Nearly $3,500 were received at Lewisburg Middle School on Saturday night when about 400 people laughed with and cheered volunteer firefighters in drag as they raised money for their departments.
Raffle and entry tickets raised approximately $2,000 and about $1,500 was received in bottles, jars and buckets as the audience voted with their wallets to support their favorite fireman for the title of Miss Congeniality.
The figures come from Sheila Riggs, assistant coordinator of the Ms. Firefly Pageant. She stepped in for her mother, Kathy Orr, who was exhausted after weeks of preparation.
"I think we did really good," Riggs said. "I'm just really proud of the guys who did this. It takes a lot of guts to do it."
"It" was performing in a dress and makeup. Thirty-two contestants entertained the audience and a great deal of preparation was evident because better made-up contestants did seem to win the contests.
Adam Orr, who appeared as Miss Southern Belle Abigail, is the new Ms. Firefly, and County Commissioner E.W. Hill, president of the Caney Spring Volunteer Fire Department, was named Miss Congeniality for his appearance as Ilene Dover.
Even though the fundraising event was declared a success, the dollar amounts won't fill in the gap between what's being appropriated this year through county grants to volunteer departments compared to last year.
The recession has reduced county revenues, so instead of making a $4,500 matching grant available to each department, there will be matching grants of $1,500 during the current fiscal year.
And so County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett's appeal to the audience was even more important this year.
"As we all know, there have been some hard economic times," Liggett said. "The volunteer fire departments rely on donations. Some have breakfasts and dinners. When you see one of them advertised, please go and support them.
"You don't know how much it means to them," Liggett said of the volunteer fire department system that started in Marshall County some 29 years ago.
Most of the announcements during the show were scripted to be funny. So while the butt of the jokes were the firemen who volunteered to try a basic role reversal, the winning contestant, the assistant chief at the Farmington-Rich Creek Fire Department, took it in stride.
"It's all for a good cause," Orr said. "If we can go into a burning house, we can go up on stage."
Still, there were recurring comments, in jest, like those from Lisa and Troy Clark of Lewisburg. The mother conceded she never imagined her son doing such, and then she slowed down and said, "I think he's a little too comfortable with it."
She and her daughter had been watching him all week as he practiced and the mother said with some forced seriousness, "His younger sister has nightmares about it."
Weeks before the show, a couple of the firemen had been saying that their wives were having too much fun with the program, and apparently some of them had fun writing the introductions.
Fredweena was introduced as one who is "flirty and likes to talk dirty."
One of the firemen reportedly wants to be Miss March in the Firefighters calendar.
One contestant "likes to play with matches" and another "likes fire pole dancing," according to announcements made to the family audience that laughed and took pictures.
Riggs said the firefighters did so well that after the show "People were coming up to me asking about 'Next year...' and I'd say, 'What?'"
She's not ready for an encore. The firemen hadn't been asked.