The Arkansas Angels Pageant was held Saturday in Beebe with the organizer and one of its angels missing.
Organizer B.J. Thorn of Vilonia, who has spent months formalizing the first Arkansas pageant for special needs children, was at the bedside of her daughter Andrea Thorn at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. Andrea Thorn planned to participate. Yet, she was hospitalized earlier in the week and required emergency brain surgery Saturday during the event.
State Representative Andy Mayberry, from the Saline County area, served as the emcee for the majority of the event. His opening remarks included an explanation as to why the organizer was missing from the ceremony. "B.J. can’t be with us," he said. "She’s at her beautiful little girl’s bedside. Andrea has had a little problem. But this is her dream and Andrea’s dream."
Andrea Thorn, he said, inspired her mother to organize the pageant. She wanted to be in pageants just like her sisters. Mayberry also told about his wife Julie’s decision to start a dance class for special needs children after their daughter wanted to know why she couldn’t attend her sister’s class. That is how the Mayberry family and Thorn family met, he offered.
Prior to the contestants walking on stage, Andrea Thorn’s twin sister Bailee sang the National Anthem. Mayberry asked that everyone have fun but not to expect that everything would go on without a few glitches referencing the absence of B.J. Thorn. Yet, throughout the six hours, all appeared to go off without a hitch.
Many times, Mayberry referenced the many volunteers, as well as his desire to do a good job—honoring the dream of the Thorn family.
"This pageant is not about perfection," he told the audience. "It’s about a bunch of beautiful little girls wanting to experience life."
Also, many times throughout the event, an update on the Andrea Thorn’s condition was announced. As well, several prayers were said.
More than 100 were contestants in the event, several from Faulkner County. However, five states had contestants. One family, the Phillip Ventura family, said they drove 300 miles from Texas allowing their 5 year old daughter Audrey Rose to participate. Two set of grandparents also drove—one driving more than 400 miles.
"We just wanted Audrey Rose to be able to do this," Phillip Ventura said. "This is the first pageant that we have found for her. She’s loved it. It has just been wonderful."
Contestants walked on stage, they rode in wheelchairs and they were carried. They smiled, they cried tears of joy and so did the audience. Boxes of tissue were available on every isle. Volunteers were from many walks of life and career fields helped throughout the day. Those crowning included state and local royalty as well as a couple of out of state crown holders including the former Miss Georgia Teen USA.
Throughout Mayberry made an attempt to keep the event light and lively. The audience laughed when he turned the attention to his name. He said his father had a sense of humor naming him after the television character Andy Griffith.
"I could have been called Opie, Gomer or Goober," he said. "Thank you very much. I’m happy with Andy."
At one point, he surveyed the stage and said, all of the contestants have the ability to "melt the hardest of hearts." He provided details on some of the contestants conditions. Many were born with difficuties. One girl, he said, was a regular in beauty pageants until she was in an accident at 15. Another, he said, has problems speaking but has been to Las Vegas four times to see the USA pageant and wanted to participate. Another girl is teaching an under classmate to read in Braille. Another six year old reads at a 12th grade level.
"Every child in this pageant is making a significant difference in somebody’s life," he also said.
A few breaks in the pageant, names were drawn from a barrel and prizes were handed out. Also, Judi James of Crowned By The King Ministries, based in Conway, awarded several of the moms by giving them necklaces bearing a crown. Placing it around one mom’s neck, she told the mom she was "given a special assignment by God" to take care of a special person.
Nearing the end, Andrew Rippy of Vilonia, provided about 10 minutes of comic relief. The audience laughed as he delivered several jokes.
"I may be autistic," he said, on a serious note. "But, it doesn’t dictate where I have to go in my life."
Minutes before the pageant ended, Mayberry announced that Andrea Thorn had made it out of surgery and was in recovery.
"She’s doing well," he said.
Dr. Chad Rodgers, Amber Neumeier, an R.N. in the emergency room at UAMS and Kathy Green of ARBONNE served as judges. Green said, after the event, that she was thrilled to be a part of "fulfilling so many special children’s amazing dream."
Unlike many pageants, all contestants walked away with a title, crown and sash. Many titles were as unique as the contestant and included such names as Twinkle Toe Princess, Ambassador of Angels, Sir Spins A Lot and Best Air Kisser.
The overall winners were: Tiny Miss Arkansas Angel (0-2) Meredith Bradshaw; Toddler Miss Arkansas Angel (3-5) Hannah Hawkins; Little Miss Arkansas Angel (6-9) Gianni Bunton; Junior Miss Arkansas Angel (10-13) Destinee Stivers; Miss Arkansas Angel (14-21) Alicia Watson; Little Mister Arkansas Angel (0-6) Carter Holmes and Mister Arkansas Angel (7-21) Cameron Smith.