History of the Miss Indiana Scholarship Pageant

(Compiled and Written by Mr. Terry Iden)

As is true of most pageant history for any given state, little thought was given at the time to saving a historical account for future generations of pageant enthusiasts. After all, in the 1920’s, who would have thought that the quickly thrown-together state competitions to select a representative for the Miss America Pageant would become “big business” – big business with gigantic networks of committees, large scholarship funds, platforms based on contemporary social issues, and storehouses of historical facts and figures pursued by pageant enthusiasts and trivia buffs. So, the brief history that follows is but a quick summary of the sparkling years of the Miss Indiana Pageant. A more detailed history is being written and will be published in the Miss Indiana Alumni Newsletter. It may take a few years until completion is reached, but the research is basically completed – well, pageant research is never completed – there is always one more fact, one more story, one more name, one more picture to be discovered. But here is what we basically know about the MISS INDIANA PAGEANT.

The first Miss Indiana to compete in Atlantic City was Hilda Marguerite Koch of South Bend. Competing as Miss South Bend against 14 other competitors, Hilda was sponsored by the South Bend News-Times with the support of the Studebaker Corporation after she had won a company beauty title with Studebaker earlier in the summer. The state pageant was held in Gary, which had already named Anna May Owens as Miss Gary to represent the city at the Miss America Pageant. So, two Hoosier lasses were sponsored out of Gary for the national pageant that year. A curious fact is that two other Hoosier ladies also competed in the Miss America Pageant that year. Vera Haspel held the title of Miss Terre Haute, and Anne Howe was Miss Hammond. Anne finished in the Top Five in the pageant finals.

The Miss America Pageant itself was not held in the years 1928 -1932. There was a hastily organized pageant in Atlantic City in 1933 before the pageant was shelved again in 1934. In 1935 the national pageant began again in full strength, continuing to what it is today. In those intervening years, several Miss Indiana’s were crowned. However, because none of the those Miss Indiana’s competed in Atlantic City, they are not recognized as official titleholders by the Miss America Organization.

The second Miss Indiana to make the journey to New Jersey was Helen Marie Emly. She wore the title of Miss Letts (a small town southwest of Greensburg) into competition at the Broad Ripple Park in Indianapolis. The pageant was held outdoors. A stage for the competition was built over the swimming pool in the park, and movie cameras were brought to make news reels. Miss Emly made her presence known in the Miss America Pageant and made “the people back home proud” when she was named to the Top Fifteen Finalists.

No Miss Indiana was chosen to represent the state in 1939, but two pageants were held in Evansville in 1940 and 1941 before the onset of the World War. Both pageants were held as a drawing card for the main feature movie at the Grand Theatre. Contestants were solicited mainly from the Evansville area. There were 92 contestants in the 1940 contest, and 48 contestants took to the stage the following year. Preliminaries were held in which the field was presented in groups of six to ten contestants. Finalists were chosen by audience applause. An applause meter was used, and newspaper ads assured the public that its readings were accurate. Twenty finalists then faced a panel of judges on the third night of competition, and that group was reduced to ten, to six, to four, to three, and then to the winner. Carolyn Akin, the 1940 Miss Indiana, has the distinction of winning over the largest Miss Indiana field ever, the 92 contestants. Because talent was not a part of the judging at the state pageant, Miss Akin quickly honed her tap dancing skills in preparation for the national pageant. Alice Ullery, who was also an Evansville resident, was the 1941 winner.

The pageant resumed in 1945 and moved to Terre Haute which is its current home. The Orpheum Theatre was site of the pageant that year before the competition was moved to the Student Union Building on the campus of Indiana State Teachers College in 1946 for what would become a three year stint. The 1945 pageant holds the record for the longest competition. It was a three-day preliminary competition in which one-third of the 25 contestant field was reduced to two finalists on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. The six finalists then paraded before the judges on Friday for the title. Betty Lockyear, the Miss Indiana of 1945, represented Evansville which gave her home town a record three Miss Indiana’s in a row. She was a schoolmate of Miss Indiana 1940 and changed her talent from tap dancing to a vocal solo for the Miss America Pageant. Lois Chitwood, who had been a teacher, claimed the 1946 banner, competing as Miss Indiana University. She presented a short piano piece and then spoke on the importance of education when she was presented on the Miss America stage.

The fact that both Miss Indiana 1947, Beverly “Teri” Trenary, and Miss Indiana 1948, Patti Grubbs, were from Gary (both vocalists) and that the local pageant at Gary had been a production of grand scale prompted the move to Gary for the 1949 contest. The Gary Memorial Auditorium saw two Miss Indiana’s chosen to represent the Hoosier state – Patricia Cunningham in 1949 and Pat Berry in 1950. Both wore the title of Miss Monticello in competition. Miss Cunningham had actually been the first runner-up. The original winner was disqualified from competing in the Miss America Pageant, receiving the final notification just a day before she was to leave for the trip east. Miss Cunningham stepped into the title – and wardrobe, literally, and represented the Hoosier state with all the grace and poise of a practiced veteran. She also presented one of the more unusual talents at the pageant that year – water ballet.

In 1951, the pageant franchise moved to Lafayette where it would stay for three years. For two years the pageant was produced in the Lafayette Jefferson High School Auditorium. Carol Mitchell (Miss Rochester) captured the 1951 crown, and Ann Marie Garnier (Miss Indianapolis) swept the field for the 1952 title. Both ladies placed as first runner-up in the Miss America Pageant, Indiana’s best placing in the big pageant so far.

Miss Mitchell captivated the audience with her impromptu cartoon caricatures and marionette skills while Miss Garnier likewise held the audience’s attention with her classical vocal presentation.

The pageant was moved to the Purdue Music Hall in 1953 in what seemed to be a hasty, somewhat last-minute pageant. Violet Wratich (Miss East Chicago) was named the winner.

The following year found the pageant making yet another move. This time it was to South Bend under the sponsorship of the South Bend Jaycees. Three Miss Indiana’s made their way to the pageant throne at the South Bend Palace Theatre: Sue Carol Eaton (Miss Indianapolis) 1954; Carolyn Sue Turner (Miss Indianapolis) 1955; and Mary Jane McNulty (Miss Fort Wayne) 1956.

Miss Indiana’s longest home stay began at Michigan City in 1957 when the Michigan City Jaycees convinced Lenora Slaughter, then the Executive Director of the Miss America Pageant, that their summer festival could host the state pageant. Twelve contestants competed for a $1000 scholarship at the Tivoli Theatre, and Miss Valparaiso University, Gloria Rupprecht won the title. She went on to Atlantic City to win a Preliminary Talent Award with her operatic comedy skit.

Michigan City would play host to 42 Miss Indiana Pageants before passing the duties of hosting to Terre Haute for the 1999 pageant. In that span of 42 years, changes were plentiful. Anita Marie Hursh (Miss Goshen) won the 1958 title and was a Preliminary Swimsuit winner at Miss America. Barbara Jean Kummer brought Valparaiso University its second title in three years when she won the 1959 title. Tommye Lou Glaze (Miss Plymouth) become Miss Indiana 1960 and placed as Fourth Runner-up in the Miss American competition after being named a Preliminary Talent winner with her classical vocal.

Kathleen Jane Burke gave Indiana State Teachers College its only Miss Indiana in 1961 as the pageant moved its home into Elston High School Auditorium. She was awarded a Non-Finalist Talent trophy in Atlantic City for her monologue and fashion show. Julia Jane Flaningan and Marsha Jane Pinkstaff brought Butler University back-to-back victories in the 1962 and 1963 pageants. In 1964 the pageant became a three-night pageant with two nights of preliminary competition preceding the finals. Carol Zimmerman (Miss Hobart) was the first Preliminary Swimsuit winner and Carol Rinard (Miss Ball State University) and Sandra Sue Miller (Miss Bedford) tied for the first Talent award. Miller went on to win the title of Miss Indiana 1964. Eileen Mary Smith (Miss Indianapolis) took the crown in 1965. Miss Smith, a Julie Andrews look-alike, captured the Talent Award at Miss America on the first night of preliminaries, singing a medley from The Sound of Music. She was Second Runner-up to Debbie Bryant of Kansas for the Miss America crown.

Jane Ann Rutledge (Miss Indiana University) was Miss Indiana for 1966. The pageant was televised for the first time in 1967. The TV presentations would continue to run through the 1970 pageant. Mary Lynn Haglund (Miss Butler University) entertained TV audiences with her figure skating on a mini-ice rink to win. She skated her way to a Preliminary Talent award in Atlantic City and the Top Ten. Kit Field (Miss Indianapolis) took the title in 1968 and added a Fourth Runner-up finish at Miss America. The next year Jill Jackson (Miss Anderson) top the largest field of contestants ever at the Michigan City site when 29 representatives competed. Debbie May, on her third attempt, won the 1970 Miss Indiana Pageant. At Miss America she was chosen Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants – the only Miss Indiana who will ever achieve the award as the Miss Congeniality award was discontinued after 1974.

History was made in 1971 when Pat Patterson (Miss Gary) was crowned Miss Indiana.

She was the first African-American to hold the Indiana title and only the second African-American to compete in the Miss America Pageant where she was presented a Special Talent Award. Rebecca Graham (Miss South Central) was the next Miss Indiana to head for Atlantic City, and she garnered a Preliminary Swimsuit Award as well as Fourth Runner-up honors. Another Indiana record was set in 1973 when Karen Rogers (Miss Indiana Central College) won the title. The shortest Miss Indiana ever, standing only 4’11” tall, Miss Rogers attracted everyone’s attention with her big singing voice. 1974 found Penny Tichenor (Miss Evansville Freedom Festival) on the Miss America stage; she was a Top Ten Finalist. Cyndi Legler (Miss Mid-Central) matched Miss Tichenor’s performance the next year with another Top Ten finish. She had won her state crown with a classical ballet on the Rogers High School Auditorium stage which had become the new home of the pageant.

Tamara Trittschuh (Miss Monroe County) was named the 1976 Bicentennial Miss Indiana. The pageant was once again televised after a few year’s hiatus. Barbara Mougin (Miss Plymouth) became the 1977 titleholder and then went on to tie the best-ever finish for a Miss Indiana at the Miss America Pageant with a First Runner-up placing to the new Miss America Susan Perkins of Ohio. Terry Kaiser made it two in a row for the Plymouth pageant when she walked the runway as Miss Indiana 1978. Rickee Farrell (Miss North Central) danced away with the 1979 crown while Teri Kardatzke (Miss Anderson) took the Miss Indiana honors for 1980 to close out the decade.

The pageant celebrated its 25th year in Michigan City in 1981, and Pam Carlburg (Miss Plymouth) became Miss Indiana 1981. A Third Runner-up finish at Miss America topped off her year. The second series of televised pageants came to an end with the 1981 pageant. The next two winners wore the local banner of Miss Hoosier Hills – Ilona Conway in 1982 and Teri Schultz in 1983. Cynthia Sue Yantis (Miss Fort Wayne) was Miss Indiana 1984. Laurie Broderick (Miss Elkhart) brought excitement to the position of Miss Indiana 1985 as she twirled baton and danced to a Preliminary Talent win at Miss America and a Top Ten finish.

As the decade of the 80’s came to a close, the pageant began to change. The contestants had previously been giving short 15 second speeches at the microphone during evening gown competition, but now contestants were asked questions. The scoring system moved from a rank order scoring system to an Olympic scoring system in which the contestants were scored on a scale from 1 to 10 in the various areas of competition. The interview become a separate area of scoring in itself and was increased to 30% of a contestant’s final score.

Susan Sailor, the second Miss Elkhart in a row to be named Miss Indiana, made the trip to Atlantic City in 1986. She was followed by Sheila Stephen (Miss Hoosier Hills) in 1987. Sheila tied Karen Rogers, Miss Indiana 1973, for the honors of being the shortest Miss Indiana when she measured in at 4’11”. At Miss America she was named a Non-Finalist Talent winner for her Country Western vocal. The 1988 Miss Indiana was Joni McMechan (Miss Central Indiana). Lisa Williamson (Miss Hoosier Hills) sang her way to the 1989 title as the pageant moved back to the Elston Auditorium for one year because of remodeling at the Rogers Auditorium. The decade closed out with Brenda Bassett (Miss Kokomo) taking the Hoosier crown.

Kari Hipsher (Miss Huntington) ushered in the 1990’s as Miss Indiana 1991. A platform involving a community service or volunteer program was now a requirement for each contestant. Shelli Yoder (Miss Elkhart) won the 1992 state pageant and took Atlantic City by storm with a Preliminary Swimsuit win and a final placing as Second Runner-up. Dayna Brewer (Miss Capital City) was the 1993 Miss Indiana, and her fellow Miss Capital City Tiffany Storm claimed the crown in 1994. Tiffany was a Preliminary Swimsuit winner at Miss America and finished as Fourth Runner-up. She claimed another first for the Hoosier ladies when she was awarded the Bernie Wayne scholarship for the contestant with the highest talent points who planned a performing arts career. Becky Gray (Miss North Central) was next to capture the Miss Indiana in 1995.

The interview was expanded and became even more important in the judging criteria as the 90’s continued. The pageant went back to a final round of competition which involved an on-stage discussion-interview with the five finalists. The session was presented in a setting similar to that of a TV talk show. The choice of wearing a one-piece or two-piece swimsuit came about. Shani Nielsen (Miss Harvest Homecoming) walked away with the title of Miss Indiana 1996. She pulled down a Preliminary Talent award at Miss America and was in the Top Ten. She also brought Indiana its second Bernie Wayne Award. Young Sara Engerman (Miss Limberlost) proved that a first-time contestant still had a chance as she caught the judges’ eye to become Miss Indiana 1997. Julianne Hackney (Miss Northwest Territory) was next to wear the Miss Indiana title. As Miss Indiana 1998, she was a Top Ten finalist in Atlantic City.

The Miss Indiana Pageant found a new home in 1999 as it moved to the Tilson Center on the campus of Indiana State University in Terre Haute. Kelly Lloyd (Miss North Central) won the Miss Indiana 1999 crown and brought home another first for the Hoosier state when she garnered the Albert A. Marks Jr. Interview award at the Miss America Pageant.

For its 60th year, the Miss Indiana Pageant moved across the campus of Indiana State University to the Hulman Center. In its new environs, Betsy Bobel (Miss Duneland) became Miss Indiana 2000. A gymnast, Betsy took her message of a healthy lifestyle to over 120 schools during the year as part of a grant from the Indiana Department of Education. The title of Miss Indiana 2001 was garnered by Allison Hatcher (Miss North Central). After being named to the Top Twenty in the Miss America competition, Allison continued the school tour sponsored by the Indiana Department of Education — promoting her platform of Sound Decisions, in which she encouraged students to become involved in after-school activities to learn skills that will help them make the wise choices that affect their futures.

Tangra Riggle (Miss North Central) became Miss Indiana 2002. In Atlantic City, she was named a Top 7 Finalist in the Quality of Life competition with her platform which focused on “The Wheels of a Dream — Unlocking Doors of Educational Opportunity.” Tangra then won Preliminary Talent on the first night of competition and placed as one of the Top Fifteen Finalists.

Bryn Chapman (Miss South Central) outpointed all contenders to become Miss Indiana 2003. Her platform was S.H.I.N.E (Strong Health is Nutrition and Exercise), promoting good eating and exercise habits for the youth of Indiana. In Atlantic City, Bryn competed in the traditional areas of scoring as well as Casual Wear which was implemented for the very first time. In the Miss America finals, Bryn made the final cut for the Top Fifteen, and then reached the Top Ten Finalists plateau.

Wearing a dazzling orange evening gown, a determined Sarah Wiley (Miss Wabash Valley) claimed the title of Miss Indiana 2004. It was her fifth time to compete in the state pageant. A vocalist, Sarah’s platform focused on Meningitis Awareness – Education Saves Lives. She was the first sweeps winner to win the state title. In the Miss America Pageant, Sarah was awarded a Non-Finalist Talent Award for her vocal of “What Kind of Fool Am I?”

In 2005, the home of the Miss Indiana Pageant was moved to Zionsville and Aren Howell and Frank Ricketts were named Executive Directors. That year, the crown of Miss Indiana was awarded to Susan Guilkey (Miss North Central). Susan presented a vocal of “Man of LaMancha” in the talent competition at Miss America and returned to Indiana after the pageant to promote “Girls Incorporated” as her platform.

Betsy Uschkrat (Miss Indiana University) captured the title of Miss Indiana 2006. It was the first time in 37 years that Indiana University had held a local pageant, and Betsy brought her victory to the college on the first try. At the Miss America Pageant, Betsy sang a classical vocal of “Quando Men Vo.” Her platform was “Fighting Hunger in Our Communities with Heart and Soul.”

Nicole Rash, Miss Indiana 2007, was the first Miss Ball State University to win the Miss Indiana title, as she represent the local pageant which has the record of being the oldest running local pageant in the state. Ball State celebrated its 50th Anniversary in January 2008. In winning the title, Nicole sang “Bandido” which complimented her platform of “Get on the L-BUS to break Language Barriers in the United States.” As Miss Indiana, Nicole was one of three state titleholders named as winner of TLC’s Miss America Reality Show and she went on to become first runner-up to Miss America.

Katie Stam, Miss Duneland, was crowned Miss Indiana 2008 in a field of 29 contestants which tied the record for the largest field of contestants with the 1969 Miss Indiana field of competitors. Katie sang “Art if Calling to Me” in talent and was a preliminary interview winner. Katie then went on to give Hoosiers across the state a thrill when she captured the title of Miss America 2009 in Las Vegas. Katie was the first Miss Indiana to win the Miss America crown in the 88-year history of the Miss America Pageant. At Miss America, Katie was a preliminary swimsuit winner. She was also one of four contestants who were named America’s favorites in the call-in vote after the Miss America “reality” show. In addition, Katie was one of the eight finalists in the Quality of Life competition which is based of the volunteer platform of each contestant. Katie had an outstanding year as she traveled the country and to countries outside the states. She meet numerous
celebrities and attended events all the way from the White House to the Super Bowl. Katie became one of the most popular Miss America’s ever.

Megan Meadors was selected to replace Katie as Miss Indiana 2008. She had been a top ten finalist in the 2008 Miss Indiana Pageant as Miss Pride of Indiana. Megan sang “Defying Gravity” in talent competition. She received her Miss Indiana crown at Katie’s Homecoming celebration in March of 2009 in Zionsville.

After being first runner-up to Nicole Rash in 2007 and Katie Stam in 2008, Nicole Pollard won the title of Miss Indiana 2009. She competed as Miss Duneland and gave Duneland two consecutive Miss Indiana’s. Nicole won preliminary awards in interview and talent. She sang “And This is MyBeloved” for talent competition. At the Miss America Pageant, Nicole was a Top Fifteen Finalist and won the praise of Rush Limbaugh, one of the judges, for her outstanding interview.

Competing as Miss Southern Heartland, Gabrielle Reed captured the title of Miss Indiana 2010 with her vocal rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”  This was the first time a Miss Southern Heartland won the Miss Indiana title.  She was a Preliminary Interview and Talent winner.  She also won the MAO Community Service Award.  A student at Indiana University, she won a Non-Finalist Talent Award at the Miss America Pageant .

The third time was the charm for Jackie Jerlecki, as she was crowned Miss Indiana 2011 after having competed for the title twice before.  She was the third Miss Duneland in four years to garner the Miss Indiana title.  Jackie was a Preliminary Talent and Interview winner.  Her talent presentation was a vocal of “Take Me to the World.”  Jackie was a student at Bowling Green University.

Twirling the baton in talent competition to “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,”  MerrieBeth Cox took the title of Miss Indiana 2012.  A student at Purdue University, she wore the banner of Miss Duneland.  This marked the fourth time in five years that a Miss Duneland captured the Miss Indiana title.  MerrieBeth won Preliminary Talent and the Arts in Action Dance Award which was awarded to the top dancer in talent competition.  At the Miss America Pageant, she was named a Top Twelve Finalist.

Terrin Thomas, competing as Miss Indiana University, won the title of Miss Indiana 2013  on her first try at state.  She was awarded the Preliminary Talent Award on the first night of competition.  Terrin sang a jazz vocal of “I’m Afraid This Must Be Love.

The 2014 Miss Indiana crown was awarded to a surprised Audra Casterline.  She wore the title of Miss Hoosier Heartland, giving her local pageant its first Miss Indiana.  A student at Anderson University, she sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in talent competition.  At the Miss America Pageant, Audra captured a Non-Finalist Talent Award.