Abby Stuckwisch heard contestant No. 4 and her name called four times while standing on the auditorium stage.
She was announced as the winner of the Be Your Best Self essay, self-expression, scholastics and interview, winning a $250 scholarship for each, at the end of Saturday’s Distinguished Young Women of Jackson County contest at Brownstown Central High School.
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Three more winners were announced before master of ceremonies Blake Hackman said Stuckwisch was the 2021 Distinguished Young Woman of Jackson County.
The title earned her a $3,000 scholarship, a flower bouquet, a personalized tumbler, a session with a professional photographer and a medallion.
Stuckwisch received $4,000 of the $8,000 in scholarship money up for grabs on the night.
“Going into the competition, I just really wanted to win one category. I said, ‘If I win one category, then my goal is met,’” the 17-year-old BCHS senior said.
“This whole week, I’ve just been trying to work really, really hard to push myself and really show my true wide variety and my well-roundedness,” she said of practices last week. “The hard work paid off in the end, and I’m really, really glad to be able to represent Jackson County and to compete at the state level.”
In February in Kokomo, she will vie for the opportunity to represent the state as the Distinguished Young Woman of Indiana for 2021.
That winner will move on to the 64th Distinguished Young Women National Finals in June in Mobile, Alabama, joining 50 other representatives from across the country in competing for cash scholarships and the opportunity to represent the program as the Distinguished Young Woman of America.
The program is in its 26th year in the county, starting as Jackson County Junior Miss. Over the years, $219,750 in scholarship money has been awarded.
This year’s eight contestants were evaluated by a panel of judges on scholastics (25%), interview (25%), talent (20%), fitness (15%) and self-expression (15%).
Scholarship money from local donors is earned by winning one of those categories, the Warren/Silver Spirit Award, second runner-up or first runner-up.
The first runner-up was Seymour High School senior Ellie Cornn, and she also won the talent portion, collecting a total of $2,250 in scholarship money.
The 17-year-old first heard her name called for winning talent. She played “River Flows in You” by Yiruma on the piano.
“I’ve played piano since I was 7, and I’ve memorized that piece for years, so I was thinking, ‘If that’s the least part I have to be worried about, piano is going to be it,’” she said, smiling. “I’ve always been passionate about music, and piano is just kind of an outlet for me. I quit lessons awhile ago because of stuff in high school, but I still continue to practice, and I love it.”
She said being named first runner-up was amazing.
“I didn’t expect it at all. I really, really didn’t,” she said. “I did (the contest) mostly because of the girls, and I’m glad I did it. They are all so nice, and I love how Brownstown and Seymour girls get to come together and do it. I never would have gotten to spend time with them and strengthen our friendship through it (otherwise).”
The second runner-up was Brownstown Central senior Rehgen Stuckwisch. The 17-year-old received a $1,000 scholarship for that honor.
“My name got called, and I was just excited, and then I was also nervous because I had to stand in front of everybody and the camera rolling,” she said, smiling.
Rehgen said the contest helped her practice time management and have fun.
“It’s definitely one of those things you can put your personality into and definitely get your character into, for sure,” she said.
During practices, the contestants learned a group fitness routine, which also allowed each high school senior girl to come forward and display their skills.
Brownstown Central senior Karcyn Trueblood was presented a $250 scholarship for winning fitness.
The contestants also practiced their individual talents and self-expression. For the latter, a question was given to the girls when they arrived Saturday: What organization has most impacted you and why?
For Abby Stuckwisch, it’s FFA.
“I grew up on a farm, and so agriculture has always been a really big part of my life, especially with my dad being a farmer,” the daughter of Ed and Sara Stuckwisch said.
Her dad, sister and brother all were in FFA, and she has a cousin in the organization, too.
“I joined it because it was a family tradition, but then I really got into it, and it became my real passion,” said Abby, who plans to attend Purdue University to study agriculture education and one day teach ag and be an FFA adviser.
“Going through high school, I went through different career options, and then just seeing the impact that FFA has had on me and how much I truly love agriculture, I knew that I wanted to have that effect on others and provide those opportunities for students of my own,” she said. “FFA has impacted me because it’s what I want to do with my life.”
For scholastics, a separate set of judges was given access to the contestants’ school transcripts to determine their overall scholastic ability.
Abby said one reason academics have always been important is because her mother is a teacher.
“Academics have always been something that my family is very big on,” she said. “You try your hardest and work as hard as you can all the time.”
The interview portion of the contest was Saturday afternoon. Abby said the judges asked her about FFA, 4-H and the talent she was going to perform, clogging.
“They noticed it on my participant biography, and they were really curious, so I told them about how I got into clogging and all that sort of thing,” she said. “Then I also talked about my interest in selling through 4-H.”
For the essay, the contestants had to describe a situation or time in their life they had to be their best self. Abby wrote about being ambitious and setting and achieving goals.
“I just talked about mainly how as a young kid, normally you grow up and you’re ready to set goals and you want to compete, you want to achieve those goals, but then as you get older, you tend to lose that sense of want to really achieve it,” she said. “It’s a matter of reminding yourself what are the positives of setting those goals and achieving them in the future.”
Seymour High School senior Kim Clemente was presented the Warren/Silver Spirit Award, which is named after two families who chaired the county program when it started. The award is voted on by the contestants, and the winner receives a $500 scholarship.
Clemente was genuinely surprised when her name was called.
“I was like, ‘What? Me?’ That’s when it came back to me, I looked down and I’m contestant No. 2,” she said, smiling. “It feels very nice and heartwarming that they think of me as a person that’s always positive, somebody that’s always upbeat, that has your back whenever they are feeling down.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
2021 Distinguished Young Women of Jackson County contest
Winner: Abby Stuckwisch
First runner-up: Ellie Cornn
Second runner-up: Rehgen Stuckwisch
Be Your Best Self essay: Abby Stuckwisch
Fitness: Karcyn Trueblood
Self-expression: Abby Stuckwisch
Talent: Ellie Cornn
Scholastics: Abby Stuckwisch
Interview: Abby Stuckwisch
Warren/Silver Spirit Award: Kim Clemente