HANNIBAL — In 2016 she was crowned Miss Hannibal and in the journey from that platform, Ashley Cummins has built a life she is passionate about… with or without a crown.
The Hannibal native currently holds the title of Miss Boulder USA and will compete over the Fourth of July weekend for the title of Miss Colorado USA. If she wins that title, she will progress to the Miss USA pageant with the possibility of competing in the Miss Universe pageant.
Cummins has been on the pageant circuit for nearly a decade, having won numerous titles and competed in the Miss Missouri pageant several times. While the preparation and goal-setting for the competitions is something she is proud of, Cummins said learning what she is passionate about along the way has been the most important part of her journey.
They were timid footsteps first taken in Hannibal when she served as a Becky ambassador in 2008-09. Cummins said the role of her helped bring her out of her shell and prepare her for the public speaking she now does.
“That was my first time doing anything in public speaking or being in the Hannibal spotlight,” she said. “I was a really shy kid growing up so the Tom and Becky program really taught me a lot of social skills and how to communicate with all kinds of people.”
Those steps grew bolder as she went on to compete in the Miss Outstanding Teen and then became Miss Hannibal in 2016, also following in her mom’s footsteps. Melissa (Van Winkle) Cummins was Miss Hannibal in 1988.
However, it was in between those crowning moments in the spotlight where Cummins discovered who she really is. It was where the community service she learned from her through her childhood roles in Hannibal became a passion that steered her life from her in a new direction.
It’s called Camp Kesem.
Camp Kesem is a nationwide organization that hosts weeklong camps across the United States for children who are experiencing a parent with cancer. Completely free of charge to the family, the camp focuses on providing a fun getaway meanwhile connecting the campers to counselors and friends who can provide year-round support.
The camp was introduced to Cummins as a club option at Saint Louis University where she was studying biology on a pre-med track. After attending the camp as a volunteer, Cummins switched her major to psychology and now holds a degree in that field.
After eight years, she now works for the organization traveling the country in the summer as an adviser for different chapters of Camp Kesem and providing support to the student leaders to make sure everything runs smoothly.
She also works on the 24-hour hotline campers can call when they have problems or when situations come up in which they need extra support.
“I was going to school to be a doctor because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do but as soon as I was at camp, I knew I needed to switch my major to help people in a different way,” she said. “It just felt more appropriate for what I want to do in my life.”
Camp Kesem is what she spotlights when on stage for her pageants. The organization is funded completely through donations and she wants to bring as much light as possible to the important work they are doing.
She returned last week from a camp in Minnesota, which was the first in-person camp in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They attempted Zoom camps, but Cummins said they just weren’t quite the same as watching kids bloom during a week at camp.
“It was just a really great experience and to be able to see them happy and doing all the camp things, singing camp songs, and doing all the campfires,” she said. “It was just such a magical week.”
Cummins said her childhood in Hannibal played a large part in her love of helping others.
“Hannibal brought me to be passionate about community service because with the small town aspect you just realize how important it is in the way you treat other people,” she said. “Because you are in a small town community, being able to support one another really makes a huge difference.”
Cummins has also found passion through building a platform of her own. “Ashley Marie” is the fashion and lifestyle blog that became her full-time career in January. Working with both national and local brands, part of building the platform stems from her Hannibal roots.
“It has been awesome. I have been able to share local businesses, because growing up in the small town of Hannibal, we rely on our local businesses,” she said. “I have continued that mindset here in Colorado.”
Hannibal continues to play a role in Cummins’ life as she returns to visit her family. Ella’s mom, Melissa Cummins, is the marketing manager for the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum and the director of the Tom and Becky program.
“Now since my mom works as the Tom and Becky coordinator at the museum, when I come home to visit I get to be surrounded by that atmosphere again,” she said. “I know every time I come home it will be that familiar hometown feel and it will be a lot of fun.”
She was also awarded the Hannibal Outstanding Citizen Award by the Hannibal Jaycees in 2019 for her community service through pageants in Hannibal and her work with Camp Kesem.
“I don’t do the things I do for credit, I do them because I like them and I like helping others but to be recognized was really special,” she said.
Cummins said the foundation of support laid during her childhood is key to her now reaching for her goals.
“So I think it was mostly the people. The people I was around, my teachers, my family and friends. They were all very supportive of everything I said I wanted to do,” she said. “That really gave me a strong foundation to continue on and do that even after I left Hannibal.”
For the pageant, Cummins is preparing through nutrition and exercise. She is also working on mock interviews which is an important part of the process.
“You want to be able to show the judges who you are so if you have a good grasp of that going in it will make things so much easier and less stressful,” she said.
If she wins the Miss Colorado title, Cummins said she will be happy because it’s a goal she’s been working toward for more than 10 years. Due to her age, it will be her last year to compete for a state title.
“I always tell people it would be amazing to win but only one out of who knows how many girls who are competing will get that opportunity,” she said. “It really comes down to what I did beforehand and what I did during prep for it.”
She has spent the last 10 years building a life she is passionate about and she will continue on with that, with or without the Miss Colorado crown.
Cummins said she is grateful for the hometown support from Hannibal.
“I always feel it anytime that something comes up, especially with the pageant. I always read everyone’s comments and it just means a lot to have that support from back home,” she said.