4-H: Where Are They Now?
Mississippi 2017 Miss Hospitality Emma Grace McGrew grew up participating in 4-H and caring for chickens and showing livestock.
Former 4-H’er serves as Miss Hospitality
Story by Keri Collins Lewis • Photos by Kevin Hudson
When Emma Grace McGrew became Mississippi’s 2017 Miss Hospitality, a year of exciting experiences awaited the former Prentiss County 4-H’er and self-proclaimed country girl.
“I had never been in a pageant before, but I knew Miss Booneville got to read stories to kindergartners and cut the ribbon when a new business opened. I love my town and decided to compete,” McGrew explains.
Mississippi Miss Hospitality 2018 explains how participating in Mississippi 4-H, the youth development program overseen by Extension, prepared her for future success.
McGrew, just 18 at the time, was realistic about her prospects in the week-long competition. Young women ages 18–24 can compete, and most have extensive pageant experience. They do their own hair and makeup and endure several interviews with various judges, both in private and on stage. Contestants must invest in a wardrobe that includes a little black dress, a business suit, evening gowns, and more.
“I told my mama I didn’t want to waste a bunch of money on this because I wasn’t going to win, so we bought my clothes at thrift stores,” McGrew shares with a laugh. “When one of the judges told Mama I had the most spectacular wardrobe of all the contestants, we just smiled. That little black dress cost $7!”
McGrew says Mississippi 4-H gave her a unique edge; she joined the Mississippi State University Extension Service’s youth development program at 8 years old.
“I showed lambs and chickens; I did visual presentations; and I was in public speaking, which is where I learned to memorize 5- to 6-minute speeches,” McGrew said. “I held leadership positions, including being a state ambassador and club president. Plus, I did clothing selection, modeling, photography, baking, cooking, and .22 competitive shooting in shooting sports.”
Going through the interview process for 4-H leadership positions taught McGrew confidence, which also led to her success in the pageant.
“That interview process teaches you how to handle yourself,” she explains. “When I was interviewing for ambassador, my agent Skip (Glidewell) told me to be myself. ‘You don’t want to put on a show you have to keep up afterward,’ he told me. So, when I was interviewed for the pageant, I would just give my answers, tell them what I really think, and be myself.”
MSU Extension agent Skip Glidewell began his work in Prentiss County about the same time McGrew started her 4-H career.
“I appreciate her work ethic,” he shares. “She does her homework, invests the time, and her preparation makes her success look effortless.”
Over the years, Glidewell watched her grow into someone who sees the big picture and learns from the process of competing.
“Emma Grace doesn’t make excuses or blame anyone else if she doesn’t win; she just takes what she learns and applies it,” he says. “She may not win a blue ribbon, but she learned something that will make her better the next time.”
When news of her Miss Hospitality victory reached the Extension office, everyone was abuzz.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Glidewell confesses. “My attitude was more like, ‘Why wouldn’t she win?’”
Although she has aged out of 4-H, she continues to help with meetings and serves on the advisory council.
“She’s a genuine, sincere person, and she wants to give back,” Glidewell explains. “I told my wife, if our girls turn out like Emma Grace, I’ll be tickled!”
McGrew had few expectations for her year-long role as Miss Hospitality, so the pleasant surprises quickly added up. She addressed the state Senate and met with Gov. Phil Bryant.
While traveling around the state as Miss Hospitality, McGrew learned a lot about Mississippi and herself—all while taking 18 hours with three labs at Northeast Mississippi Community College.
“Now that I’ve become a person that people know, I have more respect for people who aren’t as known,” she says. “I’ve grown in my capacity to love and understand people by being around so many people and hearing their different stories.
“At the end of the day, we are much more alike than we are different. I’ve talked to many people at events and realized that everyone needs love and kindness. The thing that sets Mississippi apart is, we have that.”
McGrew crowned a new Miss Hospitality in July 2018 and married Wyatt Olsen in the fall. She is pursuing a degree in speech and language pathology at Mississippi University for Women.