Sarah Farra, ‘06: Mrs. South Carolina
in February 2012
Mrs. South Carolina United States
Sarah Farra isn’t your stereotypical pageant queen. The current Mrs. South Carolina United States and Carolina alumna may enjoy the spotlight, but she’s more interested in using her title as a platform to promote a healthy lifestyle, especially in children.
Sarah works as an executive assistant for Walter P. Rawl and Sons, headquartered in Pelion, SC, which operates as a “family farm” with more than 600 employees in several states as a grower, shipper and processor of fresh produce. This serves as the perfect link to one of her missions as Mrs. South Carolina United States in promoting healthy eating habits in schools and the community.
“The more we can get off processed foods and into natural foods, I really believe we’re going to see obesity rates and heart disease rates go down,” Sarah says. “A lot of these natural foods have cancer-fighting agents as well, and that can help solve a lot of health problems before they actually happen.”
Well-Traveled Before Her Pageant Days
With both of her parents serving in the United States Air Force, Sarah was well traveled before she even arrived on the Columbia campus. Her father, Kenneth Colton, retired as a lieutenant colonel after 34 years, while her mother, Laura, served for six years. She lived in a lot of places before coming to Carolina for her education, but she does not consider herself a "military brat."
“I am a military princess,” Sarah laughs. “There is a big difference because if you put ‘bling’ on anything, I will wear it.” Sarah grew up right outside of Washington, DC, at Andrews Air Force Base. She moved around every couple of years, living in six different states as well as in Athens, Greece. Sarah started her collegiate career at Shenandoah University and Conservatory in Virginia, where she studied musical theater and political science. With her parents living in Montgomery, AL, Sarah was missing her family after one year at the school. Her father was retiring from the Air Force and was moving to Columbia, SC, so she transferred to Carolina.
“When I got here, I immediately moved into my own place and was living on my own,” Sarah says. “I probably grew up too fast, in hindsight. I was in such a hurry to be an adult, I think I missed some of the full college experience. I loved Carolina, though. I loved my major.”
As a Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism major, she thoroughly enjoyed the one-on-one connection with some her professors.
“You can never forget anything Professor (Ed) Coon says, because it’s all comedic,” Sarah says. “He was great. My favorite professor was Dr. (Betsy) Bender. She was the embodiment of a powerful woman in business, and she came back to teach because she loved it. She wanted to convey that passion to other people.”
Sarah worked at a couple of different hotel jobs while in school. So in essence, she likes to say that she was able to utilize her degree while she was getting it.
“I was thoroughly engaged,” Sarah says. “I liked it because it engaged different parts of my brain. I was never bored. I really enjoyed Carolina, but I was working 40 hours per week, and I was a full-time student. I was also a junior-high and senior-high school youth counselor for one of the churches and still would sing in a Christian praise band. So there was very little time for anything else.”
From the Farm to the Spotlight
After graduation, Sarah used her degree to obtain jobs as an executive meeting manager at Embassy Suites and later as the senior catering manager at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Columbia before working in retail for a designer shoe company. She was later recruited to work at Walter P. Rawl and Sons, for which she handles all of the food shows, some national accounts, and national marketing among other things.
It was at that point that pageants came into her life with Mrs. South Carolina United States.
“I had never actually competed in a pageant except for one when I was in the 11th grade,” Sarah says. “I work very well when I have goals. I wanted to feel like I was making a difference in the community. I wanted to do more than just work and come home. So my husband and I decided this might be a good idea.”
There are a lot of stereotypes about pageants, and Sarah says that contestants do fulfill some of them at times, but overall she found it to be a rewarding experience.
“What I was impressed to see on the state level was that you had a good group of girls, and we didn’t have a lot of time to bond, because it’s only one weekend,” Sarah says. “On the national level, it was amazing. You had a roommate and all of these other experiences with events. When you’re competing nationally, it’s a week full of activities leading up to the event, and you really got to learn about these women. They’re doctors, they’re authors, they’re mothers, and for the most part they’re the most gorgeous, yet humble women you’ve ever met.”
Even though she was a “rookie” to the pageant life compared to many of her fellow contestants, she found it to be a life-changing experience.
“Sometimes for married women, especially in the South, there isn’t always the motivation to better yourself and to want more than where you are,” Sarah says. “I’ve discovered that it’s OK to want to be content where you are, but you should never settle and think you can’t do more. So now it’s all about telling married women, you can be beautiful, and you can be smart. You have to be well balanced. You can do all those things you wanted to do with your life and still be a good wife and good mother.”
After winning the Mrs. South Carolina pageant last spring, she went on to the Mrs. USA pageant in Las Vegas.
“A lot of the competition is physical fitness, and the interview is quite intense with a panel of judges,” Sarah says. “They want to know a lot about you, intellectual depth, and what you do in the community and what your goals are. We all have to have a platform and a national organization so that if you win, you will help gets funds for it.”
Making the Title Work for Her
This pageant competition satisfied Sarah’s love for performing on stage, but there was more to it than that.
“The long-term effect was that by winning a title, it didn’t change who I am,” Sarah says. “It gives me a crown and bigger earrings, but it does allow me to have a microphone that I didn’t have before for a cause. When I put on the Mrs. South Carolina sash, people will listen. I feel like this allows me to help make a difference.”
The title allows a lot more freedom than other pageants with fewer obligations. In fact, she gets to make her own schedule and also keep her full-time job while serving as Mrs. South Carolina USA.
“I try to get involved in a lot of the elementary schools, middle schools and other groups that encourage young girls to live a fit and healthy lifestyle, focusing on childhood nutrition and trying to increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables,” Sarah says. “I have gone to a lot of churches and have spoken to women’s groups. I’ve also judged a lot of local pageants, which allows me to tell a lot of the young contestants things I didn’t get to hear when I was a contestant myself. This pageant doesn’t change who you are. This is just one person’s opinion on one day of the year.”
Tying it all together, working at Walter P. Rawl and Sons is more than just a giant farm.
“We actually supply the food to the schools,” Sarah says. “We supply the food to the consumers. So I can do a lot through work by educating consumers on what leafy greens will do for you with all of the healthy antioxidants, all the fiber and all the nutrition,” Sarah says. “When it comes to school children, I can tell them to put down the candy bar, and explain how they can get energy by eating the orange.”
Sarah is also a supporter of Girls on the Run, which is a non-profit prevention program that encourages preteen girls to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through running.
Holding the title of Mrs. South Carolina carries responsibility, but unlike other pageants, Sarah has a little more control of her day to day life–for better or worse!
“There’s no financial compensation for being Mrs. South Carolina,” Sarah says. “When I travel and make an appearance as Mrs. South Carolina, I have to pay to go there. I buy my wardrobe and all that. Do I worry about public perception by showing up at a particular event? No, because I’m still allowed to be me. I do make it clear that I am attending as Mrs. South Carolina, but I am not representing the opinion of the pageant system.”
Since she is not a “career” pageant person, Sarah is able to have an open mind when it comes to stereotypes and negative aspects of pageant life, especially those involving young children.
“I cringe when I think a parent is pushing a child to do something they don’t want to do other than of course the normal parenthood rules,” Sarah says. “I hope parents will take into consideration that one day the children will be adults and allow them to be well rounded. If they don’t want to do a pageant and would rather play baseball, then that’s what they should do.”
Sarah and her husband, Daniel Farra, ’04, shared the same major at Carolina, but strangely enough the couple never met while in school.
“We wonder now if we were ever in some of the same classes, but I was always that annoying girl in the front row that always had questions,” Sarah says. “He was the ‘stud’ in the back that didn’t have to ask questions. So we probably would have hated each other if we met earlier.”
Sarah is an avid singer, and enjoys performing at local theaters as well as singing the national anthem at sporting events whenever she is offered the opportunity. She would jump at a chance to sing or perform at a Carolina sporting event if the opportunity arises–even if she’s no longer wearing the Mrs. South Carolina United States crown at the time!