(Editor’s note: Miss Ohio 2023 Madison Miller, 23, sat down Wednesday morning with Richland Source City Editor Carl Hunnell to talk about the first few months of her reign and discuss what comes next. The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.)
SOURCE: What were you involved in as a student at Coshocton High School?
MADISON: “Everything. I was involved in everything from National Honor Society to Spanish Club. I’m trying to think of all the different meetings I had. I was in volleyball. My best friend and I started the (girls’) cross country team there. It was just a team of two. We went and we actually ran with our rival school (River View), which was fun. They took us in and coached us and let us run with them.
“But I enjoyed most going to the animal shelter after schools. I was a college-credit plus student. So when I maxed out my hours and they said I can’t take any more college classes, I had the last half of the day free. So every single day I’d go after school, I would go to the local animal shelter.”
SOURCE: Why animals? What attracted you to a place that worked with animals?
Madison: “I just always find myself gravitating toward places that give back. It’s been a huge part of my childhood, finding opportunities to give back to the community. But specifically, organizations that are constantly serving areas where they see gaps.
“I volunteered with a variety of organizations, but the animal shelter was one of them. I did have cats and dogs growing up. Fish. You name it, we had it. But it’s now led me as an adult to rescue my first two animals over the last year or so. I have two cats at home, Bru and Winston. They’re both special needs. They’re 3 and 5 and the loves of my life.”
SOURCE: When did you decide to get into the Miss Ohio Scholarship Program?
Madison: “I saw Miss Ohio 2018 Matti-Lynn Chrisman. She has the bright red hair and she was from a small town (Cambridge). I watched her change the world and I knew in that moment when I saw her on Instagram that I could do that, too. So it took some Googling and a lot of YouTube research to be able to figure it out.
“The first Miss America thing that I’ve ever even watched was the first competition I ever entered. So I dove in head first and (2023) was my third attempt at Miss Ohio. But it’s been an incredible opportunity because I knew that I was inspired by a Miss Ohio. Being able to be that for others now is one of the coolest experiences I could ever have.
SOURCE: What were your previous Miss Ohio experiences like?
Madison: “I was Miss Maple City. I represented Norwalk for two years (during the COVID-19 pandemic) and then I was Miss Northern Ohio. I like to say I cut the state in half and just represented the northern half there. But I ended up winning as Miss North Coast and it was really special. I’m their 50th anniversary title holder, their 50th one. I’m their first talent winner that they’ve ever had. So it’s really cool to be able to be that legacy title holder.”
SOURCE: What did you learn about the Miss Ohio competition during those first two years that helped you in the third year?
Madison: “That first year I learned that this program is not what you think it is, from a superficial standpoint. When I saw Miss Ohio and this crown and sash, I saw it as a pageant. And I treated it as such. My first one, I tried to be this person who I wasn’t. I thought I had to be what we call ‘Pageant Patty’ and really present as this pageant-esque person.
“I learned right away that I was so wrong. And it really took me grasping onto that, ‘OK, it’s really about my service. It’s about my heart. It’s about who I am as a person.’
“That allowed me to relax a little bit. So once I learned about the program that first year, I came back being like, ‘OK, well if I could relax into the person that I am, who is she?’ And it really took that whole second year for me to figure it out.
“I look back at pictures and videos and you can still see me almost having like an internal conflict between who’s this pageant person and who’s Madison Miller. Once I let Madison just completely take over, I was not only more confident, but I felt better about the person I was presenting. It felt completely authentic.”
SOURCE: At what point during the process do you stop wondering what judges want to hear and see and just decide to be yourself?
Madison: “I say this to everybody, that ‘You are enough in this moment, just as you are, to do this.’ I always say to people coming into (Miss Ohio), set three goals that have nothing to do with winning. You have to be able to want something internal out of this experience. It shouldn’t be something that relies on the subjective opinion of people that you’re going to meet that day. You have to be able to decide within yourself what you want.
“So deciding weeks before (Miss Ohio) and solidifying that you are enough in this moment. I am enough in this moment. There’s self-doubt that comes into play with that. I will never be one to sugarcoat any bit of this experience. There’s weeks where you wake up and you have that doubt in yourself of, ‘Maybe I can’t do this. Maybe I need to say something different in that interview room because this is what I think that they want.’
“And you have to address that and tackle that immediately. So it really is working that muscle. So by the time you go in, it’s strong.”
SOURCE: What were your three internal goals?
Madison: “I wanted to be a better woman. I wanted to be a better leader and I wanted to change the world. And I’ve done all three of those things. Ironically, I feel like I completed those my first year. But the cool thing about how broad those goals are is that they can evolve, change and elevate.
“I always promise a set of judges every single time I interview that the person I am in this moment is exactly who you’re going to get for the entire year with a promise that I will elevate, that I will keep pushing myself, challenging myself, trying to succeed in different ways towards those goals. So they’re complete, but also at the same time unfinished.”
SOURCE: What have you been doing since you won the Miss Ohio crown on June 18 at the Renaissance Theatre in Mansfield?
Maddie: “I’ve been so busy, but that is the coolest feeling and coolest experience. Being able to share my mission and story about serving military veterans and connecting with veterans all over the state of Ohio has been the most meaningful part of it.
“I’ve been able to get down with kids and be able to inspire them and hear them and make them believe and know that they’re enough to achieve their dreams. You can figure out what you want to do maybe tomorrow as a kid and have the confidence to achieve it after you meet somebody who tells you.
“So I know I needed that as a kid. I was constantly inspired as a kid by hearing people who are like me now to let them know that like, ‘Hey, you can do this.’ So that’s what I’ve been doing with kids.”
SOURCE: You started a non-profit organization, The Veteran Narrative, which advocates for veteran mental health awareness and connects veterans with younger generations. Where does your passion for military veterans come from?
Madison: “It comes from a lot of places. I’m fortunate to say that my grandpas both served in Vietnam, but had different experiences. I had one who was stateside and I had one who was in country.
“My grandpa that was stateside never talked about his time in the service until I started doing this work more openly. My other grandpa, he taught me that freedom wasn’t free. And that’s all he told me about his service. That’s all we know about it.
“Through those experiences, on top of being a funeral homeowner’s daughter, I had the chance to grow up with our Honor Guard. So I got to see this really unique community of people who never stopped serving.
“They might have their DD-214s. They might have signed out of the service, but their service to each other, the community, that’s never stopped.
“I want make sure that they know that their stories are heard, their stories are valued, that there’s a place for their stories to forever be archived, that history can be saved through their individual lived experiences.”
“I want them to know that they matter. And that’s how this all has evolved. I went from talking to veterans as a kid and making them ‘Thank you’ cards from the time that I was like 6 years old.
“I had a veteran who saved a dinner place card from when I was 11, who had laminated it and kept it for 13 years. He came to my dad’s funeral home and asked to have it in his (funeral service). So it was his favorite gift and he wanted to make sure it was with him the day that he passed.
“We honored that wish, but we can make huge impacts on people’s lives with the smallest, but meaningful, gestures.”
SOURCE: Has anyone in your family been involved in the Miss Ohio program before you?
Madison: “No, this was actually pretty out of character, I would say, for myself even. But I was so inspired by seeing the women that were in the program that I wanted to be like them. And I wanted to see this experience for myself. And I’m so glad that I did.
“I’m very fortunate that my family has always been one where they encouraged us to all follow our own interests. My brother, he had his own path, my sister had her own path and I’ve had my own. It kept my parents busy. They were always running us everywhere we needed to be.
“But they’ve never backed down to a challenge that we’ve presented them for something that we’ve wanted to do. This really does take a village and I’m so fortunate that I have a really strong one.”
SOURCE: How are you preparing for the national Miss America competition?
Madison: “The same way I prepared for Miss Ohio. I want to leave that week knowing that there was nothing but Madison Miller out there. I think it’s really easy, especially when you’re up there with 50 other top women in the country, to start comparing yourself to others.
“But at the end of the day, we are preparing ourselves for the subjective opinion of five people. If I am presenting my best self, the Miss America that I can be, the Miss Ohio that I am, and that’s what they’re looking for, that’s great. Then I’ll be their Miss America.
“But if not, it says nothing about me personally. I just wasn’t their Miss America that year. I’ll come back and serve the State of Ohio in the same energy that I am now. So that’s the perspective I’m taking.”
SOURCE: Once Miss America is over, what comes next for you?
Madison: “I actually don’t have specific plans in place. I’ve learned that I can have goals, but there are so many amazing people that I’ve already met in this few months and opportunities that have come from that.
“I’m just trying to stay as present as possible and to take what’s in front of me. As of right now, I do want to go get my master’s degree in business administration. I just met with Ashland University’s president, their dean and their director of Veteran Services. They have a phenomenal veterans program and military outreach program. They’re a university that puts actions like their words into action and they mean it. So that’s somewhere that I am looking to get my MBA.
“That’s all I know right now. But that could change tomorrow.”
SOURCE: You spoke about changing the world? How do you accomplish that?
Maddie: “If you change the world for one person, that one person can go and change the world. You never know the type of people that you’re inspiring. Matti-Lynn had no idea. We hadn’t met. Me, just simply seeing her going out and chasing after her dreams of making impacts in the lives of so many people, that inspired me to come into the program and now be a part of the Miss Ohio legacy.
“She had no idea. So I am hoping to make sure that everybody that I encounter leaves feeling hope, feeling inspired, feeling loved, appreciated. Because you don’t know how long that could go. You could save somebody’s life. You could change somebody’s life and in turn, that could lead them on their own journey.”
Follow Madison Miller on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/madisonmillermao/