GRAND FORKS — Since she was a little girl, Meg Morley has been fascinated by beauty pageants.

“I always had an interest in them, my whole life,” she said. “I had a Miss America Barbie when I was little.”

She was inspired by a cousin who lived in Washington state and who earned the title Miss USA, and an older sister who competed in pageants in the ‘70s.

“She just shined," said Morley of her sister.

The married mother of two and Grand Forks attorney achieved a long-time personal goal this summer when she was crowned Mrs. North Dakota 2019, at a Sioux Falls, S.D., pageant which covered both states.

Morley will compete, along with 50 other contestants, in the Mrs. America pageant later this month in Las Vegas. The event will be live-streamed through the organization’s website.

“The Mrs. America contest is the very first pageant specifically for married women,” she said. “It has always been a goal of mine to achieve this title.”

Over the years, she has entered other pageants and won, but is not permitted to elaborate under the conditions of her current title, she said.

“This one has been the most exciting,” she said. “It is the premiere organization for married women, and it’s the most respected. It’s really a classy organization.”

The Mrs. America competition will include a private interview, based on her personal platform, but also may include topics such as current events. Evening gown and swimsuit categories are part of the competition.

Important causes

Morley supports the Mrs. America organization’s commitment, via its corporate philanthropy, to prevent drug abuse, she said.

Through its foundation, Victoria’s Voice, established by parents of Victoria Siegel, who died from a prescription drug overdose in 2015, the organization seeks to warn the public about the dangers of prescription drugs.

Raising awareness about drugs “is such an important message, especially now,” Morley said. Drug abuse “is a problem across North Dakota and our country.”

Because much of her work in private practice involves family law, she has seen firsthand the pain that results when children’s lives are disrupted by parental drug abuse and they’re deprived of proper care.

“I work with it every day, and I see the real-life effects of it,” said Morley, who acts as an advocate for these children by helping them get into a safe and stable situation, and navigating the court system. “Because of the pain of addiction, it’s a sad, tragic situation.

“An overwhelming number of our families are being devastated by the effects of drug addiction. It’s reached a crisis level," said Morley, who works closely with Youthworks, a nonprofit organization that addresses the needs of at-risk youth throughout North Dakota.

Heart defect

In her role as Mrs. North Dakota, Morley also hopes to raise awareness of adult congenital heart defects, a subject she feels is little known or understood.

Born with a hole in her heart, “I went a long time misdiagnosed or undiagnosed,” she said. The condition affected her life “and kind of wreaked havoc on my body.”

“I kind of wowed a lot of my specialists,” she said. “I had two healthy babies, I went to law school, I've climbed the Acropolis. I’ve been able to lead a very active life.”

Two years ago, she had surgery to repair the “very large hole in my heart,” she said.

One in 100 adults has a heart defect, said Morley, who will be writing a blog and raising money for Adult Congenital Heart Association in hopes of alerting parents about signs to watch for in their children.

She also plans to become a peer-to-peer ambassador for the organization and aims to start a chapter in North Dakota.

“I want to raise awareness (of this condition) and be a source of support and love and strength for anyone who’s going through any sort of heart issue -- whether that’s a baby or a 60-year-old person or anywhere in between,” she said. “I really want to make that issue known.”

Farm upbringing

A native North Dakotan, Morley grew up on a sugar beet farm in Walsh County, the sixth and youngest child of William and Patricia Coffey. She and her husband, Michael Morley, have been married for 16 years and have two sons.

“I lived my whole life in North Dakota,” she said. “It’s an honor to go out and represent my home and heart and everything that’s great about North Dakota.”

Morley is looking forward to the part of the national competition when contestants wear a costume indicative of their home state. She isn’t allowed to share details, but “you get to be creative,” she said, noting that her costume will reflect something about North Dakota “and Grand Forks in particular.”

She would encourage other married women to consider entering the Mrs. America competition at the state level.

“There are women of all ages -- young women to senior citizens,” she said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to make friends and meet highly intelligent women with such diverse talents. Everyone has so much to share, and they’re doing what they can to make the world a better place.”