‘Giving is a gift’
Miss Arkansas shares heart with children.
Miss Arkansas shares heart with children
Every Miss Arkansas has a cheering section.
But no Miss Arkansas before Maggie Benton has had the “spunkiest, craziest, wildest, happiest” cheerleader in her corner.
“You’re beautiful,” 8-year-old Asher Ray of Little Rock assured the 22-yearold Benton before the evening gown competition on June 17. And she says when Benton competes in the Miss America Pageant Sept. 10, her queen should “just know that if she gets nervous, I’m out there in the audience watching her and with her.”
Asher knows a lot about pageants. “Asher has actually been involved in the Diamond State Princess Program for the last four years,” says mom Susan, “first, as the Children’s Miracle Network princess and then as an actual princess participating in the dances and walking with two different queens, including Maggie for the last two years.”
But she also knows a lot about bravery.
“She was diagnosed in May of 2012 with Ewing’s Sarcoma,” Susan Ray explains. “Ewing’s is the second most prevalent bone cancer among children, but it’s still fairly rare. It started with pain in her right leg. The primary tumor was in her right femur with nine metastatic tumors in her lungs.”
Asher went through 14 rounds of chemotherapy, three surgeries and 15 rounds of radiation with more than 100 nights at Arkansas Children’s Hospital that first year, her mom relates. She was considered disease-free in March 2013, but her cancer returned 10 months later. From that point she received 20-plus more rounds of standard chemo and several more rounds of radiation before we started experimental therapy nearly a year ago.
“We met Maggie almost to the day a year ago,” Ray continues. “She walked into our house like she had known us her entire life. Within the first 10 minutes she and Asher were playing Legos and putting their hair in pigtails. Since then we have had many occasions with Maggie and also her family. They all welcomed us with open arms. Miss Arkansas has really been just a small part of our relationship. Maggie and Asher formed an instant eternal bond.”
“We just clicked,” Benton says with one of her trademark smiles. “Maggie’s drawn to kids, and they’re drawn to her,” adds Benton’s mom, Nancy Benton of Jonesboro.
Children are at the heart of Benton’s Miss Arkansas platform, which she calls “Giving is a Gift.” Through a program at her church in Jonesboro, she was part of giving Christmas gifts to youngsters in need, and she remembers clearly the little girl who opened only her first present — a doll — and just couldn’t let go of it to open another.
“It’s the first time I felt something by giving,” Benton says.
She’s been doing it ever since, involved in missions at her church, helping her Chi Omega sorority sisters raise $74,000 for Make-A-Wish MidSouth and serving as vice president of the University of Arkansas Associated Student Government during the 2016-17 year.
“I wanted to have a platform to talk about something I’m passionate about — promoting service, philanthropy and kindness,” says the 2017 UA graduate. And she figures if she talks to everyone she can as Miss Arkansas, “there’s strength in numbers,” and she might start a “chain reaction” of random acts of kindness. Plus, she’ll be the official ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.
Stephen Caldwell, director of choral activities at the UA, remembers Benton as a “delight,” saying she was “always very genuine, there to learn, to experience, to grow.” She was not a music major — her degree is in communication with a minor in journalism — but she was in Caldwell’s classes for all eight semesters at the UA.
“She was always energetic, dependable, exceptionally responsible, always prepared” and “a wonderful soprano, with lots of natural talent and ability.”
That voice helped Benton win Miss Arkansas with her rendition of “The Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera,” which earned her a talent award in preliminary competition. In addition to the state title, she won the Sarah Slocum Overall Interview Award, the Julie Blackwood Smart Swimsuit Award and the People’s Choice Award, along with a $30,000 scholarship she’ll use to attend the UA Clinton School of Public Service after her year as Miss Arkansas.
Or Miss America.
“I plan to do everything I did to prepare for Miss Arkansas,” she says.
Maggie Benton, Miss Arkansas 2017, and Asher Ray met through the Miss Arkansas Pageant system. But they “formed an instant eternal bond,” Asher’s mom says.