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Mia     Family and friends attended a Sunday send-off for Clinton County Fair Queen Mia Essenpreis, 19, of Breese, who's competing in the Miss Illinois Fair Queen Pageant.
    Essenpreis will be among the 72 young women competing to wear the crown as the state's next county fair queen. That pageant begins today and ends on Sunday.
    This past Sunday's gathering was at Traditions Portrait Design in downtown Carlyle.
    The pageant starts today and runs through Sunday at the Crowne Plaza in Springfield.
    The board of directors of the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs voted to cancel last year's 2021 Miss Illinois County Fair Queen Pageant, due to some counties canceling their fairs and pageants out of COVID-19 health concerns. Miss Illinois County Fair queen Kelsi Kessler, of Carmi, who retained her title, will crown her successor come Sunday.
    Mia is the daughter of Michelle and Bart Essenpreis.
    Early departure
    Lori (Kuhl) Jansen, Clinton County’s fair queen pageant director, said Sunday they would head to Springfield on Wednesday to get ready for the Thursday opening, a day starting with an 11 a.m. check-in.
     Essenpreis will have her interview on Friday and preliminaries take place Saturday starting at 1 p.m. She is number 11 of the 72 contestants this year.

    Jansen said Thursday "turns into such a long day because they start and they go until 10 or 11 o'clock at night."
    The Wednesday departure makes for an easier trip, instead of having to go at 4 a.m. Thursday to start the long day.
    One of the program's facets is a dance number the contestants will perform Sunday night.
    Essenpreis said the women get it sent to them on YouTube video, so they'll practice that in advance. Then they'll come together to practice it in Springfield.
    The women will practice how to walk, and enter and exit the stage.
    It's similar to what she's done before, but in a more involved setting — with 71 other contestants.
    Jansen said the only thing they're not sure of is, they have some restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but ...
    And as far as that, Essenpreis said, with many restrictions eased over the months, the pandemic has not restricted what she's been able to take part in and do.
    Essenpreis is no stranger to this stage; this was her first year in the pageant, though she once took part in the Little Miss program.
    But "I grew up with it; my mom was the director" in the past, before Jansen took over the program and after she took a break.
    All sorts of busy
    In addition to her duties as fair queen, Essenpreis is entering her second year in the nursing program at Kaskaskia College.
    Essenpreis will graduate this December and said she'll likely complete her bachelor's degree online from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with designs on becoming a nurse practitioner.
    "I'm not sure what field I want to go into yet," she said, expressing an interest in pediatrics and geriatrics since she works at Aviston Countryside Manor Nursing Home.
    With everything going on in her life, Essepreis said school is "going awesome."
    She said she's used to being a 4.0 student coming out of high school — she's a Central Community graduate — so the academic rigors of the nursing program and community college in general are something she's getting used to.
    Little fans adore her
    Essenpreis said one of the things she’s enjoyed doing during her reign has been reading to children, doing so at a local day care, and just the aspect of children in general, like them seeing her in parades.
    "She has a lot of little fans," Jansen said of Essenpreis' following.
    And that's where her visits have gravitated toward, having been to Building Blocks Daycare in Aviston and the Breese Public Library, and she was hoping to get to Case-Halstead Public Library in Carlyle.
    A little bit of fun
    “I’m a puzzle girl,” Essenpreis said, settling down at a table in the Traditions lounge, trying to figure out the 500-piece puzzle with Jansen and assistant pageant director Sharilyn Muench.
    Karen Gregov, the third member of the team, is the Clinton County program’s state director.
    The puzzle, it turns out, is an image from the Clinton County Fair, taken by photographer Jansen, Traditions' owner. She said the carnival midway operator also uses the image as it shows their equipment.
    On hand for part of the event was Kaylee Hempen of Carlyle, Miss Illinois County Fair queen for 2018.
    Family gathered around a projection screen for awhile Sunday to play Clinton County Fair trivia, a video game created by Essenpreis.
    In it, participants could answer questions such as:
    •What was Mia's favorite thing to do at the county fair?
    •Where were the first county fairs?
    •How many counties are in the stage pageant?
    •What's the color of Mia's state dress?
    •Who were the two top 10 Clinton County finalists at the state pageant?