Local pair have their eyes on Miss Indiana crown this Saturday

Lauren Petersen (left) and Mallory Bunting.
Lauren Petersen (left) and Mallory Bunting. TAB file photo/photo provided.

Each year, countless young girls and women sharpen their talents, put on their best face and compete on stage to vie for the top spot in various scholarship pageants.

Locally, Lauren Petersen and Mallory Bunting have the opportunity to represent their hometown on Saturday, June 26, in the Miss Indiana Pageant.

While most contestants start entering competitions at an early age, both women got a late start.

Bunting's interest in competition was spurred by all the scholarship opportunities.

Crowned Miss Huntington in 2009, she topped the field of 12 girls, winning the pageant on her first attempt.

"I was the youngest contestant (17 years old) that year and was totally unprepared for what I got myself into," she says. "I always wanted to go to college and the scholarship opportunities as well as advice from my directors Sandy Stephan and Ruth Marsh, led me to enter."
Bunting says she was caught up in a whirlwind of activity on her road to competition.

"I used stuff that I already owned," she notes. "I even had to borrow outfits for the interview process."

As exciting and challenging as the experience was, Bunting says winning the crown from a field of other girls, some of whom had years more experience than her, was rewarding.

"It was incredible and it opened a lot of doors for me to promote my platform," she states. "Last year I got the opportunity to promote awareness of childhood diseases at the elementary schools and attended Huntington Catholic's Marti Gras and collected money for the Children's Miracle Network."

Bunting, now a sophomore at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, adds that she has spent most of her time since then as a spokesperson for the Children's Miracle Network as well as fundraising of the competition after capturing the 2010 Miss IPFW crown.

"I now know what to expect and the financial commitments associated with the competition, especially the gowns," she states. "My directors, Shelley Bass, Holly Parks and Heidi Smiley organized a fundraiser at IPFW for me. It's a yearly fundraiser, where they auction off items and all the money goes towards my wardrobe, because that can be very expensive."

In her second attempt vying for the Miss Indiana crown, Bunting says she is focused on the top prize.

"I told my directors that I want to look my best because I'm not going for the experience this time; I going with the intention of winning," she states. "I got experience when I entered last year and now I know what to expect. I'm working hard to be prepared."

Preparation includes rehearsing her vocal number for the talent portion of the competition as well as being prepared for the 9-1/2 minute interview session with the judges.

"That's a part that most people don't know about, since it's not done on stage," says Bunting. "The judges are allowed to ask you anything, including current affairs for 9-1/2 minutes. You then get a 30 seconds to compose yourself and then explain why they should choose you."
Bunting adds that she has received help with the interview portion from Angela Whitte, who arranged several mock interviews for her.

"The interview portion is the most challenging for me," she says. "It's just you and the judges and you have to be confident about your answers and know yourself."

Even if she wins Miss Indiana, Bunting says she intends to fulfill her career dream.

"I've always wanted to be a teacher and plan to pursue that even if I win," she states. "Of course, I will compete in Miss America in January if I win and I'm willing to take a semester off if I need to. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. But I will finish my degree to be a teacher."

Bunting's advice to younger girls looking to compete is simple.

"Just be yourself and have an open mind," she states. "Enjoy the experience and allow it to grow you."

Bunting is the daughter of Denise Zahm, of Huntington.

Petersen, a Buffton-area native, first ventured onto the pageant scene with her twin sister Claire, when the pair competed in the Miss Wells County Scholarship Pageant in 2007, while they were attending Bluffton High School.

"My sister won the competition and I was named first runner-up," states Petersen. "It was a great first experience for both of us and that's what peaked my interest to explore other competitions."

Petersen's success streak was only beginning, she adds.
After being named co-winners of Lily scholarships, Petersen states that while attending Ball State University, she was intrigued by the Miss Ball State Pageant.

"I knew there were girls who had entered multiple times and had worked hard each year to do better each time," Petersen states. " I decided to enter the competition and won on my first try."

Petersen says she took that win and decided to devote more time to something that was helping her to grow in more ways than she imagined.

"The experience has helped to shape me into the person I am today and the person I am going to be," she says. "When you understand your passion and what you want in life, life is more defined and you approach each day with a purpose."

After capturing the 2009 Miss Ball State crown in January, Petersen also won homecoming queen in October. She decided to compete in the Miss Huntington Pageant in the same month.

Bluffton does not have a local pageant of its own and the Miss Huntington Pageant is open to contestants in the surrounding area as well as Huntington County residents.

Petersen's streak continued as she also captured the Miss Huntington crown on her first attempt.

"That was an awesome feeling," she states. "The experience was amazing and I had so much help from my sponsors, including the Optimist Club and my directors Sandy Stephan and Ruth Marsh, who have be invaluable to me along my journey."

Her adventures since winning have created new experiences through The Make A Wish Foundation, her platform throughout all the competitions.

"It's really great working with the kids," states Petersen. "I have been blessed to be a part of the lives of four special kids that have changed me a lot as a person. I've also been able to get three of my very good friends to be apart of the foundation."

As Miss Ball State, she adds that she has been a part of Wish Makers on campus, which has allowed her to speak to various organizations on behalf of the foundation.

"I've been able to talk to groups about the importance of fundraising and why The Make A Wish Foundation is such a wonderful organization doing great things."
Locally, Petersen helped out at the soup kitchen over Thanksgiving and says doing service projects have helped her to feel closer to the community.

"I also played the piano at the recent Huntington Expo," she adds. "I didn't perform my competition piece for Miss Indiana, as that is still a bit of a secret, but I played a few pieces for the audience."

Petersen was also a judge at the Little Miss Heritage Days Pageant, held on Wednesday, June 16 and participated in the Heritage Days Parade, on Saturday, June 19.

As for the Miss Indiana Pageant, Petersen says that competing in Miss Wells County and winning both Miss Ball State and Miss Huntington has given her a lot of confidence and has also alleviated some of the nervous feeling.

"My experience in past competitions have given me an idea of what to expect and with the help of Sandy and Ruth and the generous sponsors, I feel prepared," she states. "There are still some nerves, but that comes with the competition."

After Miss Indiana, Petersen says she hope to use all the relationships and contacts she has made through networking to catapult her into her career in urban planning as well as another new-found interest.
"I've developed a greater interest in politics," she states. "I've always been interested, but now, I have a deeper interest and would somehow like to use that in my career."

Peterson has completed a legislative internship and will also intern at with the Lt. Governor's Office and the Department of Agriculture this summer.

The 2011 graduate also sees law school as a possibility.
"I'm preparing to take my LSAT in the hopes of going to law school," she states. "I'm not entirely sure where I want to focus right now, but it would include something in the area of zoning and development; along the line of my urban planning degree.

"Whatever the future holds, these experiences will always stay with me as they helped me to grow and realize my dreams, understand my passions and define who I am."

Petersen is the daughter of Deborah Petersen.

The Miss Indiana Pageant will be held June 23 through 26, at the Zionsville High School Performing Arts Theater.

Tickets are available via a link at www.missindianapageant.com.