Fulton celebrates Rick homecoming

Miss Mississippi Chelsea Rick excitedly greets Fulton's Adam Bridges, a former high school classmate of hers, during a special homecoming ceremony in Fulton on Sunday. Bridges was far from the only friend who welcomed Rick home during short event: Dozens of people lined up to greet and have photographs taken with Rick, who will compete in the Miss America Pageant in September. (Photo by Adam Armour)

Miss Mississippi Chelsea Rick excitedly greets Fulton’s Adam Bridges, a former high school classmate of hers, during a special homecoming ceremony in Fulton on Sunday. Bridges was far from the only friend who welcomed Rick home during short event: Dozens of people lined up to greet and have photographs taken with Rick, who will compete in the Miss America Pageant in September. (Photo by Adam Armour)

“It’s about you … about Fulton and Itawamba County,” Chelsea Rick told the crowd packed both inside and spilling out of the gazebo at Fulton’s downtown park. “You are the ones who helped make me who I am.”

During a short ceremony Sunday, the recently-crowned Miss Mississippi was celebrated by her friends and family … people she said helped her earn the crown she wore.

“It was more than a year’s work to become Miss Mississippi; it was a lifetime’s worth of work,” Rick said, speaking from a podium inside the gazebo at Fulton’s downtown park. “You’ve helped mold me into who I am today.”

It was a touching reunion for Rick, 23, who currently lives in Hattiesburg. Before she could even take her seat, she was surrounded by a flurry of people eager to speak with her. Moments later, she was presented with the key to the city. After the ceremony, people lined up for more than an hour to greet and take photographs with her.

In July, Rick competed in the 2013 Miss Mississippi Pageant as Miss Amory Railroad Festival. In addition to earning the crown, Rick was judged best in both swimwear and talent. It was her fifth time to compete for the crown, a fact that her hometown friends said was a testament to her dedication and persistence.

“She’s truly been an inspiration to us all … shown us that you should never give up,” said Fulton Mayor Lynette Weatherford of the Itawamba Agricultural High School graduate.

Several people spoke to the quality of Rick’s character. Former teacher Susan Sheffield said Rick was respectful of everyone she met, regardless of his or her situation in life.

“She treated everyone the same,” Sheffield said, adding that Rick wasn’t concerned with a person’s background or popularity. She was as compassionate and caring to one person as she was the next.

In her own way, Sheffield said, Rick was a rebel.

“You see people following the crowd, going the wrong direction,” she said. “But Chelsea fought against that every step of the way.”

Sheffield added with a laugh, “She’s not perfect, but she’s darn close.”

Fulton Food Pantry co-director Harvey Clements said Rick, a longtime volunteer at the pantry, defied the image of a princess who couldn’t sleep atop a pea. She was never afraid to roll up her sleeves and work, he said.

“She’ll never take charge of what she wants to do, but ask what needs to be done,”Clements said. “Chelsea wasn’t all glamor; she showed up to work.”

Fighting hunger remains a strong priority for Rick, who competed in the Miss Mississippi Pageant on the platform Full Plates, Healthy States. Clements said she still drops by the food pantry to volunteer her time when she’s in town.

When Rick took the podium, she encouraged the crowd — especially the youngsters — to never give up on their dreams. She said her road to becoming Miss Mississippi was neither quick nor easy. When she earned the title last month, it was after four previous attempts. It’s hard to be close to grabbing hold of a dream only to have it slip through the fingers time and time again. Instead of getting discouraged, Rick said she decided to press forward. She encouraged everyone in the crowd to do the same, no matter what they’re trying to accomplish.

“You don’t give up,” she told the crowd. She held up her hand, finger and thumb nearly touching as if ready to pinch. “Even if you’re this close to your dreams and miss, you don’t give up. There is no expiration date on your dreams. You have until your last breath to keep striving.”

She encouraged the crowd to love everyone, to treat each person with respect, tolerance and dignity. To the people who always showed her kindness … for hugs and compliments … she said she will always be grateful.

Rick displays a plaque bearing the key to the city of Fulton, which she was presented during a special homecoming ceremony Sunday. (Photo by Adam Armour)

Rick displays a plaque bearing the key to the city of Fulton, which she was presented during a special homecoming ceremony Sunday. (Photo by Adam Armour)

“Those kinds of things matter,” she said.

Finally, Rick promised that as she competes in September’s Miss America Pageant, she will keep the lessons the people of Fulton and Itawamba County taught her in heart.

“As I compete, I’m going to be there as myself,” she said. “I’m going to represent the values of this area … I’m going to be doing this for all of us.”

adam.armour@journalinc.com

About Adam Armour

Adam Armour has been writing and taking photographs for "The Itawamba County Times" since 2005. His words and pictures have earned 18 Mississippi Press Association Awards, including several "Best of" category recognitions. He has written and independently published one novel and is currently working on a second.

, , ,