OREGON – As a former 4-H’er and member of a farm family, Renee Gehrke is very comfortable in the friendly confines of the Ogle County Fairgrounds.
And that comfort level came through loud and clear to the judges Aug. 3, when the 19-year-old from Byron was crowned 2022 Miss Ogle County.
Gehrke, whose family operates a cattle farm near Byron, was chosen from a field of six in the Wednesday night contest.
“I am just so excited right now. I am in disbelief,” she said after being crowned. “I am so excited for this whole entire year to serve Ogle County and really represent what we are about.”
The queen and her court will attend many events in the next year, representing the Ogle County Fair.
Little Mr. and Little Miss were the first winners announced, with Little Miss going to Aniyah MacMaster, 8, of Monroe Center and Little Mr. going to Brycen Legue.
Young Miss was Onyx Doan of Monroe Center, and Junior Miss was Kaelin Schafer, 15, of Oregon.
Agriculture has been an integral part of Gehrke’s life with her family owning and operating Gehrke Family Farms.
“I am super proud of that. We run it together as a family,” she said. “I have showed cattle all throughout the years. I didn’t bring any to the fair this year, but it is still one of my huge passions.”
Gehrke attended Highland Community College and was an intern with the Ag in the Classroom program this summer. She will attend Iowa State University this fall to pursue a career in the ag industry.
“I hope to be giving back to my community and the organizations that have made me who I am today, such as 4-H, FFA and so many more,” she said in her contest bio. “I want to help younger members of our society become future agriculturalists and inspire them to chase their dreams.”
Gehrke rolled the dice when she bought her evening gown online just one month before the pageant.
“I got it off the internet, and I couldn’t return it,” she said, laughing. “It ended up fitting perfectly. Huge gamble but worth the risk.”
Haylee King, 20, of Byron was first runner-up, and Brooke Titov, 20, was Miss Congeniality.
Outgoing 2021 Miss Ogle County Emma Thurow of Davis Junction passed the queen title to Gehrke after giving a long, tearful goodbye to the audience.
“It has been an honor to be your queen,” she told the crowd. “The Ogle County Fair and fair pageant have given me so much. From my fist time onstage in 2008 to being the first triple crown winner, I have grown up with a love for this county in my heart. Early mornings at the wash rack to late nights in the grandstands, this place has become my home.”
Thurow was named Young Miss Ogle County in 2015 and Junior Miss Ogle County in 2017 before becoming Miss Ogle County in 2021.
The pageant mimics the Miss Illinois Queen Pageant, in which the 2022 Miss Ogle County winner will compete for the title of Miss Illinois County Fair Queen.
The “queen” is judged on the following: a personal interview with the judges; a one-minute speech; physical fitness; onstage questions; and evening gown stage performance.
The announcement was the last contest of the evening.
Pageant director Michelle Jozefowicz estimated that Thurow had traveled 8,000 miles during her tenure as Miss Ogle County and thanked her staff, judges and sponsors for all their support.
The pageant, along with carnival rides and tractor pull, kicked off the five-day fair. Upcoming events include 4-H livestock judging, a rodeo Friday, a demolition derby Saturday night and a horse show Sunday.