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Beauty queen
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Last weekend, Stacey Rook saw her lifetime dream come true. Donning a sparkled blue evening gown and an even brighter smile, the Covington native and Walton County resident entered her first pageant as part of the 2007 Mrs. Georgia-America pageant in Roswell, winning first runner up.

Rook, 24, had always wanted to be a beauty queen. Growing up as the youngest of three girls in the Newton Ridge subdivision, she'd watch the pageants on television and even had the Miss America toy set, complete with a crown, baton, shoes and fur collar. In high school, some of her friends, knowing about her interest, encouraged her to enter a pageant.

"Yeah, right," she'd reply.

Life went on. She met her husband, Chad, while attending Georgia Perimeter College, and they had a daughter, Leslieann, a little over two years ago.

But last year, when the Eastside graduate saw the Mrs. World pageant on television, something clicked.

"I thought 'That would be so much fun to do!' So I decided to do it," she said.

She contacted the pageant organizers, who signed her up and gave her the title of Mrs. Walton County. But she didn't realize just how much preparation was involved in entering a pageant.

"I signed up for this last September," she said, "and since last September it's been about 40 weeks that I've been preparing for this pageant, just through volunteer work and working with a pageant coach."

She began volunteering with Angel Food Ministries, a national food relief program based in Monroe, picking up orders at local host sites. She also began serving on the Walton County Youth Advocacy Board as a leader, responsible for coordinating events and recruiting. Her work with the Advocacy Board, which aims to provide a positive environment for potential young leaders, was a natural outgrowth of her work during high school as a DARE role model, where she would travel to middle schools to talk about the DARE program.

Her work with the pageant coach, however, at a charge of $100 an hour, was something new.

"She helped me with how to walk, because I had no idea," said Rook. "I'd never done a pageant or any type of modeling before, so I had no idea how to walk or stand or anything. And they helped me out with my interview skills, sitting in front of a panel of judges."

Even so, it was still intimidating to face the judges, who rapidly fired questions at her, one after another. But she did well enough to be selected for the final ten contestants and even placed as first runner up.

Responding to critics of the pageant industry, Rook said "it's the best thing for women. With me, being in this pageant, I have been able to promote Angel Food Ministries. It's gotten that name out there. As far as Miss USA, Miss America, it's scholarship money for college."

If her daughter wanted to enter a pageant, Rook would let her know about all the work involved but would be supportive. In fact, said Rook, Leslieann has already entered a few local children's pageants and enjoys them.

"If she didn't enjoy them, I wouldn't put her in them," Rook said.

As for future pageants, Rook is definitely open to the possibility.

"This was going to be like a one-time thing for me to do," she said. "Now that I've done it, I had the best weekend, just meeting new friends and having stuff in common with these other ladies. It was a lot of fun. I'd love to do it again. I'd hate to just hang it up and say 'oh, I did it once.' I might do another one coming up in February."