news-category: Student Development

Nine Young Women Compete for the Title of Miss Gardner-Webb

Miss GWU event

Alumnae Mentor Contestants in Workshop Before the Event

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Held in honor of Women’s History Month, the focus of the Miss Gardner-Webb Pageant is “women empowerment, confidence, grace and sisterhood,” said coordinator, Jessika Raduly, associate director of Student Engagement. The pageant features nine young women, who will vie for the title on March 27 at 3 p.m. in Dover Theatre.

“There are so many beautiful women assisting in the planning, preparation and execution of this pageant,” Raduly shared. “These women are staff of GWU, students of GWU, and alumnae of GWU. Not only are the contestants representing themselves and their Christian values, they are learning life lessons from the amazing ladies involved in this process, like time management, commitment, and self-acceptance. In my eyes, they all have already won.”

To honor Women’s History Month, each contestant has written a tribute speech about a woman, some two, who have inspired them in their life. These tribute speeches will be read during the Evening Wear portion of the pageant.

As preparation for the event, Gardner-Webb alumnae, Molly McKinney Huss and Verhonda Clarese Crawford hosted a workshop on stage presence for the contestants. Huss is a native of Shelby and a 2012 graduate of GWU, where she was a cheerleader and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications. She is the sales and marketing manager at LeGrand Center in Shelby. As a contestant within the Miss America Organization, Molly served as Miss Shelby in 2014. Since competing in Miss North Carolina, she has opened her own boutique in Uptown Shelby, Miss Molly’s Boutique. In her spare time, she enjoys teaching competitive dance at Step-N-Out Dance productions where she has taught for the last 15 years, and serving the pageant community as an emcee and judge.

Crawford obtained a Bachelor of Arts in public relations and Master of Business Administration in Marketing from Gardner-Webb. She was elected as the youngest elected government official in the state of South Carolina and has served as councilwoman in her hometown of Chesnee, S.C., for the past 12 years. She also works as director of major gifts and partnerships at a university. She is a former Miss South Carolina US International and placed in the top 15 at the Miss US International pageant. Crawford is owner of Designs by Verhonda clothing boutique that specializes in custom pageant attire and wedding dresses. She is also the owner of VC consulting, which is a marketing/public relations consultant firm that specializes in promoting individual and small business public relations and social media needs. Crawford is the current chair of the GWU Board of Trustees Marketing Committee.

When Raduly asked Huss to lead a workshop for the participants, she recruited Crawford. “I don’t do anything pageant related without V(erhonda), so we came up with ‘High Heels and Interview Skills’ as a way to hit the high points of walking in the different phases of competition and how to successfully own your private interview,” Huss shared. “The Webb will always be home, and I know V would agree. It’s where our friendship started, and it’s where we’ve continued to serve together 10 years later. My hope is that through this pageant, these contestants will form similar bonds.”

Huss said the best advice she gave the students was how to “land the plane,” referring to answering the interview question succinctly without rambling. She explained, “Often in interviews contestants tend to give more information about a topic than what is expected or even needed. Take off, fly for a second, make your landing. If the interviewer wants to know more, they will ask you to elaborate.”

Three GWU students are also helping with the pageant: choreographer, Jessica Dale; photographer, Maggie Covey; and emcee, Johanna Quezada-Salazar. Quezada-Salazar, of Dallas, N.C., is a junior at Gardner-Webb. She is majoring in international business with a minor in Spanish. She has been a part of Student Government for three years and serves as this year’s Student Body Treasurer.

Besides the crowning of Miss GWU, awards are given to the first and second runners-up, Miss Congeniality, Most Talented and Most Photogenic. The judges are GWU staff members:

  • Lesley Villarose, vice president for Student Development and Dean of Students.
  • Stephanie Allen, director of Counseling Services.
  • Thea Thompson, assistant vice president, Web and Digital Communications.
  • Carrie Baker, director of Academic Services for Student Athletes.
  • Lindsey Blanton, associate director of Admissions.
  • Shea Mattingly, associate director of the Center for Personal and Professional Development.

The contestants are:

  • Bailey Clayton, of Hickory, N.C., senior, elementary education/professional education, platform—End the Stigma: Mental Health Matters.
  • Breanna Littlejohn, of Gaffney, S.C., sophomore, exercise science, concentration health fitness (nursing), platform—Helping Hands for American Seniors.
  • Madelyn Kampfe, of Lincoln, Neb., freshman, marketing/graphic design, platform—Honor Flight Network.
  • Nikki Swanson, of Jacksonville, N.C., sophomore, undecided, platform—Every Mind Matters Campaign.
  • Brianna Bryant, of Dallas, N.C., freshman, business management, platform—STAR (Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response) Organization.
  • Charity Rosenhauer, of Pilot Mountain, N.C., freshman, biology/environmental science, platform—Human-Animal Interaction Education.
  • Allie Cooke, of Hickory, N.C., freshman, exercise science/biology and youth discipleship, platform—St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
  • Callie Owen, of Balsam Grove, N.C., sophomore, middle grades mathematics education, platform—Operation Christmas Tree.
  • Anna Sample, of Fremont, Calif., sophomore, theatre/psychology, platform—mental health and self-love.

Free tickets are available in the Office of Student Engagement, (704) 406-4732.

Auxiliary aids will be made available to persons with disabilities upon request 10 working days prior to the event.  Please call 704-406-4270 or email [email protected] with your request.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to six professional schools, 14 academic departments, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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