None of the perks and a year of the work.
That’s what Sophie Moerke has signed up for.
But for her, service to the community is the most important perk to her position of Miss Lewis County 2021.
Crowned on Monday evening, Moerke’s path to the title has been distinctly different from any Miss Lewis County before her.
The Miss Lewis County 2020 pageant took place on March 7, 2020, just one day after the state topped 100 total COVID-19 cases and only a few days before statewide restrictions would halt large gatherings.
The Miss America 2020 program, and subsequently Miss Washington 2020, were canceled. Many of the contestants who would have moved from their local programs to the state level spent the year preparing for Miss Washington 2021. But Angela March, Miss Lewis County 2020, had completed her year of service and would not be entering the state program.
This meant if the county program crowned a winner, she would have to move forward and compete in Miss Washington with a few weeks of preparation, stacked against her opponents’ years.
“We felt that it wasn’t fair to (whoever we crowned). So we made that decision not to do that,” said Cindy Godsey, executive director of the Miss Lewis County scholarship program.
The program’s board instead opted to leave the position open until 2022.
The thought of the role remaining vacant for a year troubled Moerke, who was the 2020 first runner-up.
She felt the position was not just about moving on to the state program, participating in pageantry or even receiving scholarships. To her, Miss Lewis County is a county representative: cleaning up trash, spending long hot days at the fair greeting everyone with a smile, going to fundraisers and supporting a platform for positive social change.
“I had been thinking about it all week. It just kept coming to me, I was thinking of things that I saw Miss Lewis County at when I was younger. What about fair?” Moerke said. “People are going to notice she’s missing. She’s a part of the community. People are going to notice.”
When she volunteered for the position without any scholarships or chance to move on to state, board members were thrilled. They were, however, able to surprise her with $500 at her crowning ceremony on Monday. It’s one-ninth of the total reward granted to her predecessor, but still a welcome reward for the Miss Lewis County who asked for nothing.
Moerke’s chosen platform is “Managing Depression Through the Arts.” Through the last year, her experiences have redefined the importance of her mission, which she first chose as a 2020 candidate.
When the Southwest Washington Dance Center closed during the pandemic, Moerke was one of many who had to pause her lifelong pastime.
“I never realized how much of an impact it would be on me to not have it until COVID hit, and I didn’t. And it hit me really hard. I didn’t realize how much it had been helping me,” she said.
Though it’s the most personal to her, dance is not the only element of her platform. She mentioned that writing, drawing and painting were also beneficial activities for people suffering from mental illness. Moerke said she has personally seen those activities greatly benefit people she knows with depression and anxiety.
“It’s not something that cures it. It’s a helpful thing, like an outlet,” she said.
Last year, she spent her first semester at Washington State University in Pullman. It was entirely online and she rarely left her dorm room. She joined clubs and a sorority, but being a part of those communities with no in-person interaction left the self-described “people’s person” Moerke miserable.
She came back home and began attending Centralia College. “College in the Classroom” classes in high school have satisfied most of her general undergraduate requirements.
Now, the 2020 Adna graduate works at the Alderbrook Quarry, owned by her father, John Moerke, as a truck driver and assistant mechanic. She also helps out at the Southwest Washington Dance Center as an “Acro” dance teacher and occasional substitute. In the fall, she will seek to enter the Centralia College diesel technician program.
Reflecting on the past year, she felt her community called her home and supported her. Becoming Miss Lewis County was a way to give back.
“She just wanted the opportunity to represent our program out in our community. To know that we have candidates like Sophie, this is why we do this program,” Godsey said.