Wichita native Gentry Miller competes for Miss USA

Growing up, Gentry Linn Miller used to watch the Miss USA pageants on TV and daydream about competing. Tonight, Miller, a Wichita native, will represent Kansas in the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas.

Crowned Miss Kansas USA this past fall, Miller, 24, was not a regular pageant competitor as a child. Cheryl Miller, Gentry’s grandmother, enrolled her in dance classes in Dodge City when Gentry was 3 years old. Gentry was incredibly shy, so Cheryl put her in pageants as well. “She is who she is today because we did that,” Cheryl said.

Gentry competed in pageants until she was 6 years old and didn’t compete again until her senior year at Wichita’s Northwest High School. That year, she entered a pageant because she wanted “one last experience” to give her some public speaking experience before college. She won Miss Kansas Teen USA and graduated valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA.

Gentry took another break from pageants while at the University of Kansas. She put herself through school with scholarships and grants and, in 2010, graduated with a 4.0 GPA. She was also selected to give the commencement speech for KU’s School of Business, “one of the biggest honors she’s ever had,” Cheryl said.

A dedicated student, Gentry attributes much of her drive and studious nature to her grandmother. “I always talked about the importance of education so she could always provide for herself,” Cheryl said. “And she took it to heart.”

Cheryl, who adopted Gentry after her mother became ill and could no longer care for her, is proud of Gentry’s work ethic and how far she’s come. “I don’t care if she wins Miss USA; that’s not the point. It’s the experience,” Cheryl said. The two are very close and even share a duplex in Overland Park. “All my friends are like, ‘Really, you live with your grandma?’ ” Gentry said.

Tonight, more than 20 friends and family members, including Gentry’s grandmother, will be cheering her on in Las Vegas at the Miss USA competition. Gentry hopes to win but, if not, will continue working as a pharmaceutical sales territory manager selling glaucoma products for Allergen’s eye care division.

Gentry, who lived in the Reflection Ridge area, considers Wichita a “great town to grow up in” and remembers going to River Festival concerts and movies at the Warren Theatres. She has no plans to move back to Wichita anytime soon but doesn’t rule it out. “I would come back to Wichita if my career path leads me there,” she said.

Miss USA 2012 will be crowned during a live broadcast starting at 8 tonight on NBC and KSNW, Channel 3.