Ten years ago, even her parents couldn't coax many words from their shy daughter.
Now 17, Beth E. Bonde has won the Carroll County Fire Prevention queen contest with extemporaneous answers to questions on fire safety.
"I used to be a shy little kid, who wouldn't say anything," said Beth.
Ellen Bonde credits 4-H with drawing her daughter out of her shell.
"4-H encourages demonstrations," said Beth, president of the 4-H Fashion Trends Club. "You have to talk."
Those talks prepared her well for the contest, Beth said.
"I wasn't nervous at all," she said.
Before a standing-room-only crowd Sunday at the Sykesville-Freedom Fire Hall, Beth marched across the stage, pulled a question from a fish bowl and handed it to one of three judges.
"Why are two escape routes important?" the judged asked.
"Everyone needs to know two routes in case the fire has blocked one," she answered.
A few minutes later, she fished another question from the bowl and explained why people of all ages need to learn fire prevention.
"Everyone reacts differently," she said. "From children through adults, all have to know what to do in case of a fire."
The second answer came a little easier to her, she said. In July, she won the Mount Airy contest, and the right to compete for the county title, with a one-minute speech on safety tips for young children.
"My mother is the director of a nursery school," she said. "I know how important it is to teach kids about fire prevention."
Beth is not sure whether her answers or her emerald green "good luck" gown gave her the edge. She was completely surprised, she said, when the announcer named her the winner.
"I looked around for a minute and wondered 'Beth who'?" she said. "It just happened so fast."
Jennifer Harmon, the Maryland fire prevention queen, crowned her with a rhinestone tiara and gave her a black sash with "Miss Carroll County Fire Prevention" printed in gold letters.
"When I was a little girl, I loved watching the fire parades and seeing the queens go by on the trucks," Beth said. "Now, I will be in a parade."
Every parade during the next fire company carnival season.
Beth also will reign over the first open house at Mount Airy's new fire station later this month.
In June, following her graduation from South Carroll High School, she will be off to Ocean City to compete for the Miss Maryland Fire Prevention title. She will have to write and practice a longer speech for that contest.
"My dad wasn't sure he was going to give me permission to go to Ocean City for senior week with my classmates in June," she said. "Now, he will have to."
Laonna Hinkle, Hampstead's queen, was first runner-up in the contest.
Tricia Jenkins, representing Winfield, traveled the farthest to compete. "She came from East Carolina University," said Terry Blaney, who helped coordinate the contest. "The contestants know when they win the locals, they have an obligation to be here."
Other competitors included Jennifer Ridgely for Sykesville, Trina Hossler for Lineboro, Joanna Itnyre for Manchester, Kimberly Lease for New Windsor and Alison Hetrick for Gamber.