FAIRFIELD — Fairfield resident and Pekin High School alumna Tayler Winn finished in the Top 12 of the Miss Iowa USA 2020 pageant held Oct. 5-6 in Newton.
Winn is a pageant veteran at just 21 years of age, having competed in three of them. The first was in high school, when she competed in the Miss Iowa Teen USA pageant in 2014, where the 16-year-old Winn finished in the Top 15. The second was in September 2017 when Winn competed in Miss Missouri, as she was then a Missouri resident, attending Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri.
Winn said her experience in pageants made her feel more prepared both physically and mentally for the Miss Iowa competition.
“You’re always a little nervous because this is something you care about, but it helps when you have a few years of experience. It wasn’t like being thrown into the fire your first year,” she said.
The Miss Iowa pageant has three parts to its competition: an interview with the judges; an evening gown; and swimsuit. This has been the standard throughout Winn’s competitions. She said the judges were laid back and funny this time around.
The interview is intended for the judges to get to know the contestant. It is not intended to stump them with difficult questions. In fact, most of the questions are based on a personality survey the contestants fill out ahead of time, and the judges are usually asking the contestants to elaborate on what they’ve written.
For instance, the judges asked Winn about what it’s like to be a “fur mom” because Winn wrote about her French bulldog named Frankie. They asked about why she loves crockpot lasagna, and about her volunteering for the Salvation Army.
Winn said she grew to love crockpot lasagna during her running career at Pekin, where she competed in track and cross-country. She said her teammates would gather for a big pasta meal the day before a race. The logic behind that is pasta takes a long time to break down in the body, which means it supplies energy to the runners for many hours after they consume it.
As for the Salvation Army, ringing the bell with her mom outside Hy-Vee to raise money for the organization has been one of Winn’s most rewarding experiences. She loves to see the generosity of those who put money in their jar. She admits that she gets a little agitated when someone walks by without even acknowledging her existence. She said that inspires her to ring the bell even more.
“I want to get people’s attention,” she said.
To prepare for this pageant, Winn turned to pageant coach Kelly Brown of Des Moines. Brown helped her rehearse for the interview, and work on her posing and walking techniques. Winn said much of the material was review, but it was nice to meet with a professional like Brown who could help perfect her performance.
Winn also prepared for the pageant through a steady workout regimen with trainer Summer Lisk at the Roosevelt Community Recreation Center. Winn’s running career allowed her to maintain a petit figure, so she didn’t have to cut calories for the competition. Quite the opposite, in fact. Winn said she worked with Lisk on a nutritional plan to double her calorie consumption.
Winn mentioned that in high school, she loved doing the grueling runs that everyone else hated. She ran the 4x400 meter relay. Coach Davis Eidahl would post the schedule for practice telling the students what they would run that particular day. One of his routines was to have the kids run 400s on repeat, with about a 90 second break in between. Winn said she lived for days like that.
On the day of the Miss Iowa competition, all the girls perform in a preliminary round covering the interview, evening gown and swimsuit. The girls introduce themselves, and say their age and hometown. Since Winn was selected to be among the Top 12, she did the evening gown and swimsuit portion once more on the second day of the contest.
Winn was the first to be announced as making the Top 12, and she was overwhelmed.
“I didn’t expect to be called first!” she said.
Winn said she competed against some of the very same girls in the Miss Iowa Teen pageant from five years ago, many of whom are her friends.
“You don’t realize how quickly friendships form,” she said. “It was nice to catch up with those girls.”
The event was held in the performing arts center of Newton High School. Winn had a large cheering section who made the drive, including her parents Terry and Crystal, her brother Jonathan, her boyfriend, and other family members and friends.
Winn has received a great deal of support from her co-workers as well, who have nicknamed her “Miss America.” She works at the family business Winn Corp, the sand and gravel supplier in Fairfield.
“I was raised here. I’ve worked here ever since I could walk,” Winn said.
Winn grew up in Ollie attending Pekin school and moved to Fairfield in 2008. Her family has such strong connections to the school (her parents and grandparents went there) that she couldn’t stand the thought of not being a Panther. Winn open-enrolled to Pekin until graduating from the school in 2016.
Thanks to her Top 15 performance in the Miss Iowa Teen USA pageant in 2014, Winn earned a scholarship to attend Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri, where she studied human resource management. As luck would have it, that very university hosted the Miss Missouri contest in 2017, which Winn competed in. That competition required participants to perform a group dance. Winn said that was tricky for her because she’s not a dancer.
After college, Winn moved back to Jefferson County to continue right where she left off, working for the family business. She steps in wherever she is needed. She performs much of the dispatching and secretarial work, and can just as easily operate one of the heavy machines like an endloader or a haul truck.
“I’m not a typical pageant girl. When I’m here, I’m covered in oil and grease,” Winn said. “I enjoy the pageant world, but this is my life. I’m more comfortable here.”
The company started in 1947 and has since expanded to include a main rock quarry near Libertyville, opened in 2001, along with a second quarry near Ollie and a sand and gravel pit near Ottumwa. Winn foresees that she and her brother Jonathan, a senior at Pekin, will take the reins as the fourth generation in their family to run the business. The Union asked Winn if her brother was on board with that idea. In runner parlance, she said they are both “ready for the baton.”