Marie Ozers of Michigan, the former Miss Illinois who went on to be crowned Miss USA 1963, describes the sentiment of Miss USA winners past and present.
"Unless you've been a Miss USA, there's no possible way to know what it's like to have this honor and responsibility," Ozers said.
"We're more than just the winners. We're women of accomplishment from around the globe."
Ozers was just one of the roomful of "women of accomplishment" who gathered Thursday for an elegant reception at the Marquette Park Pavilion in Gary to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the title they all share.
"To best describe the bond in this room right now, I'd say it's a sisterhood under one crown," Ozers said.
During the course of the evening, the topics of conversation ranged from memories to reliving the highlights from the year each woman was crowned.
"Everyone wants to know how this pageant has changed over the years," said Cheryl Ann Patton of Florida, who represented Florida when she won Miss USA 1967.
"I think the hopes and dreams of today's contestants are the same that we shared. I do think maybe we were a bit more naive, with less coaching and training. What has really changed is the actual pageant as far as the production event is concerned. It's much more professional."
The ladies laughed and reminisced as they swapped stories about the pageant hosts, musical entertainers and celebrity judges they rubbed elbows with during their moments of royalty at the pageant.
Bob Barker was, by consensus, the most affable of hosts, while Gene Rayburn and Helen O'Connell seemed to rank high for their easy rapport with contestants.
"I'll never forget how excited I was to be going on to the Miss Universe Pageant after the Miss USA pageant, especially after I heard who would be hosting," Ozers said.
"We had heavy-hitters in the way of celebrities that year: John Daley and Arlene Francis from 'What's My Line?' the most popular show of the day."
Headlining musical entertainment during the decades of pageants included everyone from Bobby Vinton and Pat Boone to The Everly Brothers and Engelbert Humperdinck.
Kim Tomes of Texas, who represented her home state and garnered the Miss USA title for 1977, said she finds it entertaining to compare notes with other winners about whom they had to face eye-to-eye when it came to celebrity judges.
"I had actor Omar Sharif," Tomes recalled.
"But one of the other ladies here had to face Ed Sullivan. He would be one tough judge to have for your interview, I would imagine."
Tanya Wilson-Condello, who now lives in London, was Miss Hawaii when she was crowned Miss USA 1972.
"We've all been through so much during our journey to earn our title," she said.
"For me, I was crowned during the midst of the Nixon-Watergate years. I had to field many a question about that controversy during the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants."
"But I think when each one of us looks back at all of the wonderful opportunities we've had, every one of us would love to do it all over again."
* Philip Potempa can be reached at email@example.com or by calling (800) 837-3232, Ext. 4327.
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