OCEAN CITY - Lindsey Petrosh soon learned that winning the Miss New Jersey pageant was about more than wearing a crown.

"It's like having a louder microphone," Petrosh said of the reach the crown and the title have. "As Miss New Jersey, you are a role model."

She recalled meeting a young girl just once and then later learning that the girl clipped her photos from the newspaper and looked up to Petrosh.

"Her mom thanked me for being a role model," Petrosh said. "She said, 'I'm so glad she chose you.'"

Petrosh was crowned Miss New Jersey on June 16, 2012, and on Saturday she will hand off the title to the next Miss New Jersey during the pageant's final night of competition at the Ocean City Music Pier.

The 24-year-old recalled the night she won.

"It was surreal. I personally didn't expect to win," she said as she sat outside at the Music Pier Wednesday. Inside, the 23 contestants competing this year were rehearsing their opening number.

"You always walk away with something if you don't win. You're just constantly bettering yourself," she said.

But Petrosh, of Egg Harbor City, did win, with some 70 family and friends looking on that night, and for the next year she traveled to hundreds of events and spread the word for her service platform of volunteerism.

She received a $10,000 scholarship for use toward her education.

"You don't really feel like you're Miss New Jersey at first," she said.

It wasn't until a Fourth of July parade when passers-by yelled "Miss New Jersey, Miss New Jersey" that her title really hit her.

She spent the next months combining her Miss New Jersey duties with preparing for Miss America, which was held in January in Las Vegas.

She attended lunches and parades and fundraisers and quickly learned the key to being the titleholder.

"The biggest skill that I've learned this year is to be flexible," Petrosh said.

On one occasion, for instance, she showed up expecting to attend, only to learn she was the guest speaker on the agenda.

She credited Sally Johnston, the state pageant co-director and Miss New Jersey traveling companion with helping her keep her cool.

Over the year, she sang the national anthem at various events - singing is a passion - and read to children about the need to help others - volunteerism is also a passion.

Now, she welcomes the return of the Miss America pageant to Atlantic City in September and cheers on the next Miss New Jersey.

"I am a South Jersey girl born and bred," Petrosh said. "Every year I went to the 'Show me your shoes' parade and the pageant. It was just a huge part of my life."

As her reign ends, Petrosh said the feeling is bittersweet.

"The year goes by so quick, but it is also a long and very daunting year," she said.

Now, the Rowan University graduate hopes to continue pursuing her master's degree in higher education administration. In the meantime, she has been working for Kerbeck as an infomercial spokeswoman and later this month she gets to sit on the other side of the table, judging for the first time at the Miss Virginia Outstanding Teen pageant.

Her advice to the next Miss New Jersey?

"Take in every second and savor it," Petrosh said.

Another former Miss New Jersey, Ashley Fairfield, who won in 2008, is also in Ocean City this week helping with the Miss New Jersey Education Foundation's Little Stars program for young girls.

Like Petrosh, Fairfield, 27, said the year moved quickly and also like Petrosh she said it was "the best experience of my life."

"The biggest thing is to remain calm and just be yourself," Fairfield said.

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:

609-463-6716

TGilfillian@pressofac.com