Former national titleholders and forever Miss Americas gathered together Thursday to reminisce and pass on the wisdom they learned during their year of service. “They represent through the decades all that is wonderful about our ninety-three-year-old program,” said Miss America Organization CEO and Chairman of the Board Sam Haskell. Here is a brief look at the lives these women lead now, thanks to the doors that were opened for them through MAO.
Heather French Henry continues to work with her platform through the Heather French Foundation as well as her own line of eveningwear. She will be starting a new job working with corporate software in the coming weeks.
Ericka Dunlap promoted diversity with her platform and does so still today as a public relations consultant. “I’m still doing the work I love and I thank the Miss America Organization for allowing me to have that platform,” she said.
Caressa Cameron said her career was “birthed” during her reign as Miss America. Her jewelry line sold for HIV Aids awareness is still sold today through Aids United. “I turned my platform into my life’s work,” she said.
Teresa Scanlan was just seventeen when she was crowned Miss America. Now in her second year of college, she is pursuing her degree in government and plans to continue on to law school after that.
Bebe Shopp was Miss America 1948, and although there was no platform requirement during her time, she said she was have made her focus the promotion of public speaking education. “Wherever we are in life, we always have to get on our feet and present ourselves,” she said.
Lee Meriwether was Miss America in 1955, the first competition of the organization to be televised. Unfortunately, the television production crew wanted to shoot the crowning back stage, so only at-home viewers got to see Lee crowned, “and I’ve been apologizing ever since,” she said.
Phyllis George was crowned with robe and scepter, and in a time before Crown Clips, her crown fell off onto the floor, and she had to pick it up and carry it down the runway. But she took from the experience a life lesson: “Life is real, don’t take yourself so seriously,” she said.
Becky King is the only forever Miss America to have had her daughter also compete in the Miss America Organization. She was Miss America the year Atlantic City decided to allow gambling in the city. After a recent bought with stage four melanoma, she is healthy and happy to be back in Atlantic City.
Dorothy Benham was crowned right before the casinos came to the boardwalk. “I remember pigeons and t-shirt shops,” she said. “Those were grand, wonderful days.” Dorothy has six children, the youngest of whom just graduated from high school.
Vonda Van Dyke says she is the only Miss America to have shared the stage with someone else—her puppet. Vonda performed ventriloquism for her talent, and was the first to do so. Now her puppet is retired, just like Vonda.
Jacquelyn Mayer celebrated her fiftieth year since being crowned in 2012. After a devastating stroke, Jacquelyn learned to talk again and is delighted to be a part of the Miss America sisterhood.
Maria Fletcher sees a deeper meaning in numbers than most. The year of the first Miss America pageant, 1921, was special because it was the year of genius, she said. The date of the final night of competition, September 15, 2013, is a group of special numbers as well, the number of the artist, Maria said. “What is the pageant about if not about developing one’s God-given talent,” she said.
Donna Axum is the first vice chairman of the MAO board. She was the first Miss America to be elected to the Miss America board. “The Miss America Organization is so close to me. It’s been one of the driving forces,” in life, she said.
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Written by: Erika Rose is fourpoints magazine’s staff writer.