By JORDAN NELSON
BECKLEY, W.Va. — Mrs. West Virginia smooths down her hair, adjusts her crown — asking if it’s straight — and tugs on her dress, making sure it is fitting properly.
“You’d think I’d be used to this by now,” said Marty Rae Walker, giggling. “But truly, I’m often freaking out inside.”
Walker, a tall, blue-eyed, blond-haired woman, the image you typically think of when you think of women in the pageantry industry, is a woman stuck to her West Virginia roots.
Someone kicking the stereotype in the butt, some would say.
While always having a private, inner dream of becoming a representative of West Virginia, Walker had no idea pageantry would be what led her to doing so.
“My main focus was to obtain a career and finish my education first,” said Walker. “I didn’t believe I could give back to other women and lead them to overcome obstacles or misconceptions of what their limitations are, if I didn’t do so myself, first.”
Walker, 30, was born and raised in Meadow Bridge. She graduated from Meadow Bridge High School in 2005, where she was always active in academics and athletics, especially basketball.
She then graduated from West Virginia University in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, majoring in Agriculture Extension Education and minoring in Agribusiness Management and Rural Development.
With the honor of being secretary of the National Honor Society at WVU, Walker also received a Master of Science in Agriculture Forestry and Consumer Services.
“I guess you could say I was pretty busy,” Walker said, laughing.
Farming, animals and the outdoors are what Walker knows best. Pageantry hasn’t always been her forte, she said.
Walker had been in only three total pageants prior to becoming Mrs. West Virginia. “I knew nothing about any of it,” she said. “I mean, gosh, the only make-up I ever knew much about was my little Covergirl compact.”
After she was named “Miss Flame” as Homecoming Queen, the community supported her first-ever pageant by encouraging her to compete in the West Virginia Association of Fairs and Festivals in Charleston.
“I was completely lost and out of my element,” said Walker. “That was simply just an experience to represent my town.”
Years later, in 2008, Walker received an invitation to compete at the Oak Leaf and Bridge Day Festival pageant in Oak Hill.
“I guess you can say that’s where a spark of interest was ignited,” said Walker.
She received the Miss Congeniality award and was first runner-up. “It was fun, but I was more interested in making friends with the other girls,” she said.
Walker did not step on the stage again until eight years later as Mrs. Southern West Virginia competing for the title of Mrs. West Virginia in Charleston in 2016.
“It was a very last-minute decision,” said Walker. “I wanted to compete at a state level pageant, but didn’t have ample time to prepare for success.”
She received third runner-up, had a wonderful time and decided the very next day she was going to work the entire year and return for the title of Mrs. West Virginia in 2017.
She did just that. And she won.
Walker said, like many things in life, pageantry is what an individual makes of it. “It is not, nor was it ever created and intended to be, centered around the common misleading perception of false alterations to one’s body wearing a crown,” she said.
She is proud of who she is, where she is from and what she can contribute to her state with her title.
“When wearing a sash and crown, children think of me as a real queen,” said Walker. “It is important to me to keep that inspiration of being a real queen and representing the hard work you had to give to achieve that.”
Walker believes she can break the stereotype of women in pageantry being “fake” or “materialistic” because she represents a hard-working family that is proud of her for taking on the challenge to compete in a field that she was not very familiar with, while staying true to her values throughout the competition, and the role in itself.
According to Beverly Walker, Marty’s mother, it’s all about tradition.
“From the time Marty was a little girl, we always sat down together every evening for dinner,” Beverly said. “That was our time together, and I believe those moments were really when her traditional roots set in.
“A lot of families today aren’t like that, and Marty is just really into sticking with what is important,” Beverly said. “I think a lot of that comes from her grandfather and being raised on a farm.”
Marty’s interests revolve around people, nature, and animals, Beverly said.
“She’s the same ol’ Marty. Her passions, her love, and her roots haven’t changed,” Beverly said. “This title hasn’t changed her love for life. I don’t see anything changing her love for life.”
Aside from being Mrs. WV, Marty is a conservation agriculture specialist for West Virginia Conservation Agency (WVCA), which has partnered with the Southern Conservation District to carry out an agriculture enhancement program.
According to her co-workers, she hasn’t let the Mrs. West Virginia title affect her love for her job, or her drive to work.
“She’s just one of the greatest people I have met,” said Dave Parkulo, Marty’s partner at WVCA. “She is definitely someone who isn’t afraid to work hard and get her hands dirty.”
Parkulo noted how many young girls these days grow up thinking they are supposed to live and be a certain way.
“Everyone is different, everyone should be different, and I believe Marty shows that within her work. Girls look up to that, and her being Mrs. West Virginia will show them they can be different and still succeed too.”
“You never know how you’ll catch me,” Marty said while leaving her job and heading home. “I could be in my sash and crown, my work uniform, or just my average farm clothes.”
While sitting on the porch of her family home in Meadow Bridge, Marty takes a deep breath, smiles and asks, “Are ya’ll ready for this?”
It was a rainy day on the farm, but that did not stop Marty from doing what she does best: working outdoors.
Once home and in her WVU T-shirt, jeans and dirty boots, Walker trudged through the mud, high grass and weeds as if it were no obstacle to her. After all, she’s been doing this her whole life.
“This right here was my first job,” she said, pointing at an old wooden fence. “My dad paid me $10 an hour to stain this fence right when I got out of high school,” she said, laughing.
Marty’s father, also named Marty Walker, said the land and the fence have been in the family since the beginning of time. “She was always willing to work. We never had to beg her; she was always a natural,” he said.
“She’s the farthest thing from your typical pageant girl,” Mr. Walker said. “There’s no fakeness there, no extensions, no fake lashes, nothing. She is your true, real West Virginian. I’d never be able to express that enough.”
Mr. Walker said his daughter could move far away from the state if she truly wanted to. In fact, she has had offers.
“Marty is smart. She has education, a master’s degree in fact,” he said. “She has gotten job offers all over the place that would probably pay her so much money, but she turns them down every time.
“She’s proud of her state, she’s proud of where she’s from and she doesn’t want to leave. She wants to be here and to continue to live through her passions of the state,” Mr. Walker said. “And I think that’s how a true Mrs. West Virginia should be; they should all be like our Marty.”
Marty trudged up a hill at her farm. “We don’t ever open the gate; it’s locked. You’ll have to climb over it,” she said before doing so herself without any hesitation.
Walker’s family barn was built in 1931, and it is built on the same site where her great-great-great-grandfather is buried; he also fought in the Civil War.
“Isn’t that something else?” she asked, looking over his grave site, wiping away the rain drops from her face.
“It’s nice knowing all of this has stayed in the family over the years, makes things so much more personal,” she said.
Marty’s grandfather taught her many lesson of what she needed to know about farm life. “I really believe that’s where my love for agriculture and farming began,” Marty said. “The interest has never left me, and I intend to share my love and passion for it with people as my role as Mrs. West Virginia.”
Marty will attend the national competition in August to compete in the Mrs. America pageant in Las Vegas.
“I’m so nervous,” she said, “but I’m just going to be myself, and that’s the best I can do.”
Marty will be in Las Vegas one week prior to the competition for interviews, stage rehearsals and preliminaries. The final pageant day will consist of one state representative being crowned as Mrs. America.
Marty is one of 50 women preparing for the competition, which will have different sessions including an evening gown, swimsuit, personal interview and onstage costume.
Marty’s husband, Jacob Owen, said he has no doubt that her enthusiasm for life will win her the Mrs. America crown.
“She’s constantly giving back in life and helping her community. It has opened up my eyes and made me want to do more myself,” Owen said.
“I must say, it took the pageantry world long enough to pick someone like my girl,” he said. “She is truly real; nothing about her is altered.
“She is bringing the mold back to what it should have always been. She gives young girls a real teacher; she’s unlike anyone they’ve ever seen,” Owen said.
“She’s what they needed; she is their breath of fresh air. She’s got this.”
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