Second Runner-up Hannah Montgomery of Edwardsburg, Miss Outstanding Teen Abby Rzepka of Edwardsburg, and first runner-up Nicole Irwin of Dowagiac.
Second Runner-up Hannah Montgomery of Edwardsburg, Miss Outstanding Teen Abby Rzepka of Edwardsburg, and first runner-up Nicole Irwin of Dowagiac.

Archived Story

Solloway fourth straight queen from Cassopolis

Published 11:06am Thursday, August 20, 2009

By JOHN EBY
Edwardsburg Argus

Miss Cassopolis 2006 Ashley Solloway, 21, Saturday night at Dowagiac Middle School Performing Arts Center won Miss Cass-St. Joseph County 2010.

Her title includes the opportunity to compete for Miss Michigan in Muskegon next June and a $1,000 scholarship.

Six contestants competed. Ashley’s first runner-up, who can also compete  to qualify for Muskegon, is Jennifer Frayer, 19, of Edwardsburg.

Second runner-up is Amber Webb, 21, of Sturgis.

Outstanding Teen went to Abby Rzepka, 13, an eighth grader at Ring Lardner Junior High School in Niles.

Another Ring Lardner student, Hannah Montgomery of Edwardsburg, won second runner-up.

Ashley is the fourth straight queen from Cassopolis, including Linaya Hass in 2007, Anjelica Francisco in 2008 and Linaya’s sister, Cally Hass, in 2009. The last non-Cassopolis queen, Marisa Viestenz of Dowagiac in 2006, came home from Oklahoma City to serve as mistress of ceremonies.

Teen First Runner-up is Nicole Irwin of Dowagiac with a lyrical dance and a platform on the importance of extra-curricular activities.

Nicole, Teen Contestant 3, won the People’s Choice voting in the lobby and the Four Points Award exemplifying the Miss America organization with her warmth, caring and friendliness.

People’s Choice among the six Miss contestants was Lee Zimmerman, who attends Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville.

Relinquishing their 2009 crowns were Cally Hass of Cassopolis and Lacey Stanage of Niles.
Miss Contestant 5 Jasmine Nelson of Niles, who attends Western Michigan University, won the award for ad sales and the Four Points Miss America gift for the older contestants.

Teen Contestant 1 Hannah Montgomery of Edwardsburg sold the most tickets.
Abby, Teen Contestant 4, whose platform was animal cruelty and abandonment, has a dog, a Maltese named Gwen.

Singing, the admirer of teen sensation Taylor Swift “was so nervous my hands were shaking.” Abby was appearing in her first pageant. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” she said, “but I like it. I’ve been in a lot of plays, but nothing like this.”
When Abby heard her number announced, it took her a moment to realize it was her.
“Phil and I worked on having a monologue that reflected my platform,” Effects of Alcohol Abuse, Ashley said Sunday morning at a brunch at Pageant Director Phillip Hurlbutt’s house.

Ironically, the queen and her court are the three of the six contestants who performed monologues as opposed to singing and dancing.

Ashley danced for 10 years, “but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something different. I thought Miss Sturgis (Krista Zickafoose) was the coolest thing ever. I’d never seen someone dance with sign language. She was really interesting.”

“You had your funny one (Jennifer Frayer), your emotional one (Amber Webb) and then you had mine, which was kind of serious,” said Ashley, who was in eighth grade in May 2002, when her cousins Joshua, 21, and Dustin, 24, Solloway lost their lives at the intersection of Pine Lake Street and Hess Road in Jefferson Township when their westbound vehicle collided with a vehicle driven by a 41-year-old Niles man which failed to stop.

“That’s kind of where it stems from,” she said. “(Judges) asked me about it in my (10-minute interview) because I put on my resume I knew what it was like to get that phone call about a family member, so they brought it up and asked me. That makes me feel like I could help other people. If you don’t know what it’s like to go through that with your family, you’re never going to understand what it’s like if you make a bad decision and drink and drive.”

She “never” acted in school plays. “I always wanted to be a lawyer because I’m good at arguing with people,” but doesn’t know where her passionate monologue came from.
Both queens agreed the hardest part of the contest is standing on stage until smiles start to “twitch.”

Abby, daughter of Jim and Kellie Rzepka, is interested in music for her future. One of her favorite bands is Black-Eyed Peas. She plays flute.

At school, Abby plays basketball and volleyball.

Abby knows First Runner-up Nicole Irwin from dance.

“I was worried about the (eight-minute) interview,” Abby said. “I was nervous about that.”

Ashley started to worry, too, and cram when she heard the queries could pertain to current events.

“I got up at 7 o’clock in the morning, watched the news and read the paper,” Ashley admitted. “I learned all about Michigan and Granholm and what she’s doing for the economy. I also learned that a lady won the lottery for over $1 million for the second time in her life. They asked me what I thought Obama’s legacy was going to be and how I felt about the NFL letting Michael Vick back in to play. The girl before me goes, ‘I have no idea who Michael Vick is.’ I called my boyfriend and thanked him for making me watch Sports Center with him all the time.”

As for the 29-year-old Philadelphia Eagles quarterback who previously played for the Atlanta Falcons six seasons before serving 18 months of a 23-month sentence in prison for his involvement in an illegal dog fighting ring, Solloway said, “I felt like the NFL made the decision it had to make, but it looked like all they cared about was making money. I love dogs, so it’s a bitter subject. No matter what, I probably wouldn’t be happy.”

“They drilled me” during her interview, Ashley added. “I bet I answered 12 questions.” They asked her if she could invent anything, what it would be, which prompted her reply that after flying home from Italy and Greece, “It would be a plane that if it started to crash, the top would eject and parachutes would come out.”

She visited Rome and Athens during an “amazing” summer.

“Everything in Italy is very old and close together,” Ashley assessed. “Greece is all built on mountains and everything overlooks the Mediterranean. It’s breathtaking. I didn’t think Greece would top Rome, but it did. The food and the friendly people. Everyone is so happy to see you. I don’t think I’ll be able to go now, but I was supposed to go to Switzerland, Ireland, France and England at the end of May next year. I’d also like to go to Florence and Venice.”

Abby has visited the Bahamas and Mackinac Island. In the Bahamas she encountered “scary” beggars.

“That makes me uncomfortable, too,” Ashley agreed. “I toured the Caribbean last year and there was a lot of begging in Jamaica.”

Ashley, daughter of Tina and Gary Solloway, started college studying psychology at Western Michigan University, but found clinical exposure to the Kalamazoo psych ward disturbing and transitioned into nursing, which she is now studying at Southwestern Michigan College.

She works as a server at a barbecue restaurant and on the family side of Between the Buns in Granger, Ind., since March.

Ashley imagines Miss MIchigan being like Blossomtime in that the best part of the experience will be “meeting everyone.”

Ashley has a twin sister, Alisha, who does not do pageants. In fact, Ashley said they are different in every way.

“She was there. She has blonde hair and is 20 pounds smaller than me and really quiet. Everything is opposite. She has brown eyes, I have blue eyes. I’m right-handed, she’s left-handed. She’s like my mom, I’m like my dad. I like to talk and she doesn’t talk to anyone she doesn’t know.”

Ironically, among the judges with Craig Krassow, Janet Mankowksi, Dr. Dan Applegate and Deb Nelson was Elisha (Judy) Messner from Niles, who held the 2002 title.
Messner was Apple Festival queen in 1999 and Miss Niles-Brandywine in 2000. She has been married for four years and been a sales representative for three years.
“The first pageant I ever watched was when she was Miss Niles-Brandywine. I think I was in seventh grade,” Ashley said. “The only reason I remember that is because her name is Elisha and I don’t know any other Elishas.”

Miss contestants are judged 35 percent on talent, 25 percent on private interview, 20 percent on evening wear, 15 percent on lifestyle and fitness in swimsuit and 5 percent on her on-stage question.

Teen contestants are judged 35 percent on talent, 25 percent on private interview, 15 percent on evening wear, 10 percent on lifestyle and fitness in active wear and 5 percent on her on-stage question.

MC Marisa Viestenz promoted heart health during her reign. Her platform was “Take Heart – Cardiac Care for Women.” Marisa is studying dance performance at college and will be completing her degree at Oklahoma City University this December. She performed at the Oklahoma Centennial Celebration, which featured Toby Keith, Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood. She was a finalist in auditions for the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder Girls.

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