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Miss Kansas 2022 Ayanna Hensley Shares Her Story as Part of McPherson Optimist’s 50th-Anniversary Celebration


By Lucky Kidd, Ad Astra Radio


MCPHERSON, Kan. – To say Miss Kansas 2022 Ayanna Hensley did not have the best of early childhoods would be an understatement. Hensley shared her story with members of the McPherson Optimist Club and special guests Tuesday during the club’s 50th-anniversary celebration at the McPherson Community Building.

Ayanna’s mother suffered from a severe drug addiction, and she and her younger brother moved several times around the Dodge City area in her early years. Ayanna found herself in what amounted to survival mode, at times having to take care of her brother who was still in diapers at the time.

While the family was living in what she described as a “rat-infested” trailer house in Ford, southeast of Dodge City, a second-grade teacher at Bucklin Elementary School took notice of her struggles and began working with her.

Hensley told of having to scrounge around Ford, which had perhaps 15-20 homes total, looking for food as her mother was not at home. One day, she was called to the principal’s office where her father was and learned her mother was in jail following a recent drug arrest. From there they moved in with family in Hutchinson, which she said was a challenging experience for her.

She would move several times in the intervening years, during which time her father nearly died. Her survival mode motivated her to become very involved in school, including being part of the dance team at Dodge City High School, while also taking college classes and working.

A life-changing experience would occur in 2019 during her senior year at DCHS, when while at a dance team rehearsal, her principal arrived and said that there was going to be a presentation. It to Ayanna who became part of the second group of Rudd Scholars, which earned her four-year scholarship at Fort Hays State University.

At Fort Hays, she was encouraged to participate in the Miss Kansas program. After being first runner-up in 2021, Hensley was crowned Miss Kansas 2022 last June in Pratt.

While in McPherson Hensley also spoke with local students. 

The McPherson Optimist Club was chartered on February 27th, 1973, with 38 members. During the celebration, past president Joe Johnston shared the club’s history as well as some of the projects that they have been involved with in fulfilling the Optimist motto, “Friend of Youth.”

Early club projects included midget football leagues, Easter egg hunts, oratorical contests, and lawn-mowing clinics. They were also involved in organizing Junior Olympic track meets and the Wall Park Development Committee.

Current Optimist projects include the Stars and Stripes Flag program, a teen gift program at Christmas, the Mid America Classic girls high school basketball tournament, and a Halloween Carnival. They also still put on an Easter egg hunt each year. This year’s event is coming up on April 8th at the Grant Complex.

Other speakers during the program included current Optimist president Jay Pavlik, and Kansas District Optimist Governor Doug Jardine of Manhattan, who presented a proclamation from Optimist International President Bob McFayden saluting the McPherson club on its 50th anniversary.

You can hear Ayanna Hensley’s story this weekend on Ad Astra Radio. We’ll have it Sunday morning during Focus on Kansas on 94.7 KSKU, 95.9 HK-FM, Kansas Rocks 100.3, and Kicks 106.1, and on Sunday Magazine on Mix 96.7 and 98.9 KMCP. This segment will air on both stations at around 6:15 AM.