County Fair Royalty

Naturally, the new Effingham County Fair Junior Miss Elizabeth Weidner (left) and County Fair Queen Maria Lueken would be drinking milk and showing off their smiles while helping with the annual Dairy Show.

By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
When Maria Lueken heard her name called out as the 2017 Effingham County Fair Queen last week, she lowered her head and had a brief Wow-But-What’s-Next moment.
“I thought, ‘This is amazing and I can’t believe this is happening.’ But then I thought here we go. It’s going to be a one busy year, but a really good one, too,” Lueken said last week, less than 36 hours after she was crowned Fair Queen.
Last Thursday, the country-music-loving gal from Teutopolis was still soaking it in as she prepared to help hand out ribbons for the 4-H Dairy Show, along with Effingham County Fair Junior Miss Elizabeth Weidner, who had been crowned two nights before the queen pageant.
Like many 20-year-olds, Lueken is connected on social media through her smart phone, but she had not yet had time to read or respond to all the congratulatory messages. She will be a junior at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Giradeau this fall and was impressed by one message from her friend and college roommate, Brooke Hewlett.
“She was at a John Mayer concert with her boyfriend and she sent a message saying, ‘Not only screaming for John Mayer, but screaming for you, too.’ I thought that was great,” Lueken said.
There is an affable quality with Lueken that came across before she stepped into the show ring. Her brown eyes light up when she is talking to you. And smiles and laughter come naturally.
That makes sense because she has been meeting the public this summer through her job as a teller at Washington Savings Bank. She also works at Stevens Industries. One wonders how many little boys have blushed bright red when the tall brunette says hello to them while handling transactions with a parent. In many ways, the bank work helped Lueken gain more confidence after her first try as a pageant contestant a year ago.
“Last year, I was just going through the motions. Through the bank, I got more and more support each day. The bank stuck to it. They had a poster made of me and put an ad supporting me in your newspaper. It was a lot of attention and it made me really feel good,” Lueken said.
But it did make her a little nervous. Still, the Teutopolis High graduate knew how to think on her feet. She was not fazed by the unseasonably cooler weather on pageant night, even though she felt a chill by walking on the stage in a bathing suit.
And she easily altered her speech due to the slight drop in the mercury during fair week.
“The weather messed up my speech. I was talking about moments, like being happy and sad. I was going to add being hot to that. But I couldn’t because of how cool it was,” Lueken said.
As the Dairy Show competitors brought out their cows, Elizabeth Weidner talked about how becoming the Junior Miss was truly a dream come true for her.
“On Sunday night, I thought wow! My dream has finally come true. Since I was five, I wanted to be Junior Miss,” the 13-year-old said as Lueken talked with some young girls volunteering to help with passing out the awards. “And Emma Hewing is one of my best friends. She crowned me because she was last year’s Junior Miss.”
Weidner’s blue eyes widened and her winning smile opened up as she watched Maria talking with the young helpers, including a little boy, who seemed to blush when the fair queen leaned down and asked him a question.
“Maria is one of my neighbors. She was a pomerette at Teutopolis High School. That’s what I want to do when I’m in high school,” Weidner said. “I used to gather around the Fair Queen when I was younger. I used to ask the pageant director if I could have my photo taken with the queen. And now, I’m with the fair queen.”
Both of them have great talent. Weidner is an accomplished dancer and public speaker. Lueken enjoys singing and speaks with confidence, as well.
The county fair is definitely Weidner’s territory. She has shown calves, swine and chickens. So the Dairy Show was a natural venue for her. She and Lueken had already had a “girl moment” together when they joined in the fun at the tractor pull competition last Wednesday night.
“Maria was trying to drive a tractor and I think she broke it with oil running out of it,” Weidner said while laughing. “But she got to pull with another tractor.”
Weidner grew up visiting her grandfather’s farm, but was not mechanically inclined apparently. “I think I almost broke grandpa’s lawn tractor once,” she said while shaking her head.
There was a huge cheering section in the grandstand whenever Weidner took the stage during the Junior Miss competition on Aug. 6. Many of her fans were wearing “Team Elizabeth” shirts in recognition of her battle with cancer over the past two years. She said she is doing well, with her treatment schedule past her for now.
“I knew people were cheering because they knew I wanted my dream to come true. They helped make it happen. That made me feel good,” she said.
Lueken knows what Weidner and her family have faced. In many ways, she looks up to the Junior Miss.
“Getting to know Elizabeth more has been the best part of this. As much as she looks up to me, I look up to her even more. She is a beautiful, resilient person,” Lueken said.