14 Dec There She Is: Conway’s Stone lands State Fair crown
By Dwain Hebda
Last year, Savannah Stone entered her first pageant at the Faulkner County Fair. She was the last to walk out of 32 dolled-up little girls in her division, but it didn’t faze the pint-sized contestant a bit.
Offstage, despite her best efforts, her mother Renée Stone was a nervous wreck.
“Competitive me is thinking, ‘I’m about to have a panic attack,’” said Stone in her sassy drawl. “Of course, she looks beautiful and she’s my child and I have to say it, she’s as precious as can be.
“She gets up there and she smiles as soon as she comes out onstage and I guess she melted everybody’s hearts, because she wins. She wins over 31 other little girls. Of course, she was excited, but she was nothing like her momma. I felt like I’d won.”
Fast forward a year and it was Savannah’s turn to sit and fret as her mom walked the stage during the Arkansas State Fair Pageants. And, when the time came for a crowning, Savannah led the cheers for her mom, a Conway native and business owner, as she was crowned Ms. Arkansas State Fair Queen. It was the latest chapter in Stone’s long pageant story.
“At the age of three, I won my first national talent competition,” she said. “When someone says, ‘Have you been involved in pageantry a long time?’ my mom will kind of giggle. She’ll say, ‘A long time? Honey, she’s still doing it!’”
Stone was raised the youngest of five children to longtime restauranteurs Dee and LaVone Lawrence who owned the Hidden Valley Catfish House for many years. She graduated president of her senior class at Conway High School where she also lettered in multiple sports and holds two degrees from UCA in business and broadcast journalism.
And, in between she did pageants, along with her older sister, Rita.
“My mom, since she worked in the restaurant, used her tip money for putting us in pageants,” Stone said. “They didn’t have to have that money to live off of, so she used her tip money to invest in us and have all these opportunities that would, hopefully, help us in furthering our skills for life down the road. I truly feel like it has.”
Among her many titles in pageants and talent shows, Stone can list Ms. Arkansas International, Teen Miss Faulkner County Fair Queen and Miss Faulkner County Fair Queen. This year was not her first go-around at the State Fair either, having achieved top-five placements in the past. But 2020 did rate a one-of-a-kind pageant experience because, for safety reasons, most of the pageant was judged online with only the finalists walking the stage at the State Fair.
Stone said modeling an outfit before a camera and answering interview questions via Zoom wasn’t as off-putting as it sounds.
“I’ve always been in front of the camera and so that was something that I could connect with,” she said. “The challenging part, for myself, was making sure on the interview side that the judges could really see the true me and connect with me. I feel like I do have a good presence about me with people. I can get people to feel comfortable with me and want to talk with me.”
During her year’s reign, Stone hopes to be a role model to others from a variety of perspectives. She owns and operates Emerge in Conway, a business she built. Her personal platform is Alzheimer’s awareness, after her father’s experience with the disease. She also hopes to inspire other pageant hopefuls and educate the public on the work and often-overlooked benefits of pageants.
“It’s tons of fun and you might be blessed sometimes with lots of opportunities to win prizes and scholarships, but it’s so much more than that,” she said. “People don’t grasp the work that goes into this, developing communication skills, physical fitness, staying up with current events. It’s literally a job you’re trying to obtain. If you walk in and you don’t know what they’re looking for and you don’t know what CEO position you’re trying to receive, well then, bye!”
“I really love the opportunity to be Ms. Arkansas State Fair Queen for numerous reasons. I had tons of people ask me about why I was competing, like, ‘Are you sure you want to win in a year where you don’t get the big stage and all of this other stuff?’ That’s not important to me. The opportunity and the job are what’s important to me. It’s a gift of being able to connect to people.”