Winning crown fulfills dream

At close to 6 feet tall in heels, Meredith Conger is one of the tallest Miss Gonzales Jambalaya queens in recent history.

Conger’s height became a problem soon after she won the title in May when she had trouble getting in and out of cars, vans and buses wearing the 12-inch crown she was given.

“I was just too tall for the 12-inch crown, so they ordered me another one,” Conger, a 21-year-old LSU student, said.

Conger and that smaller crown have been busy the past 11 months traveling the state representing Gonzales and the Jambalaya Festival at dozens of events.

She’ll pass the crown to the new Miss Gonzales Jambalaya on May 4.

Conger, articulate and bubbly, said she’s enjoying her reign “as long as I can because this has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

“You only get 365 days to be jambalaya queen … and I wanted to make sure I made the most of it.”

She’s wanted to be Miss Gonzales Jambalaya for “as long as I can remember.”

“It really was the only title I ever wanted because it means something to me,” she said.

As a child, Meredith and her family attended the Jambalaya Festival each year.

“The Jambalaya Festival was always part of our life,” Laurina Conger, Meredith’s mother, said. “It represents our culture, our family.”

But Meredith had to wait several years to win the crown.

Laurina Conger said she made Meredith wait before she entered a pageant because she wanted her to be able to understand the difference between winning and losing.

At 16, Meredith finished second runner-up in her first pageant and “she got bit by the (pageant) bug,” Laurina said.

With her eye on the Miss Gonzales Jambalaya crown, Meredith continued to enter festival pageants, winning the Miss Swamp Pop Festival title in 2010.

On her third try, she finally won the title she had longed for.

The title was worth the wait, she said.

“I have traveled over 3,695 miles across the state of Louisiana and to Washington, D.C., representing the Jambalaya Festival and city of Gonzales,” she said. “I have picked oranges in the orange groves of Plaquemines Parish, learned how to sew a bag of harvested rice in Crowley, picked fresh strawberries on the farm of the Ponchatoula Strawberry King and went crawfishing in Breaux Bridge.”

She took her crown out of state earlier this year when she attended the Washington Mardi Gras Ball.

She’s also bonded with reigning Jambalaya World Champion Danny Robert, who praised Meredith for her work promoting the festival.

The duo have served jambalaya at several community events, including the Gonzales Veterans day celebration and a Dreams Come True fundraiser.

The Dreams Come True event, which raises money to fulfill the dreams of children with life-threatening illnesses, had special meaning for Meredith.

Meredith’s younger brother, Michael, now 13, was diagnosed with leukemia as a child and had a wish granted.

“Each event was special, but that one really meant something to me and my family,” Meredith said.

While most little girls grow up wanting to be a princess, Meredith said, not every girl gets to be a queen.

“I am truly a lucky girl to have had this year as queen and to have forever gained a second family in the Jambalaya Festival Association,” she said.

Meredith plans to cook in this year’s festival, set for May 23 through May 26 in Gonzales.

“She’s an outgoing person who has really given back during her reign,” Jambalaya Festival Association President Wally Taillon said.

Taillon praised Meredith for attending many of the 52 events the association cooked at throughout the past 11 months.

“She’s been right there serving jambalaya and representing the festival, and we couldn’t be more pleased,” he said.

Joining Meredith this past year in representing the city and festival was 2012 Teen Miss Gonzales Jambalaya Lexie Tayler Scioneaux.

“Throughout my reign, I’ve travelled around Louisiana visiting and attending different pageants and festivals representing the wonderful city of Gonzales and the Jambalaya Festival Association,” Scioneaux said. “I’m extremely grateful to have had this once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of such an amazing festival. The JFA family works hard and endlessly to raise money for many different causes when their help is needed. I will forever respect and admire their dedication to the public, especially to the city of Gonzales.”

Both queens said they have met many new friends throughout their reign.

They encourage girls to consider entering the May 4 pageant.

The pageant also features a children’s division at 2 p.m. May 5.

Pageant Director Elise Tureau said Friday is the deadline to enter any of the pageants.

For information on the pageant, email Pageant Director Elise Tureau at elise.tureau@yahoo.com.

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