Half-century of charm: Jr. Miss program turns 50 next weekend

The past and the present will intersect at Whitehall High School later this month as the local Distinguished Young Women program celebrates its 50th anniversary.

At least 30 former Distinguished Young Women will be on hand to watch as 17 members of the senior class participate in this year’s program, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, inside the high school auditorium.

A reception for former contestants will be held in the cafeteria beginning at 5:30 p.m.

“It will be like a meet and greet for all former contestants,” said Cheryl Putorti, one of several volunteers who help coordinate the event each year.

According to Eileen Rozell, who along with her husband Bob and Francis and Pat Norton, has been involved with the local program since its beginning, more than 600 girls have participated in the program over the years.

“Many of the girls were little sisters and they wait years to do this,” said Putorti. “The program gives the girls confidence and helps with skills later in life.”

Organizers began planning this year’s event last winter and reached out to hundreds of former contestants to invite them to celebrate the milestone.

Karen Gordon has created a display that will feature images from the past 50 years and Rozell has put together a book of all the programs from each year.

Putorti said the support of the community is a big reason why the event continues to thrive.

“It’s a great tribute to the community that it’s been able to support a program like this for 50 years,” she said. “It says a lot about the local businesses that they support this.”

The national program, originally known as Jr. Miss, was launched in1958 in Mobile, Ala. and is the largest and oldest national scholarship program for high school girls. More than 700,000 girls have participated in the program.

Participants go through a six-week program, meeting at the school twice a week in preparation for next week’s show.

On the night of the event, a panel of five judges, consisting of former contestants, will evaluate each girl’s abilities in scholastics, an interview, a fitness routine, a talent and self expression.

The interview and scholastic portions of the program are normally determined prior to the event.

Winners in each category will receive scholarships awards, along with the overall Distinguished Young Woman award and the first- and second runners up.

“We give out a minimum of $6,000 each year,” Putorti said.

This year’s participants are: Ariel Ayers, Payton Bessette, Victoria Christian, Madisen Coso, Heather Donovan, Faith Eaton, Megan Lane, Rebecca Lavin, Alexandra Le Clair, Ashley Millett, Paxton Peterson, Brittney Putorti, Jacklyn Raino, Kendra Rocque, Shyla Stafford, Kassi VanGuilder, and Carli Varmette.

Tickets for the show cost $5 and can be purchased at the door the night of the event. A basket party will be held before Saturday’s event at 5:30 p.m.

Putorti said organizers are expecting a full house.

“It should be an exciting night.”

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