FLORA — One of Julie Rinehart’s life goals was to win a state title in a pageant so she could compete on a national level.

She met that goal earlier this month when she earned the title Mrs. Illinois/America 2006.

Rinehart, 30, of Flora heard about the Chicago-area pageant from friends who recommended she enter. Rinehart is no stranger to pageants; she’s been in various contests since she was 10 years old.

She was crowned Clay County Fair Queen in 1994, and when she was younger, Rinehart was in a May Queen pageant held as a fund-raiser for Clay County Hospital in Flora. She won the title.

The Mrs. Illinois/America pageant was held in Elgin on March 11 and 12. Contestants were required to have been a resident of the state for at least six months, to be married during the time of the competition and be at least 18 years old, according to the Web site, www.mrsillinoisamerica.com.

Contestants are judged in categories including physical fitness, evening wear, personal interview and costume presentation in which they wear an outfit that’s symbolic of Illinois.

Rinehart’s favorite portion of competition is the personal interview, in which she sits in a conference room with judges while they ask her questions.

“You have to know how to hold a conversation, think fast and answer tough and simple questions. Usually you walk out of the interview energized,” she said.

As she competed for the Mrs. Illinois/America title in 2004, 2005 and this year, Rinehart mainly kept her participation in the pageant to herself, family and close friends because she wanted to do it for herself.

The pageant, unlike others she’s participated in, had a more comfortable feel to it. In fact, it’s like a family vacation because her husband Joe, their sons Bayley, 7, and Jackson, 5, and other family members go with her.

“As a married person, I like competing because I can just thoroughly enjoy it.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m in last place,” Rinehart said, adding that she feels her life is fulfilled with a husband, children and a career as a registered nurse at Richland Memorial Hospital in Olney.

Also, contestants are more supportive of each other in the Mrs. Illinois/America pageant than in other pageants, where contestants can be rude to each other.

“You don’t run into that cattiness,” she said.

In fact, Rinehart often joined into a prayer circle with others in the Mrs. Illinois/America pageant so they could pray each other would do their best before each competition.

Since most contestants in the Mrs. Illinois/America pageant are from the Chicago area, Rinehart was excited to meet Mrs. Centralia two years ago.

“I was like, ‘I know that town,’” Rinehart said, adding she bonded with Mrs. Centralia.

Each time Rinehart has competed she has come closer to winning the crown. In her first year of competition, Rinehart placed as third runner-up and in 2005 she was first runner-up. She didn’t get discouraged, though. She saw it as a learning process for her.

Rinehart and family will head to Tucson, Ariz., in August so she can compete for the Mrs. America title. The Mrs. America pageant will be taped, then broadcast at a later date in September.

Rinehart is thrilled to represent the south-central Illinois area in the Mrs. America pageant. Although she lives in Flora, Rinehart considers herself also a representative of Louisville, where she lived for most of her childhood. She is a 1994 North Clay High School graduate.

When she isn’t competing in pageants, at work or taking care of her duties as a wife and mother, Rinehart loves to watch “American Idol” with her husband.

Her family members enjoy swimming in their pool, having fun in Flora’s Charley Brown Park and traveling to Tennessee.

Joe Rinehart is a general foreman for North American Lighting in Flora.

Julie Rinehart is the daughter of George and Debra Cammon of Louisville.

Alta Mayhugh can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 131 or alta.mayhugh@effinghamdailynews.com.

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