Concordia cheer captain Jessica Olson is used to being referred to as “Miss Iowa,” as dance and cheer coach Daneen Kovar Theye often calls the Carlisle, Iowa, native. So naturally the two-year member of the Bulldog cheer team has been selected as one of roughly 25 candidates who will vie for the official title of Miss Iowa.
“When I got the call saying they would like for me to participate, I had to listen to the phone message a couple times because I couldn’t believe it was real,” Olson said.
The opportunity to compete for Miss Iowa will become a reality for Olson on Oct. 12-13 when the pageant is held at Newton High School in Newton, Iowa, about 30 miles east of Des Moines. It will be a new experience for Olson, who was not exactly Honey Boo Boo as a child. The Bulldog senior has never competed in a contest anything like the Miss Iowa pageant.
However, her lack of experience on such a stage can easily be made up for with her years of duty as a cheerleader throughout high school and college, her good looks, and perhaps most importantly, her down-to-Earth personality and small-town charm.
Olson possesses the complete package as far as Kovar Theye is concerned.
“She’s a natural-born leader and I think that’s a wonderful qualification to have when you’re doing pageant work,” Kovar Theye said of Olson. “She also has a good head on her shoulders. She’s very bright, she’s very intelligent and she has a way of working with people.”
Miss Iowa contestants will be judged based on three different categories – swimsuit, evening wear and interview – as part of the process of intense scrutiny. In other words, think Miss America with lavish dresses, high heels and over-the-shoulder ribbons, albeit on a smaller scale.
Sounds like enough to make anyone a bit queasy with stage freight.
“I’m not quite as nervous for the whole stage stuff just because I’m used to being in front of people,” Olson said. “I know how to hold myself.”
Olson’s growth as a person during her time at Concordia has also helped prepare her for the Miss Iowa competition. She says she’s become a more outgoing person since first journeying to campus. Kovar Theye, who became Bulldog dance and cheer coach prior to the 2011-12 school year, immediately recognized Olson’s many positive qualities.
“She’s been able to take on whatever it is that has been thrown at her in the last few years,” Kovar Theye said. “She is very helpful. She is very resourceful. She’s always out there working to build up her team and make it the best it can be.”
The Central Iowa native, set to graduate from Concordia in May with a degree in psychology (behavioral science emphasis), is described by Kovar Theye as having a big heart. Olson wants to make a difference in her post-graduate life.
“I’m still trying to decide what emphasis to get my master’s in,” Olson said. “But for right now I’m going to go apply in foster homes and work in foster homes to see if that’s the route I want to be in.”
However, Olson is not wishing her final few weeks at Concordia away. It’s a school that quickly grew on her. She originally wanted to attend college closer to home, but that went out the window when she fell in love with the campus community upon her visit to 800 North Columbia Avenue.
“On the college visit, I came out here and was just like, ‘I don’t want to be clear out here,’” Olson said. “But when I finally stepped foot on campus I was like, ‘you know, this I could do.’ It’s a small campus. Everybody knows everybody. I like that small-town feel.
“I’ll miss everybody around here. It’s going to be tough leaving, but I’ll come back every once in a while.”
After graduation Olson plans to return to her hometown Carlisle, a town of just under 4,000 people and situated about 10 miles south of Des Moines. It’s a place Olson holds close to her heart and will proudly represent at the Miss Iowa pageant.
“I think it would be pretty cool for a small-town girl to win something like this,” Olson said. “I know Carlisle supports me through anything so I know they would be really supportive of me through this.”
Whether Olson wins the competition or not, Kovar Theye knows Olson will be a smashing success.
“Whatever she decides to do I know that she’ll be extremely successful,” Kovar Theye said. “She has excellent work qualities. She’s determined. She’s motivated and I know that whatever she sets her mind to doing she’ll be able to do. I have complete faith in her that she’ll go far in life.”
Whatever the outcome of the Miss Iowa pageant, Olson will always be Concordia’s “Miss Iowa.”
“She just says do your best and I know you’re going to win because you’re ‘Miss Iowa,’” Olson says of the advice she has received from Kovar Theye. “That’s what she says all the time.”