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Miss Iowa … a History

Iowa’s journey through the Miss America program began shortly after the launch of the first Miss America contest in 1921.  Alta Sterling, competing as Miss Sioux City, was the first to represent Iowa at the 1924 Miss America pageant. Sterling has the distinction of being the first Jewish contestant to compete for Miss America – one of some very notable “firsts” by Miss Iowa contestants. Several young women represented Iowa at the Miss America Pageant through the 1930s and 1940s, but there wasn’t an official Miss Iowa organization during this period. The Miss America Program sought out a committed group to lead and plan the Iowa pageant.  In 1950, the Junior Chamber of Commerce in Clear Lake began their sponsorship of Miss Iowa. During that time, Miss Iowa 1958, Joanne MacDonald was named 1st runner-up to Miss America, a first for the state of Iowa, which has been repeated only once since then. On a side note, Miss Iowa 1954, Carol Morris, went on to win Miss USA and Miss Universe in 1956.  Also, noteworthy in those years were three non-finalist talent awards at Miss America – Miss Iowa 1956, Martha Barsness, Miss Iowa 1962, Joleen Wolf and Miss Iowa 1963, Carolyn Yochum.  The Clear Lake Jaycees proudly sponsored the Miss Iowa pageant up until 1964.

The Miss Iowa Scholarship Program as we know it today, began with a chance meeting in 1964 between Lenora Slaughter, then Executive Director of the Miss America pageant, and the late Honorable Judge Jack Broderick. The pageant officially moved to its current home in Davenport in 1965. That year, Miss Iowa, Marie Mushro, born with a congenital heart disease, received both Miss Congeniality and a non-finalist talent award at Miss America. Only two years later, Lynda Jeanne Formanek placed in Miss America’s Top 10. Jack Broderick served as Executive Director for the Miss Iowa program from 1965 to 1975. During those years, many Miss Iowa titleholders made their mark at Miss America, including Miss Iowa 1968, Susan Berg who was a preliminary swimsuit winner and was named 2nd runner-up to Miss America and Miss Iowa 1972, Renee Studemann who finished in the Top 10.  Additional notable performances during that time were three non-finalist talent placements: Miss Iowa 1969, Lois Koth, Miss Iowa 1970, Cheryl Browne and Miss Iowa 1974, Jean Bollhoefer. The Miss Iowa program is proud to have made history with the crowning of Cheryl Browne –  the first African American to compete on the Miss America stage. Browne went on to travel with the Miss America USO Troupe.  Three years later, Miss Iowa 1973, Lynette Henninger, was selected for the USO Troupe as well.

Miss Iowa once again placed in the Top 10 at Miss America with Lori Froeling in 1979. Memorable Miss Iowa awards in the 1980s include non-finalist talent honors for baton twirling Miss Iowas 1982, Linda Simon and 1989, Jayna Sanchez, and the selection of vocalist Miss Iowa 1986, Darcy Benton, to perform with the Gillette Miss America Show Troupe. The early 1990s brought a flurry of Miss America excitement starting with Miss Iowa 1990 Kerri Rosenberg placing in the Top 10, Miss Iowa 1991, Lisa Somodi winning a preliminary talent award and placing 3rd runner-up, and Miss Iowa 1992, Catherine Lemkau, preliminary talent and swimsuit winner and 1st runner-up to Miss America (for only the second time in our history)! The decade ended impressively as well with Miss Iowa 1998, Lisa Dondlinger and Miss Iowa 1999 Jennifer Caudle, both winning non-finalist talent awards.

The Miss Iowa Scholarship Program continued to flourish throughout the turn of the century with strong leaders such as Peggy Brinkopf and Bill Lee (Lee celebrates 25 years on the Miss Iowa board this year!), among many others. The early 2000s brought more distinction from the national stage including: Miss Iowa 2000, Theresa Uchytil’s achievement as 1st runner-up for the Quality of Life Award (Uchytil also made history as the first ever Miss America contestant with a limb difference, and the second contestant to compete with a limb difference also came from Iowa – Miss Iowa 2013, Nicole Kelly); Miss Iowa 2001, Erin Smith received the Academic award;  Miss Iowa 2007, Diana Reed won a preliminary talent award (a standing ovation baton twirling routine) and Top 10 placement; non-finalist talent awards for Miss Iowa 2004, Carolyn Nicholas and Miss Iowa 2009, Anne Langguth; a non-finalist interview award for Miss Iowa 2010, Pauli Mayfield, and a thrilling 2nd runner-up placement for Miss Iowa 2008, Olivia Myers!

The current Miss Iowa board is a cohesive and dedicated group of volunteers with a passion for service. Currently led by Executive Director, Leslie Moore, the Miss Iowa Scholarship Program has a clear vision for success with amazing results on the Miss America stage in recent years including: Miss Iowa 2011, Jessica Pray – Top 10; Miss Iowa 2012, Mariah Cary – 4th Runner-Up; Miss Iowa 2014, Aly Olson – Top 12; Miss Iowa 2015, Taylor Wiebers – preliminary talent and swimsuit winner and Top 12; and Miss Iowa 2016, Kelly Koch – Top 10. The Miss Iowa Scholarship Program is supported by amazing sponsors and dedicated local programs, including some local board members with over 25 years of service. The future remains bright for the Miss Iowa Program, and we’re confident it won’t be long before a Miss Iowa wears the celebrated Miss America crown.