go see each other in our respective states and I’m thinking about how amazing these friendships have been coming out from here.”

Menzner echoed Tinius’s sentiments about building lasting friendships with her fellow contestants.

“I’m definitely going to remember the friendships I made,” she said. “Especially with my two roommates Florida [Sweetheart Madison Zavitz] and Massachusetts [Sweetheart Kensi Riley]. We had an absolute blast staying with our host mom, Angie. I will never forget our late night chats, putting together our national costumes.”

Menzner recalled a funny moment from the night before the pageant as they were laying out their dresses and realized that they all had a hot pink interview dress and they were interviewing one after the other.

“And so, we started calling ourselves ‘The Pink Ladies,’” she said. “So I will never forget my ‘Pink Ladies.’”

For Thompson, spending time in Hoopeston allowed her learn more about corn.

“I learned so much more about corn,” she said. “We enjoyed incredible sweetcorn at the assisted living facility with some of the residents when we were visiting, which was absolutely incredible. We had an ag presentation from a local farmer this morning and he told us all about their crops and how they grow them and the ways that they work. I had no idea that I would come here and learn so much about corn and have the best corn that I’ve ever tasted in my life!”

Ehrhart’s memory took place on the civic center stage earlier in the week while surrounded by her fellow contestants.

“I got to stand alongside my sisters when I found out I made the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder dance team,” she said. “And the girls were so supportive it made me cry to stand here with them as they cheered me and hugged me and congratulated me.”

Ehrhart’s story had a funny addendum to it.

“Shortly after I found out I was a professional dance, I walked right down this runway and took a tumble right off the stage,” she said. “Again, they were there to encourage me to hop right back up and jump on stage and finish the production we were rehearsing. So my memory is not only falling off the stage, but getting to celebrate being a professional dancer with my new sisters.”

Zavitz shared her appreciation for the hospitality she and the other contestants received from the community and their host families.

“I think the highlight of my week was watching everyone get ready and get into their parade cars,” she said. “Everyone was so excited and so supportive of each other’s outfits. Everyone was so creative and everyone had a story to tell with their outfit. It was just really fun to learn all these little bits and pieces of everyone’s state.”

Zavitz also gave praise for the National Sweetcorn Festival Grand Parade.

“I see a lot of parades in my time working at Disneyworld,” she said. “This is the best parade by far.”

Miss Hoopeston’s Farewell

During the final night of the pageant, Miss Hoopeston Asti Scharlach, who was first crowned in 2020 and held the role throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, gave her farewell address.

Schlarlach started her speech by discussing the opportunities the National Sweetheart Pageant creates for young women across the nation.

“The National Sweetheart Pageant is such an amazing opportunity for young ladies across the country to compete on a national level,” she said. “Being able to watch this pageant during my childhood and teenage years has given me so much inspiration and led me to where I am today.”

Scharlach also pointed to the joy she had in sharing her reign as Miss Hoopeston with her family, especially her mother, Denise, and sister, Terra, who have both held the title of Miss Hoopeston.

“I am so humbled and excited to be able to share my reign with both my mother and my sister. To have the common bond of not only family, but the title of Miss Hoopeston, is a once-in-a-lifetime event. They truly have been my rock throughout this all.”

Scharlach thanked the National Sweetheart Pageant staff for all the work they put into the pageant each year.

“Another big thank you goes out to the Hoopeston Jaycees,” she said. “This has been one of the best experiences of my life.”

Scharlach also thanked her Miss Hoopeston Coordinator, Megan Brown West, for stepping into the role on short notice and has “completely rocked it since.”

“This week would truly not have gone so smoothly without her being here,” she said.

Scharlach took time to thank her boyfriend, Ethan, for being so supportive of her role as Miss Hoopeston and doing everything she could ask for.

“From waking up early to pass out candy at parade to carrying dresses and shoes for me just so I wouldn’t have to carry anything,” she said. “I appreciate you so much.”

“To my family, thank you is not enough to express my gratitude to you all,” she said. “You have done everything to ensure that I have the best experience possible. I wouldn’t be up here today if it wasn’t for the support and encouragement of you all. To Avery and Haleigh, my favorite little sister, thank you for always telling me how beautiful I look before any event and for passing out candy at parades no matter how much you wanted to actually watch the parade instead of walking and passing out candy for me. I appreciate you two so much. To my older sister, Terra, thank you for the countless times you’ve helped me get ready for appearances and making me look amazing as always. Also, thank you for allowing me to have unlimited access to your closet anytime I felt like I had nothing to wear. To my dad, thank you for being the ideal queen dad from turning your trailer into a dressing room on wheels to opening your wallet to make sure I had the most stylish wardrobe possible. To my mom, thank you for making sure I was always at my best and looking my best for every appearance. It was nice and a great time having you alongside.”

Restarting the Pageant

The 2020 National Sweetheart Pageant was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it came time for the pageant organizers to begin the year-long process of preparing for the pageant, there was some uncertainty.

Pageant Co-Executive Directors Cliff and Michelle Crabtree spoke about the process of restarting the pageant after a year off.

“To say the least, the last three or four years have not been easy for us,” Cliff said. “Last year, with some pandemic or something going on, we weren’t allowed to have it. We met in January as a team to try and figure out what to do. The first 10 minutes of our meeting were pretty quiet, everybody just kind of sat around the table. ‘Do we want to do this? Do we not want to do this?’ And pretty soon somebody says ‘Well, let’s plan this.’ We got together again in a month and ‘Let’s do this’ and here we are again, somehow, with an amazing staff that donates a lot of time and effort into it and here we are again for another fantastic year.”

Cliff thanked the corporate sponsors of the pageant and the Hoopeston Jaycees specifically for the money that they put into the pageant.

“We couldn’t do this without all those people,” he said. “We’re always looking for new ideas, new sponsors, new feedback on what we can do to make it a better show, so reach out to us.”

Michelle thanked all of the pageant staff and organizers and contestants and the contestant’s parents for making the pageant a success again this year.

Cliff also thanked the community organizations who sponsored meals and refreshments for the contestants and judges throughout the week.

He also thanked the judges themselves for traveling to Hoopeston and being a part of the pageant.

To see more from the pageant, including photos and video, check www.thehoopestonchronicle.com. Also be sure to check out next week’s edition for a story about two former pageant contestants who returned to visit the pageant after competing in it more than 50 years ago.

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