By LOHR McKINSTRY
---- — TICONDEROGA — It was 50 years ago when Ticonderoga’s first Junior Miss winner walked down the aisle to cheers and applause.
Susan Davidson Rathbun remembers every detail of her 1962 victory over 14 other senior girls at Ticonderoga High School.
Rathbun, who was also prom queen before she graduated in 1963, received $250 as Junior Miss.
“I remember thinking that was a lot of money (then). I used it to go to college. I had a Regents scholarship, too.”
She went to Trinity College, receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
The program is held in November every year, and the winner reigns for the following year, so Rathbun was the 1963 Ticonderoga Junior Miss.
The program was very spontaneous, she said, and they all had a great time.
“We decided we were in it, we didn’t practice a lot, and we put on the show. I had a lot of fun. Back then it was pretty much the same as it is now.”
Just like the winner now, Rathbun walked forward on the auditorium stage at Ticonderoga High School when her name was called.
The judges do interviews before the program, she said, and most of the category awards are probably decided then.
“A big percentage of it was settled before we even got on the stage, scholastic and leadership (awards). It was a great experience,” Rathbun said.
BETTER THAN EVER
The program was then supported by the now-defunct Ticonderoga Jaycees. It’s now sponsored by the Ticonderoga Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary.
Rathbun said she competed in the state program, though she didn’t win anything.
She praised current Ticonderoga program director Tracey Baker-Cross.
“It’s great to see Tracey and the rest of the group keep it alive. She has such a passion for it. They’re making it better than ever.”
Rathbun said she’s attended the program, off and on, ever since.
“I followed it over the years. Fifty years is a long time. I’m pleased it’s now called Distinguished Young Woman.”
The program currently gives the winner $1,000 in college scholarship money, and smaller amounts go to category winners.
This year, Rathbun was co-host with Matthew Courtright, executive director of the Ticonderoga Area Chamber of Commerce.
“That defines what it is — about scholarship and leadership,” Courtright said. “This is a program I’m pleased to be associated with.”
Sadly, Rathbun’s tiara and sash have been lost in moves she and her husband, Howard, made over the years.
“I had a scrapbook of photos and clippings, and that’s been lost, too,” she said. “I was on the cover of The Tower, the International Paper magazine. It was the first year for Ticonderoga and the sixth for the program itself.”
The program no longer gives the winner a tiara and sash, and in 2010, Junior Miss was renamed Distinguished Young Women. There are 315 programs remaining nationwide, five in New York state.
This year, Alaina Bevilacqua, Rebecca Barber, Wen Na “Anita” Zhang, Bianca Jordan, Haley Harris, Victoria Sawyer and Alyssa Rodriguez were the contestants.
Cross-Baker, director of the program, was Junior Miss herself in 1986.
“For me, it was life-changing. I always wanted to be part of this long-standing tradition. I never imagined it would change the way I viewed my future. I was able to do so much and see a lot, and it inspired me to try more things.”
She praised the work of former program Chairman Andrew Powvorznik, who died in 2000.
“Andy Powvorznik was chairman of the program for more than 20 years, and he was incredibly dedicated. I don’t think anyone could fill his shoes.”
State program director Pam Moser said Distinguished Young Women is a scholarship program, first and foremost.
“It’s a great mile marker: the 50th anniversary. There are so many opportunities this program offers. It inspires them to develop their individual potential,” she said.
“It does so through a fun, transformative experience that culminates in a celebratory showcase of their accomplishments.”
In the 50th anniversary program earlier this month, Bevilacqua was named Ticonderoga Distinguished Young Woman for 2013.
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