Story by CAROLINE CARMICHAEL
Celeste Montgomery of Verbena has grown up competing in pageants both inside and outside Chilton County. Through the crowns that embrace her brow she stretches to embrace those she encounters in the community.
It is the main point of the crown, she said.
Montgomery is Miss Swedish Festival 2018, and she says her crown is for the Chilton County community.
“Making a difference in our community is really important to me because you always want kids — and even teens and adults — to know that we’re not just girls who get dressed up and get to put a crown and sash on,” Montgomery said. “We do have big hearts, and we really want to help our community in any way that we can.”
Her reign will end in October 2019.
Applying at the maximum age for a contestant in the 2018 Miss Swedish Fest pageant, the then-19-year-old Montgomery was pleasantly surprised to be granted participation in the competition.
She aimed to win a title that would serve her community while building her character and supplying scholarship funds for her nursing studies at Jefferson State Community College Shelby-Hoover Campus.
Yet serving as this year’s Miss Swedish Fest has accomplished more than that.
Besides personally inspiring others from her anti-domestic-violence platform, Montgomery said impacting the Chilton County community alongside “county queens” primarily consists of community service projects.
So far, these have included a Pancakes and Pajamas benefit at a local eatery, several parade appearances, Trick-or-Treat the Streets, an angel tree at Thorsby City Hall and more.
Montgomery said these events are efforts “to help our community and make sure they feel that we love them.”
Although community service projects have been a main focus of her 2018-2019 reign, being a role model to other girls — especially little girls — has been Montgomery’s heart.
“Right when you put a crown on your head and a sash on your body, and you walk out into the community, you don’t realize how many people actually do look up to you,” she said. “Even when you don’t have the crown on your head, people are still looking up to you — but especially when you are going out as the title holder.”
Montgomery recalled some little girls’ comments when the queens were featured on a local television show: “One day we’re going to be onstage just like you, and we’re going to be able to get a crown and sash.”
“I just think that’s so important because a lot of people don’t have the confidence you do until you start pageants or whatever your hobby may be,” she said, speaking from experience.
Montgomery described herself as a shy young girl when she first began competing in local pageants. It was the pageants, particularly ones with interview portions, that taught her the confidence she has today.
“You have to come out of your shell; you have to talk to them if you really want the title you’re going for,” she said. “That’s really important to me, to be able to show people that it’s a little intimidating at first, but it’s really a good experience.”
Greatly due to the relationships she cultivates with fellow participants, pageant interviews have become Montgomery’s favorite portion of the competition.
“I’m definitely getting to meet people in the interview portion. It’s a really big part of why I enjoy it,” she said.
“When you live in the county, especially Chilton County, it’s so small, so you already know most of the people (fellow contestants),” she explained. “But, really getting to interact with girls, especially other pageant girls — it’s a really cool experience because you may think you know someone, but you really get to know them when you spend a whole day to compete with them.”
Montgomery said getting to know her “queen sisters” has been one of her greatest joys as Miss Swedish Festival 2018.
“It’s been so fun!” she said. “I knew that I would be close to my queen sisters, but it’s been really a good experience getting to understand and know who they are, just personality-wise. Because each one of my queen sisters has such as big and beautiful personality, and they’re all so different also. That’s really important to me: to get to be a role model to not only my sisters but other people in the community.”
Montgomery said she strives to remain genuinely herself in order to set an example for the individuals she encounters. It is the responsibility of bearing the Miss Swedish Fest title, and the role she hopes most to model.
“That’s really important to me,” she said, “to make sure that I keep certain aspects of myself and my personality true, to show other people that they can be who they are.”
The Miss Swedish Fest Pageant is held each October in Thorsby as part of the annual Swedish Festival celebrating the town’s heritage.