Barry McNamara  |   Published March 06, 2019

Inspired by Her Grandfather

Miss Quincy Jessica Fox ’17 hopes to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease as she competes for Miss Illinois title in June.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Before winning the title of Miss Quincy earlier this year, Monmouth College graduate Jessica Fox ’17 had a big hurdle to clear.

JESSICA FOX: ?My platform was inspired by my grandfather, Gene Thorell, who passed away in 2011 b... JESSICA FOX: “My platform was inspired by my grandfather, Gene Thorell, who passed away in 2011 because of Alzheimer's. He was, and always will be, my biggest hero.”“I used to make fun of pageant girls,” said Fox, who will compete in June in Marion for the title of Miss Illinois 2019. “I don’t mind admitting that.”

Unlike some pageant contestants who’ve competed since they were very young, Fox didn’t enter her first pageant until her junior year at Illini West High School in Carthage. Even then, she did it on a dare from her mother.

Fox placed runner-up in the event, and her “competitive nature” drew her back to the pageant stage – she wanted to win.

“Ever since that first pageant, I’ve seen the benefits of it,” said Fox. “You get a lot of public speaking skills, and that really helps with job interviews. I’ve learned to be a lot more clear-cut with my answers on interviews.”

Being in pageants puts contestants in the public’s eye, which Fox sees as a benefit.

“I’ve gotten much more confident throughout my pageant experiences,” she said. “It also really helps with community involvement.”

As Miss Quincy, Fox is busy almost every week with an appearance. Among her favorites have been attending Quincy’s “Night to Shine,” an event sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation where children with special needs “get to be prom king and queen for a night,” said Fox.

She also was part of a Make-A-Wish event in Quincy for a young girl whose passion is American Girl dolls.

Raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease

Nearest to Fox’s heart, however, are her appearances related to Alzheimer’s disease.

“On May 1, I’ll be at the Illinois State Capitol to join other people in the fight against Alzheimer’s,” she said. “My platform was inspired by my grandfather, Gene Thorell, who passed away in 2011 because of Alzheimer’s. He was, and always will be, my biggest hero.”

Fox honored her grandfather during the 90-second talent portion of the Miss Quincy pageant. On a large canvas, she speed-painted a tree and butterflies, using purple to represent Alzheimer’s disease.

“The butterflies also represented memories floating away and loved ones who have passed,” she said.

Fox was awarded the pageant’s Montanna Neisen Platform Promise Award “in recognition of (her) heart for service and devotion to (her) personal platform.”

Fox proved to be a quick study in art, as the business administration and public relations double major at Monmouth did not have a strong art background. For about a month before the pageant, she worked with an art studio in Carthage and learned about the strokes and brushes she would need.

“I wanted a talent that was going to stand out,” she said. “It was simple, but it had a lot of meaning. I’m planning to do the same talent at the state pageant.”

During the pop-question portion of the pageant, Fox was asked what message she would give her generation. She responded: “I’d tell them to put down our cell phones and work on face-to-face relationships. We need to work on having better and longer relationships with others.”

Along with her title and her invitation to compete in the state pageant June 9-15, Fox also won a $3,000 scholarship to help with college loan payments and $7,000 worth of gifts from sponsors. The winner of the Miss Illinois pageant will go on to compete for the title of Miss America.

“We’ll be in Marion all week, and I know we’re going to do some volunteering while we’re there,” said Fox, who anticipates a field of about 30 other contestants. “We’ll do our formal interviews on Thursday or Friday, and the stage pageant will be that Saturday night.”

Fox had already been planning a summer she’d never forget, as she and her fiancé, Aaron Carroll, had set an August wedding date. The date has been pushed back, as Fox said the couple is now on “Plan B.”

“I told (Aaron) that I was going to compete for Miss Quincy, and he supported me,” said Fox. “We talked it over, and we just decided to put it in God’s hands. That’s how we left it. So now we’re moving on with Plan B. If I win Miss Illinois, I guess we’re going to need a Plan C.”

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