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Zoey McClintock, pictured with Princess Bobbie Hilmer, is one of many girls who hope to be Queen.

When she heard the words, “And the 2016 Benton County Fair Queen is.... Payton Sash,” a dream that began when she was a little girl finally came true.

Payton was in 4th grade when her family took her to the Iowa State Fair, and she saw the Queen.

She still smiles as she recalls that day, and reminisces about how she decided seven summers ago that when she was old enough, she would try to wear the crown.

Benton County Fair Princess Bobbie Hilmer has also dreamed of becoming fair royalty for a long time.

About 10 years ago, when her father, Robert, was racing at the Benton County Speedway, a Benton Co. Fair Queen rode a lap in his car. Bobbie doesn't remember that Queen's name, but she remembers the impression the Queen made on her.

“Little girls look up to the Queen,” she said.

Since that night at the track a decade ago, Bobbie, too, dreamed of wearing a crown and representing Benton County.

Now with rooms full of trophies, medals, photos and ribbons from their years in 4-H, Payton and Bobbie are making the same kind of impression on the little girls of 2016 – girls who are just earning the first of the trophies and ribbons that will eventually fill their bedrooms. The Queen and Princess have even met young girls who are already telling their parents they want to be Fair Queen some day.

Zoey McClintock turned six years old the day they crowned Payton and Bobbie. Her family and friends had gathered at the McKenna Patio for a party on Thursday evening, a few hours aver Zoey's very first show at the Fair.

“Zoey has been loving her first time working with pigs this spring, and she was very excited to show,” says her mom, Kelli. “She placed 2nd in the Novus class for Showmanship with a gilt named Bacon. She got to show Bacon again as a market gilt.”

And like many other girls, Zoey has already indicated her desire to be the Fair Queen some day.

“She says she would love to do that some day,” says her mom.

Zoey was one of many girls who had her photo taken with Fair Royalty; she posed with Princess Bobbie.

Breck Coffland is about the same age Payton was when she first met a Fair Queen. She showed “Thor,” the middle weight steer and overall Grand Champion Market Beef trophy winner.

Breck has already begun asking her parents what she has do to in order to become the Fair Queen, says her mother, Amanda.

The previous Fair Queen also grew up looking up to the older girls who wore the Fair Queen crown, without realizing that one day, she too, would have that opportunity.

“I always looked up to the Fair Queen, and it was a long time before I realized regular people could run,” says 2015 Queen Sarah Kreutner. “I didn't realize I could run for Queen until about two years ago.

The contest was “a huge growth experience,” says Sarah.

“I didn't know what I could handle until I did it,” she says.

As one of 100 County Fair Queens meeting visitors to the 2015 Iowa State Fair, Sarah met many people, yet one little girl stands out.

“There was one little autistic girl that we met. She was very shy, but with five Queens offering to take a picture with her, her smile got bigger and bigger with each photo – it just made her so happy,” Sarah recalls.

And to all the little girls who look up to the Fair Queen, the woman in charge of the Fair Queen program has two words of advice: Try it.

How to become Fair Queen; guidelines for the annual contest

Angie Becker reminds all girls that almost any girl can become a Fair Queen candidate:

The guidelines for the Benton County Fair Queen candidate are few and simple:

Persons interested in competing for this honor must meet the following criteria:

· Be at least 16, but not more than 21 years of age at the time of the contest.

· Have never been married or have had children

· Must have been an active, member of one service organization in their community, (i.e. 4-H, Scouts, FFA, Church Group, etc.)

· Are not professional models.

A panel of judges is chosen each year. Becker summarizes the process:

Candidates will be judged during a personal and group interview on awareness; their leadership, citizenship, and contributions to their community; and their overall appearance, charm and poise. The judging will take place prior to the Benton County Fair. The new fair queen will be crowned in July at opening ceremonies of the Benton County Fair. Individuals participating in the contest will also receive miscellaneous prizes.

Also, says Becker, candidates not chosen as Queen in any given year are allowed – and encouraged – to enter the contest in later years.

Both 2016 Queen Payton and 2016 Princess Bobbie were candidates also in 2015. Bobbie was named First Runner-up last year; the 2015 candidates chose Payton as their Miss Congeniality.

“I tell all the candidates each year they can re-run up until they are 21, whether they received awards or not,” says Becker. “We have had candidates who had not won any previous awards and they had run for three years eventually ended up as Queen. We have had a Princess from the previous year run and become Queen and years when and new candidates receive the awards. So just because they have run in the past does not mean they will receive the honor of Queen/ Princess/ Runner-up. Miss Congeniality is voted on by the candidates.”

Often, at the end of the contest, the judges will offer advice to the candidates about improving their presentations for future contests.

When the judging process takes place the judges do not know if candidates have entered the Queen contest, unless it comes out in their interviews.

This year, says Becker one judge was the 2015 Iowa State Fair queen and one was the 2000 or 2001 State Fair Queen, along with two other people who gave done different kind of judging and who do not know any of the candidates.

“They may be local but I try to find get someone who doesn't know the candidates and families,” Becker explains.

As she does each year, Becker will attend the State Fair to meet the Benton County Fair Queen and to show her support for the State Fair Queen.

“Before the coronation at the BBQ they have, I am there to support our Queen,” says Becker.

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