77th Rice Festival queen crowned

The 77th International Rice Festival Queen and her court, from left, Miss Congeniality Maggie Mott, first runner-up Allie Doise, Queen Hailey Hensgens and second runner-up Melissa Minton.

With the sun shining warmly  and numerous visiting queens looking on, the 77th International Rice Festival crowned a new queen Saturday morning.

Deborah Nutt-Whiting and Mayor Greg Jones served as emcees as the 77th International Rice Festival crowned a visibly excited and shocked Hailey Hensgens as their queen. She was also the recipient of $3,250 in scholarships as the new queen.

Hailey, daughter of Joan and Donnie Hensgens, represented Iberia Parish. She is a student at Louisiana State University.

Hailey’s favorite subjects are political science and anthropology. After completing an internship in Washington, D.C., her ambition is to achieve a master’s degree in public administration in order to one day run an international humanitarian organization to assist in the fight against human trafficking. 

Hailey’s hobbies include sketching, painting, “Do It Yourself” crafts, singing, playing piano, experimental cooking and baking, Yoga, squirrel hunting, skeet shooting, and having weekend barbecues with the family.

As part of her new duties and responsibilities as queen, she will be the ambassador of the International Rice Festival and she will oversee next year’s festival. She also was awarded many scholarships.

She was one of 12 contestants vying for the crown Saturday morning. She wore a white halter dress with an elegantly beaded top and graceful and flowing bottom half. 

As time drew nearer, more and more people gathered around the Cajun Country Rice Stage to cheer on the contestants. Throughout the pageant signs and shirts with numbers of all the contestants and cheers of their names and numbers could be seen and heard.

As the judges began to deliberate to narrow their choices to five, the International Rice Festival Dance Troupe, known also as the “Ricettes,” provided entertainment through five different numbers. 

During the pageant, each contestant was asked a question by the emcees. The interview serves as a way for the contestants to showcase their personality and allow the judges and crowd to get to know them better. 

In her interview, Hailey spoke about “rice and beans”. During a mission trip to Nicaragua, her diet mostly consisted of that due to the economic conditions of the country.

“The gratitude they showed over the littlest thing was so great,” she said. “They would invite us into their homes and cook for us, and that was always rice and beans.”

Before the queen was crowned, however, the 76th International Rice Festival queen, Sarah Mouton, addressed the crowd and thanked everyone who helped over the year, including her family, friends and those who help make the festival amazing every year.

The crowd looked on as the emcees announced, first, Miss Congeniality, as chosen by the contestants, to Maggie Mott, then it was finally time to name the queen and her court.

Named second runner-up was Melissa Minton, daughter of Betty and Dwight Minton, who represented the town of Welsh. Allie Doise, daughter of Cindy and Luke Doise, who represented the Jeff Davis Parish Farm Bureau was named first runner-up.

Joining them as contestants were Olivia LeJeune, Mallory Duhé, Dakota Henry, Katelyn LeDoux, Angellé Venissat, Stephanie Becnel, Amber Brewer and Madalyn Waltson.

Tasked with the difficult decision for the day were judges Annie Caillouet and Mark and Diana Denman.