Watching the Miss America pageant was a big deal when I was growing up. But hey, I'm talking the late '60's. We'd only had a color TV for a couple years, and that was just because my grandpa bought it so we could watch the Rose Bowl parade in color. My how things changed, I don't think I've even watched that parade in 10 years. It's just not a big deal anymore on my priority list.
Miss America didn't seem like such a big deal either after they took away Burt Parks, and then various winners or other contestants fell from grace, one after another. It was no longer the thing to do on the first or second Saturday night in September. Heck, as a kid, it was one of the first times my mom let me stay up that late to watch a show, even though it was on a weekend.
The pageant claims it wants to make a comeback. It's no longer held in September. Now it's in January. And organizers claim they're looking for more than glamour- they want someone who is intelligent, perky and can represent young women well where ever she goes.
They found what they were looking for in Katie Stam, a Seymour girl with deep roots in rural Jackson County and rural Indiana. She helped open the Indiana State Fair, but I had a chance to meet her, ever so briefly, a couple weeks before, at the Jackson County Fair.
It was her home fair, and her local dentist, Don Cummings, helped arrange things to get her home for a day. Don isn't just any ordinary dentist, he owns land and farms some on the side. And his parents aren't ordinary to me- his dad, Jim Cummings, was my high school ag teacher, one of the best of his generation. His mom, Lois, was a dedicated business teacher, one who believed in what she taught and still thought students should believe in it too.
So when Don sets out to accomplish a task, he usually succeeds. He began his mission when he heard Katie say on an interview soon after her crowning, "The biggest thing I'll miss is not going to my county fair." She showed dairy cattle there during her 4-H career. Her grandfather milked until health forced him to stop 10 years ago. And her mom, a Hackman, well known in the Brownstown area, has rural roots going way back. Her brother, Blake, is the ag teacher at Brownstown Central.
She arrived incognito Monday morning in Seymour. Cummings even cleaned her teeth. "Gee, when I go in, I get some assistant," her dad, Keith, quipped later in the day.
Katie talked to folks, held her Holstein heifer for a while, got her favorite ice cream at the Jackson County Farm Bureau booth, then signed autographs and visited with folks who waited up to two hours in line to see her. She's a natural, telling it like it is. You need go no further than talk to her parents to know why she is such a wholesome kid. "We raised her the same way we raised all four- one day at a time," Keith says.
Her mother, Tracy, possesses enough charm that it's no wonder Katie got a good dose of it. Even holding the heifer before Katie took the halter, Tracy exuded a mother's affection and a wholesome attitude at the same time.
I was so impressed that I decided to take a look at how you raise an All-American, Miss America kid from the parent's perspective. Watch for it in the September issue of Indiana Prairie Farmer.
Meanwhile, kudos to pageant officials. If they keep picking Miss America's like this one, maybe teenagers will once again look forward to watching the big pageant on a cold night in January, just like we used to anticipate it's arrival after a hard day's work on a Saturday in September.