Hometown Girl

Community service is a way of life for 2021 Sweet Corn Queen

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MENDOTA – Growing up in Mendota, Perris Stachlewitz had dreamed of being in the Sweet Corn Festival Queen Pageant one day, but she never expected to win the crown. Now that she has won the role of 2021 Queen, Stachlewitz looks forward to sharing her love for Mendota and plans to serve her community in a variety of new ways.

The daughter of Rusty and Jenny Stachlewitz, each year Perris had watched the pageant with her grandma, Deb Stachlewitz. “I always wanted to be one of the beautiful girls on the stage. It was incredible to finally be there, and then getting the crown was unforeseen and insane,” Perris said a week after winning.

A 2021 graduate of Mendota High School, Perris was very active in music, sports and student government as well as the Interact Club during her first three years of high school. But when the pandemic hit toward the end of her junior year, schools shifted to remote learning and everything changed. By the start of senior year last fall, MHS had taken the necessary steps to hold in-person classes, but Perris admitted that she felt uncertain about the success of returning to classrooms at that time.

“I thought it was going to be a struggle going back to school last fall – I thought we would probably end up having to quarantine,” she recalled. “But Mendota High School did a phenomenal job of taking precautions and that didn’t end up happening, and I also got to participate in some extra-curricular activities during the year, which was great.”

Perris is continuing her education at Illinois Valley Community College and has already acquired some credits through dual enrollment courses she took in high school. She then plans to transfer to Illinois State University and earn a degree in Natural Resources with specializations in Biology, Environmental Science and Conservation. In the future, she hopes to work as a conservation biologist.

Perris said she has always loved animals – even bugs – and her interest in conservation began at a young age. “I’ve done a lot of kayaking and hiking and always enjoyed the beauty of nature, the ecosystem and I feel we really need to preserve them for us and for the creatures that call the outdoors home,” she said. “I am very concerned about the environment. One of my big interests is soil conservation and pesticide use.”

Perris noted that her father has been a great role model in choosing a career. “He always told me that my choice of career path should not be determined by how much money you make but by doing something you love,” she said.

Another important role model for Perris has been her grandmother, who taught her not only how to cook and sew, but also to have confidence, to be kind and to give back. “I love how dedicated my family is to this community. They always said it’s not just ‘your’ community, it belongs to everyone. You need to help everyone because Mendota is actually just one big family,” she explained. “I really love that about this small town. No matter where you go, you’ll always find a smiling face somewhere.”

Community service started quite early for Perris. At the age of 5, she began delivering Meals on Wheels with her grandmother. “We would go to the door and talk to people as we dropped off the meals,” she recalled of the experience. “I really enjoyed that and it affected me.”

To this day, she enjoys visiting with the elderly. A few days after winning the pageant, Perris went to Stonecroft and spent time talking with the residents. “In one way or another, everyone has some type of connection with the Sweet Corn Festival,” she explained. “Some of the older people were not able to go to the festival this year, so I was able to tell them about it, let them know what it was like and who was there.”

Even though she is now starting college, Perris intends to stay very involved with the community. In September, she will do 100 Miles for Survivors to raise money for the Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline. “I’ll be running 100 miles during the month with Mendota cheering me on, and I’m excited to do that,” she said. “Suicides among returning veterans is very high and that has always affected me.”

In October, she will again conduct the coat and sock drive that she established through the Rotary while in high school. “Last year through social media, I drove all the way to Indiana to pick up a load of coats and socks, which I then brought back and donated to local shelters and schools,” she noted.

In her spare time, she also makes quilts and blankets to donate to charity. “I’ve been sewing since I was 5 – anything that keeps me busy and happy is what I like to do,” she said.

One of the main goals for Perris, though, is to get the mini king and queen more involved in activities this year and show them that community service can be fun, much like her grandmother did for her. She sees projects such as helping the Gardeners Club plant flowers around town as one way to get the mini royalty involved and hopefully to also inspire other kids to take part.

“I think it would be great to get more kids interested in community service,” she said.

Perris said she is shocked by the number of kids who have never been to Mendota’s museums and don’t know the history of the community. “I’ve always wanted to get younger kids involved in their community,” she emphasized. “I was very lucky to have a family that encouraged me to be involved and volunteer, but not all kids are that lucky. This is really important to me.”

Once the whirlwind of the festival was over, one of the first stops for Perris was attending a Rotary Club meeting to thank the organization for all their support. “As my sponsors, they were so excited that I was chosen as Queen this year,” she said. “It has been phenomenal to have them in my corner, and actually, they cheered me on all through high school in my community service projects.”

Perris also expressed her appreciation to the Chamber, especially the Masinis and Shelby Weide, for their work on the festival and to Allison Wasmer and Abby Fancher for their help getting the contestants ready for the pageant.

After college, Perris intends to return to Mendota – or nearby – and begin her career in the soil science/conservation field doing water testing and soil sampling. “I want to come back home, this is my place and the residents of Mendota are my people,” she said. “I love this town.”