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HOT SPRINGS – When she was crowned as Miss South Dakota’s Outstanding Teen in 2007, Hot Springs’ own Autumn Simunek set a goal for herself to become a Miss South Dakota contestant.

The 18-year-old Hot Springs High School senior can cross that off her ‘bucket list,’ with her win in the Miss Rapid City Pageant on Feb. 5. With that triumph, Simunek punched her ticket to the Miss S.D. Pageant, June 23-25, here in Hot Springs.

“I am extremely happy to have been chosen as Miss Rapid City,” Simunek said last week. “Being Miss Rapid City makes it much easier to be involved in community events, not only in Rapid, Hot Springs and throughout the Black Hills.”

“If I had won one of the earlier pageants,” she reasoned, “it would have been much more difficult for me to be involved in that community.”

Simunek noted that she had participated in many of the other Miss S.D. local pageants since last July. “I finished as first runner-up in a LOT of those pageants.”

She said she believed that her age and the fact that she has been out of the arena of competition since her 2007 title may have kept her from winning an earlier crown.

“I think now that not winning earlier was a benefit to me,” she said. “I have been continuing to work and to compete all year long. I have worked at my talent and my interview skills and have become much more comfortable as the season progressed.”

With the goal met of making it to the pageant, the next logical step is to want to win. But her year of competing has helped her realize patience.

“I guess that I have learned to have no expectations,” Simunek said. “I do really want to be Miss S.D., but if I just do my best and have no expectations, then there is no real let down.”

Simunek said that she grew up needing to be comfortable in front of a group of people, a skill she has refined this past year. She is the 2011 class president at HSHS and is also the president of the Les Chanteurs show choir. Working with both groups has helped her become more comfortable in front of a group of people.

And when the pageant opens this summer on Thursday night, Simunek will become the charter member of a new club. She will be the first to have been a Little Sister, to have been a Miss S.D. Outstanding Teen contestant, and a Miss S.D. contestant.

It may be a club with new members soon, however. Two other Hot Springs girls, Cassidy Schoenfelder and Lyndsey Livesay, both of whom were also Little Sisters, will each be competing for the second time in the teen portion of the pageant and may continue on to the Miss S.D. stage at some point.

“I guess I have been influential,” Simunek said. “Cassidy actually competed the year that I won and has returned to competition this year and I have encouraged Lindsey.” She added that some younger girls have approached her and told her that they intend to compete when they are older. “They said they saw me as a role model,” she said.

Her platform for the pageant is “Serving Those Who Served,” which fits with her history of volunteering at the Hot Springs VA and also has ties to her grandfather, who is a veteran.

“My goal is to have teens get more involved with volunteering for our veterans,” she said. “There is always an American Legion or Legion Auxiliary around that offers opportunities to get involved. I have seen what an impact I’ve made.”

As she prepares to graduate and sets her sights on college at USD this fall, Simunek is also preparing to realize her goal of being a Miss S.D. competitor.

“I am extremely excited,” she said. “I have wanted this for so long and now it’s becoming reality.” Simunek said that she believes that her moment of realization will come when she steps up to the microphone on Thursday night this summer and introduces herself to her hometown as Miss Rapid City.

“I hope to have the support of both Rapid City and Hot Springs,” she said. “This is the beginning of my journey. It has been so thrilling thus far; I can’t imagine what it will be like in the end.”

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