When considering whether or not to participate in last year’s Jacktown Fair Queen Competition, Amber Finch had her doubts.
“I was kind of on the fence because I wasn’t sure how well I could handle the pageant,” the 17-year-old from Wind Ridge said. “It wasn’t until a couple weeks before the pageant that I made the decision to become a candidate. A lot of it has to do with the confidence I gained from the support of my mom and friends.”
To determine the winning candidate, a panel of judges interviewed the competitors, listened as they introduced themselves modeling evening dress attire and told the fairgoers what the fair meant on a personal level.
“I let the audience know that I can’t remember ever missing a fair since I was a little girl and looked forward to this amazing community event each year to meet a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a while,” she said.
When the judges made their decision and chose Finch as queen, she said she was overwhelmed and so excited that, when they handed her the microphone, she couldn’t think of what to say.
During the pageant, Amber’s parents, Allen and Bonnie Shough, best friend, Savannah Milliken, and family cheered from the audience. That evening, Finch stayed until closing time, taking photos with fairgoers. Every fair day afterwards, she arrived early in the morning and passed out ribbons to winners of the livestock competition.
Throughout the year, she participated in the Rogersville and Waynesburg Christmas parades and the King Coal Festival. In January, she and her mother drove to Hershey to take part in the Pennsylvania State Fair Queen Pageant, where she underwent the same qualifying procedures she experienced at the Jacktown Pageant.
“Even though I didn’t win (the state pageant), I met so many nice girls and learned to be more comfortable speaking in front of a large audience,” she said. “As part of the pageant, I explained to the crowd of around 1,000 why I thought people should attend the Jacktown Fair - that it has something for everyone like the livestock competition, games, great food, the carnival, tractor pull and a chance for the 4-H kids to judge some of the livestock. I also mentioned it is a family-oriented event.”
For the past five years, Finch marched in the Jacktown parade with her high school cheerleading squad. This year, as queen, she’ll ride in a Mustang convertible.
She said her favorite aspects of being queen is walking around talking to people at the fairs and being part of the parades.
As someone with years of experience enjoying the fair, she said the biggest change she’s seen is the fair organizers’ use of social media, where they now post the day’s events and photos of the fair on Facebook and Instagram. She also tries to encourage other girls to become a fair queen candidate by posting photos of things she did this past year to show them how much fun she was having.
On Tuesday, July 16, she will hand her title over to a new queen, an event she said she finds bittersweet.
“I loved being queen, but realize it’s time for someone else to have the same experience,” she said.
She advises the next queen to never take things for granted and enjoy the moment because the year passes by so quickly.
“I’d advise the next queen to treat people the way she’d like to be treated and, if someone isn’t the nicest to them, to respond with respect and kindness,” she said. “Also, always have a smile on your face because you never know how much that might help someone.”
After completing her senior year at West Greene High School, Amber will attend boot camp as an enlisted member of the Marine Corps in June of 2020. She said she’s always been interested in the military and that her brother, Wyatt, enlisted in the Corps and both her grandfathers served in the Army.
“When my brother went off to boot camp, that really sparked my interest,” she said. “I also got a lot of encouragement from my recruiter, Sgt. Ryan Luckie. If I didn’t serve my country in the military, I think I’d feel my life would be unfulfilled.”
While in the Corps her job designation will be special intelligence communicator and, after her 4-year stint, she plans to go on to college and major in forensics.