Leah Bunkers brings Iowa talent
A sparkly tiara once balanced on the head of sophomore public relations major Leah Bunkers. But this isn’t a story of Honey Boo Boo or whiny toddlers in crowns. Bunkers grew up as an athlete and discovered that being a pageant girl means far more than strutting the stage in glittery heels.
“I wasn’t the typical pageant girl growing up because I was involved in sports and other things that people wouldn’t expect,” she said.
Bunker’s father, Doug, remembers Leah at age nine, creating her own business around hair ties.
He said, “Leah has always been a little quiet, a very hard worker and motivated to achieve whatever her goals are. She has always been willing to help others and extremely nonjudgmental. Leah is intensely loyal and has very good friends.”
At 14, Leah saw the opportunity to compete for scholarship money by entering the contests.
“I knew I would have to pay for college. I had the skills that they were looking for in a title holder, so I took it upon myself to train for it,” she said.
Leah enjoys exploring new things, so she and her family thought the decision was fitting. With her family’s support, she began a rigorous training schedule of working out, singing and poise lessons that changed her life. Bunkers first competed in Miss Capital City’s Outstanding Teen, a preliminary to Miss Iowa’s outstanding Teen. She was shocked when the crown was placed on her head.
“I was really surprised I won my first contest because I was the youngest contestant, and I didn’t know what I was doing…. It was a learning experience, and I did better every year,” she said. “I ended up getting first runner-up in Miss Iowa’s Outstanding Teen next. I really bettered myself by taking a look at each phase of competition and looking at how I can be the best I can be.”
Bunkers missed a lot of school her senior year. When she went on to win Miss Greenbelt, she had to travel back and forth to vocal coaches and trainers for the upcoming Miss Iowa pageant in hopes of winning and moving forward to Miss America.
Bunkers joined 16 other local titleholders for the Miss Iowa pageant and spent a week doing community service, volunteer work and making appearances all over the state.
“You really get to connect with the girls and make an impact on a lot of people in that one week. Then we had preliminaries to determine the top ten.”
Leah qualified for the next round of competition, making the top ten in the Miss Iowa pageant.
But her world came crashing down when her heel caught her dress in the evening gown event.
“It made me really mad, but you have to keep smiling,” she said.
After her tumble, she took a year off to move to Texas and study at Blinn College in Brenham. Then, she began training once again for Miss Muscatine.
With hopes of winning the $10,000 scholarship attached to this competition, she flew back and forth to Iowa for training. She even took voice lessons over the phone between working and studying.
“I worked really hard, and only got second runner-up. I did everything in my power that I could.… I want to get better and do that one again,” she said.
Leah transferred to UMHB this spring, when she drove through Belton on her way to Iowa and fell in love with the area.
Since then, she has joined the Sader Bells and found her place on campus socially and academically. She will also be a peer mentor for incoming freshmen next fall.
Her parents recently visited campus and were pleasantly surprised by what they found.
“We are so pleased with the strong academic traditions that UMHB has as well as the many leadership and social opportunities that exist,” Doug said.
One of Leah’s roommates, Savannah Davis, initially felt nervous about living with a transfer student.
“When we first found out we had a new roommate, we didn’t know what to expect. When we met her, she was so friendly, and we have become great friends. I was really surprised at first because I had never met anyone who does pageants before,” Davis said. “Leah lives differently than us because she eats so healthy and makes great food, and she works out twice a day. She is different than most college students.”
What’s next on the stage of Leah’s life?
She wants to enjoy college for a while and potentially go to grad school. While she misses the spotlight, she knows that pageants will always be a part of her life, and a few more competitions may be in her future.
Doug knows that whatever may come his daughter’s way, she will take it head-on and find a way to succeed.
He said, “We have enjoyed seeing Leah develop interpersonal skills, confidence and poise. It has been so fun to watch her compete as she has matured and grown into the beautiful, talented young woman she now is. We have celebrated her wins and helped her understand the learning opportunities that arise from not winning. We are so proud of her.”