There Is Something to Come Back For

Distinguished Young Women
The Story Continues

By Norwood Walker

(Click here to read first story in this series: Junior Miss to Distinguished Young Women)

Thomas Wolfe is credited with the quote “You can’t go home again.” Many young people, male and female’ have taken that quote to heart over the years and never fully returned to the area of their childhood thinking “there is nothing there for me.”

The best stories are told by those who live them. If that is not a famous quote, it is certainly a well-proven truth. Over the past 51 years well over a thousand stories have been lived in one small town connected to one organization. It would take volumes and years to tell all the stories, so sometimes certain stories just have to be representative of others and hopefully do justice to all those who participated and were those who touched by these participants. “How do I begin to tell the story of just how” much a program can mean and a reason for coming back? (Thanks, Henry Mancini, for those first 11 words.) Perhaps with an apology and a plea. An apology to all those who are not mentioned here by name but have given so much over the years to the Junior Miss/DYW program. A plea to those of you who have stories you want to share to please let us tell your stories either in print or online. Even just a short memory or a few words of your experience may strike a chord in others and either inspire their involvement or bring them to see what the program is about. Here are the stories of just a few of those participated and who all came back. Much of the story that follows is in their own words.

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Brenda Broach Moore was one of the original 10 members invited to be part of the first program. (Yes, in those days participation was by invitation). Brenda remembers sitting on the stage that night and playing the piano. But she also has memories of sitting in the audience when her daughter Kathy and several years later her granddaughter Kati were on the stage performing. But her involvement doesn’t stop there. In 1995, a flower sale became part of the program to raise money for scholarships and to give the participants some business experience and have more ownership in the program. For several years, the flowers were brought in from outside vendors. Brenda had retired from teaching and was using her upbringing on the farm to start a nursery. What had started as a couple of greenhouses at her house had now become an intown business with a strong reputation for great plants. Many of which she grew herself from seeds and plugs. When approached by the co-chairs of the program on growing the plants for their sale, she agreed and still continues to do so today. But more on that later. She is a great example of the long-time involvement former participants have.

Kim Kirby Hazel was in the program in 1983.

These are memories and views in her own words.

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“Jaycees and Jaycettes worked together to present a program. Each contestant was assigned her own Jaycette to help with her make-up, hair, etc. (Jaycees were an all-male organization until the 90s..Jaycettes were wives of the Jaycees and one had to be married to a Jaycee to be a Jaycette.)

When the program name changed to “Young Woman of the Year,” rules for contestants eventually changed also. At one point all “Presence & Composure” dresses had to be COMPLETELY ALIKE and were tea-length versus full length as in years past. I was not in favor of this dress change because I believe it took away the individuality of each contestant. It was also difficult to choose one dress style and color that would be appealing on all contestants. Rita Overstreet made every single dress for the contestants, and she was a jewel to work with. I don’t know how we would have made it without that sweet lady!   Having been involved in most aspects of this program, I have witnessed many changes through the years. America’s Junior Miss, after many years of success, began to struggle with the “perfect” identity for the program. In an effort to spark new interest because sponsorships were decreasing and major network television coverage ceased, the name was changed to America’s Young Woman of the Year in 1989. This strategy did not work, and the America’s Junior Miss name was restored in 1993. The national program was set to fold in 2005 due to the loss of sponsors and television coverage, but a group of AJM supporters banded together to save the program. 2010 brought another name change—Distinguished Young Woman of America. This final name change was an effort to differentiate the program from other pageants.

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My point in telling you this is that with all the changes mentioned above, one thing has remained constant. The Roxboro Program has ALWAYS been strong. The community support is unmatched, and the volunteer hours and passion from the Roxboro Jaycees in putting this annual program together is remarkable. People come and go through the years, but the experience for the participating contestants will always be there. I can think of no better opportunity that allows high school senior girls to grow so much in such a short period of time. They discover untapped personal strengths, they intensify their relationships with their friends, and they band together to support each other throughout the entire process. Whether as a chairman or as a mother, it has been exciting to see the transformation these girls make during the program experience. Junior Miss teaches them how to present themselves with confidence on all levels — whether in a judges’ interview or on stage in front of hundreds of people. That is not easy at the age of 17! Taking these lessons into their futures is the true reward, and THAT is why they are all “winners.”

Kim has seen all levels of involvement in the program. She was one of the first females to co-chair the program, served as Mistress of Ceremonies on numerous occasions, served as a judge, and had three daughters to go through the program.

Pam Fogleman Bradsher tells a similar story:

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“I knew the one thing I wanted to do when I moved back to Roxboro after graduating from college was to get involved with the Roxboro Junior Miss program. I had been a contestant in the 1986 program. I didn’t win any awards, but I knew that I had been a part of something special.

I joined the Roxboro Jaycees in 1990 and became a Junior Miss committee member helping with practices and with the contestants the week of the show. I later served as Judges’ Chairman for a couple of years and ultimately served as co-chair from 1996-2001. My first year as co-chairman was the year we had 36 contestants and we had to do a two-night show. It was a tough year to get broken in as chairman, but it was truly a wonderful group of girls to work with. Our representative, Kristin Davis, went on to win the state title that year, so I got the added bonus of helping Kristin prepare for the national program. This also afforded me the opportunity to judge other local programs throughout the state. I always found it interesting to see how other local programs operated and I enjoyed getting new ideas from them.

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My favorite part of chairing the program was getting to choose the theme and the music that would be used each year. We had the best themes! My favorites were the “Blues Brothers” theme in 1998 and the “I Believe I Can Fly” theme in 2000. I will never forget watching the cut-out of Michael Jordan floating down to the stage during opening number! I thought that was so cool!

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I have taken on several Junior Miss roles over the years, but the most challenging was probably being a Junior Miss mom. Three of my daughters have participated in the program, and it is really difficult to sit back and watch your child performing on that stage knowing what the judges are looking for and knowing what they are probably thinking. However, I am so grateful that my daughters had the opportunity to experience this program that is so near and dear to my heart. I hope they realize someday that they were part of something special too.”

Kristen Davis tells her own story:

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“My first memory of Junior Miss was when I went to see my cousin, Beth Ann Suitt Blalock, compete for the title of Roxboro’s Junior Miss in 1986 (?). Unfortunately, she did not win, (Michelle Duncan did), but a fire was lit in my heart that I wanted to do Junior Miss when I grew up.

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My time in the program was spent with 35 other high school seniors who were so talented in their own right. We had the first two-night show in the history of Roxboro’s Junior Miss, and I remember dressing up like the 70s for the Brady Bunch number. I had on a white short sleeved shirt, a navy-blue crocheted vest, and some pants that had designs that I thought were hideous back then. Now, I actually kind of like what I wore! When they called my name for every award—Fitness, Presence & Composure, Creative & Performing Arts, Interview, and Scholarship—I was extremely humbled and happy, but when they called out the winner for 1996, they called out my number #7…and the called out the wrong name. There were three Kristin/Kristen’s in the program that year. But everyone knew before I did…I had won! I only had one week as Roxboro’s Junior Miss before I had to travel to Greensboro for Work Weekend in order to learn the fitness routine for the STATE program. I got to meet so many wonderful girls from across this great state, and I realized that the 27 other girls was approximately ¾ the number that I had in my local program.

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My two weeks in Greensboro were filled with activities; from the bus picking us up at an ungodly hour in the morning, sweating through fitness, walking around in high heels and workout clothes to visiting with residents at the Gateway house (adults with special needs), teaching a Be Your Best Self lesson to elementary students, and goofing off with our host family, our ten days went by in a flash. I was lucky enough to have a host family with enough room for 4 girls: me, Ginny Stewart, Durham’s Junior Miss; Stephanie Hopkins, Rocky Mount’s Junior Miss; and Ragan Huggins, Hendersonville’s Junior Miss. I was elated when the show started. Before the program, though, all of the girls gathered in a circle and said “the Lord’s Prayer,” giving thanks to God for bringing us this far. I walked out on that stage in my brown cowgirl boots, borrowed from Pam Carver Bradsher, to Alan Jackson’s “Gone Country” and never looked back. I was performing, enjoying every second of the program, and when the second night rolled around and the judges awards were given, I was honored to be able to bring home to my hometown the Fitness, Creative & Performing Arts, Presence & Composure, and Interview awards along with the title of North Carolina’s Junior Miss for 1996. The support from Roxboro was phenomenal and they indeed did “represent” me all the way to America’s Junior Miss in Mobile, Alabama. North Carolina was one of the largest groups down there, and they all had pin lights that they would shine when I was on stage. My good friend from the program, Sarah Lewis, Pitt County’s Junior Miss, even sent me her curling iron to Mobile because it worked for my hair in North Carolina’s program. I felt out of my league standing on stage beside girls who had perfect scores on their SATs, had played violin and piano all over the world, and who were owners of their own dance studios in their spare time. One girl ended up being a Radio City Music Hall Rockette! My roommate in Alabama was Jennifer Lay Shue, Illinois’s Junior Miss, who was a finalist in the program and an outstanding violinist.

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I credit Roxboro’s Junior Miss with my coming out of my shell. Of course, when I was on stage, I was in my element, but speaking in front of people…that was a whole different ballgame. Because I felt so at home on the Kirby stage having performed in numerous dance recitals, I could speak up there. I was not the insecure, shy Kristin that everyone knew. I was confident, brave, and self-assured when I was on that stage. That confidence transferred to the stage at North Carolina’s Junior Miss and on to the National Level in front of hundreds of thousands of people in a televised event at America’s Junior Miss. When anyone asks how I learned to speak in front of people, I always say “Junior Miss.”

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I stayed involved with the local program after 1996, serving as emcee of the program from 1998-2000. After I graduated from college, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and the support I received from the Junior Miss family was tremendous. Even while I was undergoing chemotherapy, I stayed involved with Roxboro’s program. My best friend and long-time supporter, Dana Clark Gil, and I joined the Roxboro Jaycees when we turned 21 just so that we could “do Junior Miss!” Being a co-chairman is a year-long endeavor, not to be taken by the faint of heart. We had to plan out the theme, travel to Danville, VA, to take portraits in summer (the girls wore sweaters), coordinate props (thank you to our daddies), and spend every weekend with the girls starting in August before school ever started. Dana was in charge of the ticket board (thank God!) while I was in charge of the on-stage stuff and using my connections with North Carolina’s Jaycees to bring judges to the show. We also had to take the “reigning” Junior Miss all over the state to perform and attend the local programs. I served as a local program judge and was treated as a celebrity whenever I would go to programs. Of course, it humbled me that I—a cancer survivor, an English teacher, and someone from the biggest, small town you’ve ever known—would be considered a celebrity. I even got to sign a few autographs when we were paraded around Mobile, Alabama! Dana and I took over the program from Christie Carver Evans Rochefort, Livia Poindexter Jones, and Pam Carver Bradsher in 2001-2005.

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As I moved around, I lost touch with the program, but I was there to support my little cousin Ashton Hudson and my “7th grade RCS babies” which Elena Meiggs was named the representative from Roxboro. I am currently getting back involved with the program because my cousin Jason Thomas, and his wife Allison Stephens Thomas, are Jaycees, and Allison is co-chair of the program with my very first Junior Miss—Anna Hester Martin.

Anna Hester-Martin's Story:

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“As a child, my first memory related to the program was not actually of the program, but of the Junior Miss Christmas parade float at the Roxboro Christmas Parade. I don’t know the year because I was very young, but I remember standing on Main Street, watching the parade, and along came this big pretty float with these beautiful dressed up girls that looked like princesses, one of which I specifically remember was wearing a fur coat, smiling and waving, just like in a fairy tale. I immediately knew that I wanted to ride that float one day! I attended my first Junior Miss program when I was about 10 years old and then attended several more between then and the time it was my turn to participate. I was named Roxboro’s Junior Miss for 2001 in October 2000 and went on to represent Roxboro at the State program in January 2001. A couple years later, I returned to the program as an Emcee, the year Sissy Carver was giving up her title. I think Martinique Murphy won that year. Then, life happened and my involvement with the program became limited to only attending the program a few years here and there.

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In 2015, my husband Sam and I moved back to Roxboro. We wanted to reconnect with old friends that were living here and also get involved in our community, so we decided to join the Roxboro Jaycees. Shortly after joining the Jaycees, I became part of the DYW committee. I served as a committee member for two years, I was an Emcee for the 2017 program, and then became Co-Chairman of the program when Elena Meiggs was named the 2018 Distinguished Young Woman of Roxboro.

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As a past participant and winner (Roxboro’s Jr Miss for 2001), it is an honor and a privilege to now serve as Co-chairman of this program and to be able to be able to give back to a program that has had and continues to have such a profound impact on my life and the lives of others. But this program would not be possible without the unwavering support that it receives year after year from the people and businesses of Roxboro, and for that we are so grateful!”

Remember that girl in the blue dress and red shoes I told you about in the last issue?

This is what she has to say:

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I remember watching Jr Miss as a young girl and just always wanting to be in the program. The music and the themes were always fun, and it seemed like everyone had a good time. It’s amazing how many people it takes to make the program run successfully. The year I was in it Pam Bradsher, Olivia Poindexter, Christie Rochefort, Angie Poindexter, Karen Williams, Christi Lappin, we’re the ones running the program. They were all encouraging in the different roles they played and help make me more comfortable in my own skin. Which is what the base of the program is all about, becoming the best version of yourself. I got a card in the mail one day from Christie Rochefort inviting me to come out to a Jaycee meeting. I thought why not, I had so much fun with the Jaycees when I was in the program. Sarah, Jennifer and I went to a meeting and decided to join. We helped with the program that year as “backstage moms” and the following program year, they passed the torch to us as chairmen. I wanted to help give the girls the same experience I had received and help them find their best self. The name change occurred while I was chairman and it was easy for Roxboro to transition, because our community has always been so supportive of the program regardless of the name. It’s a Roxboro tradition and I hope I it always will be. Anna Martin was my little sister the year she was in it, and Jeanne Gentry was a contestant in one of my first group of girls and now they’re running the program.”

Perhaps Karen Williams sums it up best with a view of someone who came to the program a bit later:

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“I actually did not participate in the program when I was in high school. I was honored to co-chair the program with Christie Carver Rochefort, who did participate when she was in school. The DYW program is a wonderful program that offers young women the opportunity to learn so much about themselves and their peers. I have heard so many beautiful young women say they went into the program not knowing what to expect but left with such a sense of accomplishment and many new friends. It is wonderful that the program brings a diverse group of women together, gives them some new life skills, and a sense of togetherness all the while shining on the stage and helping to advance them either with scholarship money or personal growth.”

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These are the stories of but a few who came back and contributed and continue to do so to more than a program. Something for those who are here now and something to come back to.

Next this year’s program, the girls and a very important contributor for the past 20 years, the choreographer Christie Warren Lappin.

Norwood Walker has spent much of the last 60 years in a classroom on one side of the desk or the other. Loving to write poetry and stories in high school, his English teacher of 3 years once told him he might become a writer if he overcame his radical period. She is still waiting. He can be reached at norwoodwalker@gmail or Rainbow's End on Facebook.

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