By Sharon Harl — Contributing Writer | Photos Provided By Jessica Hartman, David Pickering, and Meadows Images
Jessica Hartman has done more in her first 24 years than most people do in a lifetime. And her journey from Colorado to Missouri to the Miss America Contest last September is just part of her persona.
The 5-foot, 10-inch blonde was born and raised in Pueblo, Colorado. Her father, Gregg, owns a sod farm and lawn-care business and breeds Gelbvieh cattle. Kris, Jessica’s mother, works for a company that is redeveloping the Army depot in Pueblo. She has one sister, Danielle, who is a senior at Colorado State University-Pueblo, majoring in business.
Jessica’s first passion was ice skating, which she began learning at age two. She skated competitively for years and received double-gold level for freestyle and edgework skills, the highest level and honor earned by a figure skater.
Growing up, Jessica was in dance recitals and plays. She loved public speaking and performing, all of which became the foundation for her foray into pageants. Her first venture into the pageant world was in 2009, when she entered the Miss Colorado Teen USA pageant. “I had little to no idea what I was doing,” Jessica said in an interview with Weebly.com.
She was shocked when she came in as first runner-up. “After coming so close, I felt I owed it to myself to try again,” she says. She had aged out of Miss Teen, so she entered the Miss Colorado USA pageant and was much more prepared, hiring a coach, hair stylist and makeup artist. Jessica won the 2010 Miss Colorado title and went on to compete in Las Vegas for Miss USA, finishing as third runner-up. In an earlier interview, Jessica said she was able to remain calm throughout the pageant because of the intense mental training she had acquired for ice-skating competitions.
Jessica was urged to enter the Miss USA Intercontinental pageant. Not as well-known as the Miss USA organization, the Miss Intercontinental pageant is run by the World Beauty Organization. About 70 countries vie for the title, and like Miss USA there is no talent portion. Jessica competed in Spain in 2011, and won the crown. The year of her reign, Jessica says she traveled close to 50,000 miles visiting places such as Germany, Canada and California. Although she did not get to keep it after her year was up, the diamond-encrusted crown is said to be worth more than $360,000.
Jessica first attended Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2009 on a full-ride scholarship. She transferred to Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, in 2011, which also gave her a full scholarship.
“Lindenwood offers a better journalism program,” Jessica says. Jessica joined the school’s synchronized ice-skating team, one of more than 200 distinctive sports offered by Lindenwood.
She received her degree in Broadcast Journalism in December 2013. She is now pursuing a masters degree in communications at Lindenwood. Graduate students work on-camera as reporters and anchors, and behind the scenes as directors and producers, thus learning the broadcast trade on both sides of the camera. Three days each week the campus cable
television station broadcasts throughout St. Charles County.
Jessica entered the Missouri Miss America Pageant in Springfield in 2014. Springfield offers an open entry, meaning women who live anywhere in Missouri can become a contestant as long as they fulfill the criteria of being between the ages of 17 and 24, and have a high school diploma.
She was crowned Miss Springfield, then went on to compete in the Miss Missouri pageant. The format at the state level is the same as the national, with competitions in personal interview, talent, swimsuit, evening wear and on-stage questions.
Jessica chose dance as her talent, performing a lyrical dance to “The Prayer” by Josh Groban. “I took dance when I was younger,” Jessica says, “and ballet was part of my cross-training in ice skating.”
On stage, Jessica was asked about the high rate of obesity and what she thought should be done about it. Her response was that education was key, and that parents and youth should be taught healthy eating habits and exercise.
On June 14, 2014, Jessica was crowned Miss Missouri 2014 in Mexico, Missouri.
In September, Jessica went to Atlantic City to compete in the 2015 Miss America Pageant. She had never been to New Jersey and was intrigued by the Boardwalk and the history of the pageant. After 85 years of being held in Atlantic City, the pageant moved to Las Vegas in 2006 citing flagging viewership. The Miss America Pageant moved back “home” in 2013.
Once again, Jessica chose dance as her talent with a jazz-style rendition of “Stepping Out with My Baby.” She never got the opportunity to perform on national television, however, because she was eliminated before the talent portion.
Although she didn’t participate in the on-stage questions at the national level, Jessica says the questions are much more difficult and usually pertained to current events such as domestic violence and foreign policy. “It’s hard to encompass all your views in 30 seconds, knowing you are being judged and with an audience staring at you,” she says.
Jessica’s reign as Miss Missouri will end the second week in June when Miss Missouri 2015 is crowned. Until then, she will continue to travel the state promoting the Children’s Miracle Network.
The Miss America Organization partnered with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals to raise funds and awareness throughout the United States. Contestants like Jessica become goodwill ambassadors speaking about the children receiving treatments at the children’s hospitals, and raising donations through appearances and fundraisers. Jessica says she has been all over the state promoting Missouri’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
“We just reached the $10 million mark in donations nationally,” Jessica says.
Jessica also promotes her personal platform: Leaders of Tomorrow-Empowering Youth Through 4-H. “4-H holds a really special place for me,” Jessica says. “My family has been involved for 80 consecutive years as members, leaders and volunteers.” For 10 years as a 4-H member she was involved in various projects such as raising market lambs and steers, as well as sewing and drama. But the organization is much more than a club for rural youth.
“4-H has been stigmatized as just for agriculture and farmers’ kids,” Jessica says. “Today more than 51 percent of 4-H members are in urban communities.” Membership in 4-H is more than 6 million youth. Jessica said there is a 4-H program in every county in Missouri. Results of a 10-year study show that 4-H youth are twice as likely to be civically active and to make healthier choices, she says.
Jessica has held Beauty and Brains camps throughout Missouri for middle school girls — the age when many girls stop speaking up in class. The camp is held to encourage girls and to empower them with special emphasis in leadership development and STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Jessica says girls can be both beautiful and smart. Right now the camps are held after school, but Jessica says she would like to see them expanded into two-day programs on weekends.
When Jessica passes the baton in June she says she is retiring from competition. “I have competed in my last pageant,” she says. She will always have fond memories of the Miss America organization and the sisterhood that is forged with fellow pageant contestants. Shelby Ringdahl, Miss Missouri 2013 and Jessica’s predecessor [see L•O PROFILE March/April 2014], was extremely helpful when giving her advice. And Ringdahl went beyond just spoken advice. “She gave me a huge binder filled with anything and everything I’d need to know,” Jessica says.
After receiving her masters in May 2016, Jessica’s next task will be to get a job in broadcast news. Her dream job is as an anchor on a national news show such as Good Morning America, or better still the Today show. “I grew up watching Katie Couric,” she says, admiringly.
With her track record, I wouldn’t bet against her.
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