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Miss America's 75th

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Crowning of Shawtel Smith, Miss America 1996

Via YouTube.com

Years later, with the still beautiful Shawantel Smith, Miss America 1996 

With Shawntel Smith (Oklahoma)
shawntel-me2.jpg
Miss America 1996


Heather Whitestone, Miss America 1995, (Alabama) ends a brilliant year of service.


With Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, Miss America 1988 (Michigan)in Convention Hall. September 1995.

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***


Yours truly on the boardwalk!


Former titleholders in attendance.


My friends Carol Mc Carthy & Connie Mc Carty with Phyllis George, Miss America 1971 (Texas).


Parade photo of Oklahoma's Shawntel Smith. One day later she'd become MISS AMERICA 1996!


Paula Montgomery, Miss Arkansas, enjoys the parade.


Amber Medlin, Miss Virginia, in the parade.


Former Miss Americas, Tawny Godin (New York, 1976) and Leanza Cornett (Florida, 1993) talk things over during preliminaries.


Marjorie Vincent, Miss America 1991 (Illinois)


...with Susan Powell, Miss America 1981 (Oklahoma)


Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, Miss America 1988 (Michigan)

*****

We thank you for the hits we have received here!

Photos by Joann Baker & Connie Mc Carty. Text by John H. Baker.

All material Copyright 2001-03 by John H. Baker (JHB ONLINE), unless otherwise indicated.

JHB ONLINE: PAGEANTS
75TH ANNIVERSARY: MISS AMERICA
SEPTEMBER 1995


The opening number.

The trip of a lifetime!

It had always been my dream to go to Atlantic City for the Miss America pageant. I made plans many times. But something else always came up.


Then in 1994, Miss America Kimberly Aiken made an appearance at a local Target store on behalf of pageant sponsor, Fruit of the Loom. I was wearing a souvenir T-shirt my mother had ordered as a Christmas present. Kimberly asked if I had been to the pageant. I said: "No, we got the shirt through the mail. She responded:" You should come this year. " Then she thought. "No, wait a year and come to the 75th. It's going to be big! "

Mom and I had other friends who also interested in going. Connie Mc Carty, who had competed in pageants, herself. Though not in the Miss America system. and Carol Mc Carthy, who had only watched pageants on television, like me. Neither one of them could make plans right away.

A few months later, however. The phone rang. It was Connie. She wanted to know if we were still interesting in going. She found she had the time, and frequent flyer miles that were soon to expire. So did we. So Mom called Carol. She still wasn't ready to make a decision. We decided to start looking for a hotel anyway. We knew we could always cancel them. We had done so in the past.

There were rooms available in many different price ranges. We were looking for something reasonable, yet close enough that we could walk to Convention Hall. It is difficult for my mother to lift me in and out of taxi cabs. We made a reservation at the Holiday Inn Boardwalk. The next job was to get tickets to the event. Mom had relatives who lived in Atlantic City. In fact, I think one of them use to be mayor. Long-time residents of the area, they had also been involved with the pageant and gave us the name of someone who could help us.

Mom spoke with Chat Gizondi for a long time. She explained that we needed wheelchair accessible seating, a companion seat, as well as to two other seats. (We had decided to order a ticket for Carol in the hope that she would decide to join us. Chat was very helpful, and said it would be no problem to arrange tickets for the preliminaries, finals, or the boardwalk parade.

The only thing left to arrange with transportation between the airport in Philadelphia and the hotel. We were told that there was an Amtrak station nearby and that it was wheelchair accessible. This turned out not to be true, we didn't know that then. We thought our planning was finished. So we just waited for Carol’s decision.

Eventually, Carol decided that she could combine the trip to Atlantic City, with a trip to Delaware to visit her daughter, and then go on to a family reunion in Chicago when the pageant was over. So, we were on our way!

We made our plane reservations so that we would all connect in Dallas, where Connie lives. Mom and I was surprised to find both Carol (who had come from northern California) and Connie meet us at the gate when our plane landed.

We were all so excited. We couldn't stop talking about the adventure to come! Mom happened to be sitting next to two women from the California delegation. So we found out all the news about Tiffany Stoker, Miss California. They also told us that Miss Illinois, Tracy Hayes, was a Californian and had previously completed in their local area. They were rooting for her, too.

The plane landed in Philadelphia, and we soon found out that the Amtrak was not going to work for us. We frantically searched for alternate transportation to Atlantic City. Finally finding a transport company that could accommodate my wheelchair. Unfortunately, it would be a couple of hours before they could get to us, as we did not have a reservation. We waited and waited, snacking on Rice Krispie treats we had brought with us. We were ecstatic when the van arrived. It was still quite a journey to our destination. It was about 9:00 PM when we got to the hotel, and we were all starving! We went next door to Trop World, and really ate. Then, we decided to a stroll down the boardwalk to look for Convention Hall. We were excited to see the special banners proclaiming Miss America’s anniversary. We knew we were in the right place! It was getting dark, and we knew we had a big week ahead of us. It was time to go back and to go to bed.

The week that followed really is a blur of activity. There was not a moment to spare! There were book signings featuring former Miss Americas. And it was thrilling to meet these fine women. We always kept an eye on the schedule, we liked to be first in line. Among my favorites were Susan Perkins and Kelly Cash. We also had interesting encounters with Phyllis George and BeBe Shopp. We ran into merchant Gretchen Carlson on the boardwalk and Dorothy Benham in the Ocean One shopping mall. Which featured a sand castle birthday cake in honor of the event. Dorothy was particularly gracious. You see, not wanting to embarrass ourselves, my mother and I stood a few feet from trying to decide if it actually was her. She was right in front of the birthday cake and we couldn't believe we could locate a former winner in such a convenient spot.

Meeting Phyllis was another interesting story. She was in the lobby and convention hall, buying quite a few copies of the 75th anniversary book. She explained that she would be taking them to the White House, as gifts for First Lady, Hillary Clinton and others. She then posed for photos with all of us. My mother is a bit camera shy, but Phyllis would have none of that. And playfully dragged mom into a photo "against her will". We also had the pleasure of meeting Phyllis’ father, who proudly recounted the night his daughter won the crown.

Another proud father we met during the week was that Paula Montgomery, Miss Arkansas at that event. In fact, we met Paula, both her parents and her grandmother. They seem to be a wonderful family, but a bit overwhelmed by the whole experience. Weren't we all!

Preliminaries were a lot of fun - especially the first night-as we picked both winners: Helen Goldsby, Miss New York in talent and Tiffany Stoker, Miss California in swimsuit. It was also a thrilling because we had the honor of watching Miss America 1995, Heather Whitestone dance each night. Other former Miss America’s such as Dorothy Benham and Kellye Cash also performed. One of late the highlights was the night Susan Powell, Miss America 1981, reprised her winning operatic talent routine. We were truly having the time of our lives!

We weren't always as successful picking preliminary winners the following 2 nights, but it was still a blast! They actually use the preliminaries to rehearse the show for Saturday night, so it was interesting to see the improvement each night. It was a special treat because it meant we got to see Heather Whitestone dance four times during the week. One night Connie spotted her on the stage after the show. We rushed me off the platform the wheel chairs were placed upon to give a better view. Down the aisle we raced, hoping to get to her before she left. We made it! With her mother's help, we were able to communicate with her and get her to autograph our programs.

I have to say that the boardwalk parade was the most fun we had all week. Throughout the day, we passed people setting up rows of chairs for the big event! It was a thrill to see how many people turned out. At each contestant run down the boardwalk on the back of a classic convertible. They were applauded and cheered, even by those from other delegations. As in all parades, there were slow-downs and dead stops. At one point, the car of Shawntel Smith, Miss Oklahoma was stalled in front of us for quite some time. It didn't bother her, however. She just chatted, smiled and waved (and occasionally showed us her shoes, thus upholding the pageant tradition of contestants wearing unusual footwear during the parade. One of the more touching moment occurred during another stoppage. Paula Montgomery, Miss Arkansas miraculously stopped in front of her mother long enough to get a hug! Little did we know then, that both of these contestants would end up in the top five! This was only the beginning of an exciting 24-hour period for them. After the parade, one of my mother’s friends came down from New York to visit... and gamble a bit. And the rest of went back to the hotel room to compile our top ten lists for the next day!

Yes, the big day had finally arrived-Miss America 1996 would be chosen that night! Since Convention Hall was closed rehearsals to anyone might NBC and pageant personnel, we the day to ourselves. We walked up and down the boardwalk, stopping to shop as various vendors were showing their wares at stands along the way. Of course, we also stopped to eat and gamble some more. We also then reminisced and that the week's events. Things like meeting Kaye Lani Raye Rafko (Miss America 1988), Marjorie Vincent (1991) Lee Meriwether (1955) and others!

Before getting ready for the big night, we looked at some of the photos Connie had developed at the one-hour photo shop in the Ocean One. And we were off! All of the women in the group were wearing high heels which tended to get caught in the slats of the boardwalk. Nevertheless, we made it! They had put up large screen televisions to help with some obstructed views caused by the many television cameras that were needed to beam the event to a worldwide audience. The first hour was a retrospective history of the pageant. It went much faster I expected. There was so much excitement and energy in the auditorium.

We were excited than nine of our top ten choices made the finals. We were especially pleased for Paula Montgomery, last name host be Regis Philbin called. I think she was surprised, judging by her reaction and the fact that she had not won any preliminaries. Having run into her family on our way out of the hotel, they said they weren't expecting much, but they were so proud! We thought she had a chance as she made a strong impression during the talent competition, singing "Can't Help Lovin’ That Man.” I was thrilled that we were going to be able to hear that again. I thought that along with Miss New York and Miss California, she gave one of the strongest performances in the competition. It wasn't long before the final five were annouced. Again Regis saved Paula for last. They all gave such great answers to the questions and all had such important platforms that we knew it was anyone's crown to win. Miss California and Miss Illinois had been the most talked about all week, so they had to be considered the favorites. But as the judge's decision (Miss Illinois: 4th runner-up, Miss California: 3rd runner-up) was announced, you could hear a hush fall over the crowd. We were buzzing with excitement for Paula, who was then announced as 2nd runner-up. That left Miss Oklahoma and Miss Oregon. Oklahoma had been a standout all week, mostly due to her bright red hair and All-American looks. Miss Oregon quietly gained strength. Maybe she was not a standout in any single event, but she showed no weaknesses either. She had given a superb answer to Regis’ query. She would only be 1st runner-up in the end. As Shawntel Smith was named Miss America on her 24th birthday, serenade with “There She Is, Miss America” by Johnny Mathis.

It had really begun to rain! I guess we were very lucky. It was the first thing that was even close to bad weather that we experienced all week. The wind was really blowing, too! So we waited around in the lobby for a while to see if it would let up. While we waited, Connie was able to snap a few final photos, including one of Marjorie Vincent, Miss America 1991. I guess we waited a half-hour or more, but to no avail. So we made our way down the boardwalk. The wind day literally blew us around. Yet, somehow we made back to our hotel.

It had really begun to rain! I guess we were very lucky. It was the first thing that was even close to bad weather that we experienced all week. The wind was really blowing, too! So we waited around in the lobby for a while to see if it would let up. While we waited, Connie was able to snap a few final photos, including one of Marjorie Vincent, Miss America 1991. I guess we waited a half-hour or more, but to no avail. So we made our way down the boardwalk. The wind day literally blew us around. Yet, somehow we made back to our hotel.

Soon, the weather had calmed. Connie and Carol ventured out on a 2 a.m. pizza run. It was good. There is nothing quite like east coast pizza. I have missed it in California! We didn't eat too much though, because we had to get to sleep quickly. We were going to have breakfast at the our cousins' house. And then on to the airport.

Breakfast came early. It was great! There was good food and great company. Even though we didn't really know these relatives, they were as kind as they could be. They were especially gracious the to Connie and Carol.

When we got to the airport, Carol had to rush for her plane to Chicago, but we went back via Dallas with Connie. By the time we said our good-byes to her, I was exhausted. It had been a long week, but one we thoroughly enjoyed.


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