By Stephen Smoot
A packed house of more than 130 came to beat the summer heat and cheer on friends during the Miss Summertime Beauty Pageant held at the historic Circleville High School. Girls in ages ranging from the teeniest to teenagers bedazzled attendees with a bountiful array of brilliant colors, classic and modern dress styles, bows, ringlets, and, of course, sequins.
Proud papas, mirthful mamas, and gratified grandparents came together for a cause even more beautiful than the event, raising money to help restore Lambert Hilltop Park in Cherry Grove.
The beloved park has done more than provide a safe place for children to play and community organizations to gather. The two-acre park, founded by generous local families, also boasts a community center and picnic pavilion. As Jennifer Sponaugle, director of the organization governing the park remembers, “We were able to provide an evacuation site and shelter for displaced community residents during the devastating flood of 85 and many floods after that.”
Habitat for Humanity also used the park as a place to house volunteers during their 25-year mission in the area, which lasted until 2016. They performed a great deal of work to maintain the property.
“Over the years,” Sponaugle said, “volunteers and donations have slowed way down.” Though donations do cover “electric bills, yearly insurance, and a few other operational expenses,” the costs have become overwhelming. She added, “It seems like no matter how much time and effort we put into it with the rising cost of everything these days, we barely make ends meet.”
Amanda Simmons worked during spring and early summer to organize a pageant to benefit Lambert Hilltop Park. She shared that “pageants are something I have always enjoyed.” Simmons attended pageants with her mother while growing up, but “I quickly decided I was too shy.” As a mom, she encouraged her daughter to get involved.
When Simmons decided to launch her own pageant, “the Lambert Hilltop was the first place that came to mind, because I know they are always having different events to raise money and I wanted to help them out.”
As Sponaugle describes, the needs of the park are many. She explained that “the community building itself is in desperate need of a water system upgrade.” The needed upgrade to make the water drinkable again will cost approximately $16,000, “which we now cannot afford.” The roof’s shingles are also approaching their replacement age, especially in the harsh conditions often seen in Cherry Grove. She also described cosmetic damage inside as “being unreal.”
Simmons sought to recreate the community spirit that drove area families to create and keep the park. She said prior to the fundraiser, “I am so excited to be organizing my first pageant. I just want all the contestants to have fun and enjoy themselves.”
“I want the girls in the pageant to have fun and make friends,” Simmons added, additionally saying that, “I also want pageants to be a positive experience and to just really encourage the girls to support one another.”
Events such as these are not “pageant mom” type affairs, saturated with the drama of competition. They bring kids, families, and friends together for fun and community. Alongside the glimmer and glitter of the contest, the ladies of Lambert Hilltop offered a variety of tasty treats whose sale also benefited the park.
Simmons efforts support the park’s mission, described by Sponaugle as “to try our best to keep this community park open,” not just for fun and games, but also the serious needs of the area. “Flooding is unpredictable,” she said, “and we hope and pray it never happens again, but we need to be prepared when and if it does.”
Faced with growing needs and inflation of the cost of basic materials, Sponaugle admitted, “We are literally drowning here and it’s been hard to stay afloat.”