“There she is…”

The world of pageants has woven a bright thread in the tapestry of my family’s life. When customers enjoy the many framed pictures in the salon of Miss America’s I’ve dressed through the years, they are curious about the connection. It is such a niche.

Quick back story: For 13 years in Columbia I also owned a floral shop, Nolte’s Flowers. In that role, I was asked to provide roses for the winner of the Miss Columbia pageant and received two free tickets to attend. On a rainy Sunday afternoon, Mrs. Nolte and I did attend with absolutely no premonition or exposure to this world…and were hooked! I was wowed by the discipline needed for the talent exhibited and the communication skills of the contestants.

Anything that encouraged young people to polish up and put their best foot forward was great job training. Afterwards, I offered future roses (and my volunteering) to the committee. And the committee became hooked in return on a guy that had a degree in Speech Communication that could coach interviewing.

I quickly climbed the ranks to the position of Executive Director and in those years of leadership, we made history as three Miss Missouri’s in a row came from Columbia. My last contestant to do so went on to become Missouri’s first Miss America. Each year we went to Atlantic City for the week of the pageant and became immersed in what was then considered a treasured tradition.

More importantly, I started dressing state queens from all over the country and did gown trunk shows in other states. A highlight was designing the performance gown of another soon-to-be-crowned Miss America, Marjorie Vincent, Miss Illinois. I created a “tail coat” of cracked ice satin that spread like a peacock tail over the piano bench and the newspaper the next day proclaimed, “The gown of last night’s talent competition winner, Miss Illinois, deserved it’s own standing ovation. It is the most spectacular gown to ever grace our stage.” Pretty heady! (Since that time, every single pianist’s gown copies that concept. If indeed imitation is the finest form of flattery…I’m repeatedly flattered.)

One might think the Nolte daughters would all be pushed into pageants, but they weren’t. They enjoyed getting to know these stellar women and count them as friends of the family, but competing wasn’t a goal to which they aspired…until just recently.

At Christmas we received word that my youngest daughter, Caroline, (Ole Miss, junior) was nominated by her sorority, Delta Gamma, as their candidate for the crown of “Most Beautiful of Ole Miss.” Only in the South would such an event not cause a smirk, but in the land of cotton, such a title is common and that pageant is a hallowed tradition on that campus.

Her preparation included new hot rollers, a shipment of mascara and of course a call to my favorite beaded gown designer, Stephen Yearick. “Help!”

The combination allowed her to present beautifully and, though a Yankee, she held her own in a field of 98 contestants.

I stole a few days away from the store to be a Dad and while down there, also hosted a dinner party for her 21st Birthday. Though she didn’t walk away with an armful of donated roses from some generous florist, the experience was a “float back” into my early years in this endeavor and a Bucket List accomplishment for Caroline.

I thought you might like to see a picture. “Ladies and gentlemen…there she is!”

Most Beautiful

MJN