HOT SPRINGS | After a 30-year hiatus, Hot Springs — Pageant City — is once again home to the Miss South Dakota title holder.
Autumn Simunek was selected as the 69th Miss South Dakota on Saturday night, becoming the first from Hot Springs to win the title since Amy DeHeer Larson was crowned in 1985.
Simunek broke into tears at the announcement, which she said was the culmination of dreams that began when she was a Little Sister 15 years ago.
“This is the result of five years of consistently trying to make myself the very best that I could,” Simunek said Sunday morning, after what was a short night of celebration.
“I was a Little Sister in 2000 and worked on the tech crew for many other years. I always attended the pageant and becoming Miss South Dakota became my goal. I am very thankful for the opportunity to represent Hot Springs and South Dakota at the Miss America Pageant.”
Simunek moved up two places from last year, as did Julia Olson, who was first runner-up. Second runner-up went to Brittanie Venard, Megan Lipp was third runner-up and Katie Barnett was fourth runner-up.
Simunek’s crowning broke a three-year string of second runner-up finishes, which she said caused the emotions to well up on stage.
“When my name was not called as second runner-up,” Simunek said. “I knew that I had improved. Whether it was Julia or me, I knew that I had made improvement over the past year.”
Her Saturday night triumph capped three evenings of competition at the Mueller Civic Center. Simunek was the Talent preliminary winner on Thursday night, while Olson won Friday’s Talent prelim.
Swimsuit winners on Thursday and Friday were Alexandra Smiley and Carrie Wintle, respectively. Each received $400 scholarships for their preliminary wins.
Simunek won $9,750 in scholarship for being named Miss South Dakota, plus $1,000 for the Talent win in the preliminary round. She received a $1,000 Miss America Community Service Scholarship, a $500 scholarship as the top fundraiser at this year’s pageant and $500 for being selected as the Quality of Life winner, for "enhancing the quality of life for others through volunteerism and community service,” while also claiming the Jean Bartel Military Awareness Scholarship, a two-year scholarship, totaling $10,000.
New for 2015 was recognition for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award for Service, Skill, Fitness and Adventurous Journey. Simunek, Venard and Lipp each achieved Bronze status for this award.
Venard won the $1,000 Miss America Scholar Award for Academic Excellence, Barnett won $500 for the State Community Service Award and Lipp won first place in the competition for Miss America Serves Day, a $750 award, while Maggie Stiles finished second and won $250.
Olson will collect $5,050 for finishing as first runner-up and will be South Dakota’s representative at the America’s Sweetheart Pageant in Illinois this summer. She will also receive $1,000 for her Talent preliminary win.
In addition to other awards, Venard collected $2,100 in scholarship as second runner-up, Lipp received $1,850 as third runner-up and Barnett received $1,100 as fourth runner-up.
In total, more than $35,000 in scholarships was given out to this year’s field of contestants.