Brandon K. Wright graduated with a B.S. in Speech Communication from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (2001), and a master’s degree in educational administration from the Department of Educational Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois (2004). He received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois College of Law (2004).
Prior to becoming an attorney at the firm of Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk & Miller, Ltd., Brandon worked as an administrative assistant and consultant at the Regional Office of Education for Alexander, Johnson, Massac, Pulaski and Union Counties. Brandon also served as a member of the Anna-Jonesboro Community High School Board of Education from 1999-2003, the youngest person to be elected to a school board in Illinois at that time. He has served as an Adjunct Faculty Member at Southern Illinois University’s Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses, and currently teaches school law courses as an adjunct at Eastern Illinois University.
Brandon has served on the Miss Illinois Board of Directors since 2015, serving the role of secretary before being elected President in 2019.
Claire Thorpe-KIinsky is an optometrist in Lebanon, Illinois and Breese, Illinois at Lebanon Optometric Center and Breese Family Vision Center. She is a second generation optometrist in her family, following in the footsteps of her mother and father and joining them in practice in 2012 after graduating from the University of Missouri- St Louis. Claire currently is involved in the Illinois Optometric Association and the American Optometric Association. She completed her undergraduate degree in biology at Millikin University in 2009.
Claire has been involved with the Miss America Organization for the past 15 years as a contestant, volunteer, certified judge and Miss Illinois State Staff. Currently, Claire is serving as the Vice-President of the Board of Directors of Miss Illinois and overseeing paperwork submissions for the state contestants. Claire believes the Miss America and Miss Illinois organizations give young adults the platform to build communication and intrapersonal skills that can be applied in all facets of life. The scholarship opportunities afforded to Claire during her competition years helped her pay for optometry school and further her education and she hopes to continue that aid for candidates for years to come.
Claire resides in Trenton, IL with her husband, Cody Reynolds. Claire and Cody enjoy traveling and attending sporting events of all kinds – but they especially enjoy cheering on the Illini, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Bears.
Meganne Trela is an associate attorney at Ottosen Britz Kelly Cooper Gilbert & DiNolfo, Ltd. She focuses her legal practice on local government law, labor and employment law, and insurance defense litigation. Meganne completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Arkansas in 2005 and earned her juris doctor degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law in 2012. In her youth, Meganne traveled the nation and world as a champion baton twirler. She additionally served as a feature twirler with the University of Arkansas Razorback Marching Band during her undergraduate career. Meganne participated in the Miss Illinois Scholarship Organization as a local titleholder between 2002 and 2007. Meganne currently lives in Tinley Park, Illinois with her husband, Ryan, and two sons, Bennett and Maddox.
Erik Soderstrom began working at the Ravinia Festival in 1999 while also pursuing a law degree from the University of Illinois John Marshall Law School. Prior to law school, Soderstrom’s passion for music blossomed while a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At U.W. Soderstrom worked on the prestigious memorial union music and entertainment committee programming live music for several venues and events throughout the campus. After graduating from law school, he accepted a position at Hurley & Stanners, Ltd in Chicago, where he practiced entertainment law, representing recording artists, theaters, presenters and working with the City of Chicago to present a seminar educating venues on safety procedures. With a solid background in law and strong experience in programming, Soderstrom became a perfect fit for the artistic department of the Ravinia Festival where he serves as Artistic Producer and works closely with the popular music and dance programming, serves as liaison between Ravinia and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, oversees all production staff and elements, and uses his contract knowledge with performance agreements, commissioning agreements and licensing agreements. Since 2012, Soderstrom has been teaching Music Festival Management in the School of Music at DePaul University. He also serves on the board of directors for the Peoria Symphony Orchestra.
As Miss Illinois 2007, Ashley Hatfield spent her year of service traveling throughout the state of Illinois making nearly 200 public appearances. During her year, Ashley served as the state ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network; a spokesperson for CHARACTER COUNTS!; and as a staunch advocate for her personal platform “Breast Cancer: Action, Awareness and Advocacy”. In January 2008, Ashley competed for the title of Miss America at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. She also appeared on the TLC reality series, Miss America Reality Check.
A talented vocalist who continues to showcase her singing, Ashley has performed onstage with Multi-Platinum recording artist Billy Gilman, and Grammy Award-Winning singer/songwriter Richard Marx. Currently Ashley is a member of The Main Street Players, a band that tours regionally, has opened for country music legend Kenny Rogers, and recently performed onstage at The Grand Ole Opry.
In 2015 Ashley incorporated the Miss Illinois Scholarship Organization after being named Executive Director by the Miss America Organization and in 2018 the Southern Illinoisan named her as one of the first 20 under 40 for her work with the program.
Ashley is a graduate of the University of Mississippi with a Master of Science Degree in Communicative Disorders. She is currently employed as a speech-language pathologist at Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center. Ashley continues to promote breast cancer awareness throughout her region and attends many charitable and civic events in her area. She lives in Anna with her husband Stephen and her son Colton.
Bob has volunteered with the Miss America Organization for 61 years on the state and local level. Along with his wife, Nancy, they began their service in 1959 as Co-Executive Directors of the Miss Macomb Scholarship Pageant, a capacity in which they served for 57 years until Nancy’s passing in 2016. In 2017 Bob was voted to a seat with the Miss Illinois Scholarship Organization Board of Directors, a position he currently holds. Bob has judged numerous local pageants in Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois and has judged the Miss Iowa Pageant twice. He has also judged the National Sweetheart Pageant and the Illinois County Fair Pageant.
Bob is the recipient of the 2019 Miss America Organization Academy of Honor Award, the most prestigious volunteer award offered by the Miss America Organization. In 2016 he received the Miss Illinois Scholarship Organization Lifetime Achievement Award. Along with Nancy in 2010 he received the 50 Years of Service Award from the Miss America Organization and in 2007 was inducted into the Miss Illinois Scholarship Organization Hall of Fame.
From 1997 to 2016, under the direction of Bob and Nancy, the Miss Macomb Scholarship Pageant, in addition to numerous non-cash awards and prizes, awarded the highest cash scholarships of any local pageant in the state of Illinois, totaling $142,000. Since 1972 the Miss Macomb Scholarship Pageant has awarded $181,325 in cash scholarships. In addition to their efforts with the Miss Macomb Scholarship Pageant, Bob and Nancy held numerous positions with the Miss Illinois Scholarship Pageant including Co-Chairmen of Central Headquarters, Members of the Hospitality Committee, Co-Chairman of the In-
Kind Scholarship Committee, Co-Directors of Field Operations, Operations Coordinators, and Parade Co- Chairmen for the Illinois delegation at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. Bob also served as a State Field Director for many years.
Bob is a native of Whitewater, Wisconsin and moved to Macomb, Illinois as a Recruiting Sergeant for the US Army and, after his discharge from the Army, took up residence in Macomb where he met Nancy, his wife of 62 years. He is a Korean War veteran, a JCI Senator, a member of the Macomb American Legion and past president of the Macomb Community Theatre and Macomb Jaycees and has been involved in numerous other community and civic organizations. Bob and Nancy have 2 children and 2 grandchildren. Bob resides in Macomb with his Miniature Schnauzer, Halle.
Jennifer is the Development Director for Hospice of Southern Illinois where she manages fundraising efforts for the non-profit organization. In addition, she loves meeting new people as she builds relationships with individuals, groups and local communities within the southernmost 27 counties in Illinois.
Before bringing her expertise to Hospice of Southern Illinois, Jennifer worked for fifteen years as the Southern Region Director of the American Cancer Society and in foster care and adoption services with Lutheran Social Services for four years as their Licensing Coordinator. Prior to entering the professional world of non-profits, Jennifer studied Psychology and Sociology at McKendree University where she was recruited to play basketball along with her studies.
When Jennifer if not attending or planning fundraisers, she loves to spend time with her husband of 23 years, Matt, teenage son, Justus and golden retriever, Rudy Ruettiger. She spends time with friends, exercises and shops for fun, loves everything Peanuts Gang related and is currently obsessed with fairy gardens.
Lori Dillman – Director
Biography and photo to come.
Rachel Johnson is a Chicago resident and a long-time Miss America volunteer. After falling in love with the Miss America Program as a competitor in Illinois, Rachel began volunteering with Miss Illinois in 2006, first as a local director then as a state field director. During her years with the organization, she’s had the pleasure to work with incredible women who have gone on to become engineers, Congressional staffers, lawyers, opera singers and concert pianists to name a few. Prior to serving as the MILOTeen Executive Director, Rachel was the executive director of Miss Chicago, the state’s oldest preliminary competition.
Rachel studied Speech Communications and English Literature at the University Of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is currently employed as a Large Account Underwriting Executive
Dr. Susan Shea graduated with Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from Western Illinois University-Macomb where she was a baton twirler for the Marching Leathernecks. Her doctorate degree is from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
Dr. Shea has been involved with the Miss Illinois Scholarship Organization for more than twenty years and currently serves as the business manager and travel companion for Miss Illinois and Outstanding Teen. She has judged numerous local and state Miss America competitions; some of the states are Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Oregon.
Prior to her retirement, she served as the first female Director of Aeronautics for the State of Illinois for ten years. She resides in Springfield, Illinois, where she is currently on the Abraham Lincoln Capitol Airport Board of Commissioners.