By Sam Campbell (Leonard Wood)April 30, 2019
Chelsea George of Waynesville, or more recently known as Mrs. Missouri, is a fan of adventures.
Her husband, Capt. Tony George, currently serves at Fort Leonard Wood. He is the same way, she said, and with being part of a military family, she's had quite the journey.
"My family, we're currently on a quest to see all 50 states," she said. "Every time we got orders somewhere, we were excited about the adventure."
Her family first moved to the area for six months in 2013 during her husband's Captains Career Course.
She said adjusting to the difference in regional lifestyle was difficult, but social connections made the transition easier.
"I think it's really important to get plugged in with different groups, whether it's volunteering or joining a club, because it can be kind of slow at first," she said.
Out of her desire to integrate into the surrounding community, she was introduced to the Mrs. Missouri pageant, which she would win six years later after several back-to-back moves and returning to Fort Leonard Wood.
"It was a really good way to meet friends when I moved to a different state," she said. "That was what initially got me into it, but it (also) gave (me) a platform to speak about things that are important to (me)."
Her platform was a choice riddled with emotions from years past, she said. To Chelsea George, there are few more important causes than skin cancer prevention.
"Ten years ago this year, I had my uncle Jamie pass away from melanoma," she said.
He was 42 years old.
"It was five months from the day he was diagnosed to the day he died," she added. "He had a big part in raising me."
Because of her single mother's working hours and pursuing a doctorate, she said, she spent several nights a week at her uncle's house.
"He was this big, huge 6-foot 7-inch police officer in an area that was kind of rough, a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, where I lived," she said. "To me, (he) was my hero, and nothing could touch him. (He) couldn't be defeated."
"Then, to see this terrible disease take him so quickly, it's definitely something that really molded me and changed me going into adulthood," Chelsea George said.
She was 19 years old.
"The phrase 'grief is a process' is definitely not a lie," she said. "For a long time, I really couldn't even talk about it without being super emotional."
George was previously a licensed cosmetologist, and even though she wasn't vocal about her platform yet, she volunteered to assist cancer patients who wanted to "look good (and) feel better."
"Women who have cancer (would) come in and get a makeover," she said. "You (would) teach them how to deal with things like losing eyebrows, how to apply makeup to cover that, how to pick a wig that's best for (them)."
"It wasn't melanoma-specific, because I knew I wanted to help (all) people with cancer, but I wasn't ready to talk about my uncle Jamie and his story," she added.
George would later graduate with a degree in exercise science and begin working at the Missouri University of Science and Technology Wellness Department. This education, coupled with a natural maturing in the grief process, she said, allowed her to open up about her hero.
"I finally got to the point where I could talk to people about it," she said. "Working in the field of prevention specifically kind of led me to realize, 'I can take what I know about prevention work and put it toward this thing that's super important to me, and hopefully make the smallest bit of difference.'"
Bringing light to melanoma prevention and education carried her to the competition where she would ultimately be crowned Mrs. Missouri.
Even on stage, she said, it's still a sensitive subject.
"I think there were 5 judges, and I cried with 4 of them," she said. "Sometimes, it's still hard to talk about, but it's important to talk about. Knowing how important the message is, (even) if I stumble over my words, that's okay, as long as the message gets out."
The next year will prove to be a significant one for George as she advocates for her cause, celebrates her 10th wedding anniversary and competes for Mrs. United States in Las Vegas in August.
"She worked so hard not only for the pageant but she's worked on her education, getting her bachelor's degree and working on her master's degree, she's holding down a full-time job and parenting two kids," Tony George said. "I'm proud of her for all the work she's done."
The last Mrs. Missouri contestant to win the title of Mrs. United States was Aquillia Vang in 2012, a Waynesville resident at the time, and military spouse, whose husband, Maj. Neng Vang, was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood.