Ritchie 'thrilled' for new Miss America

Sharon Kay Ritchie from Grand Island was Miss America in 1956, but she represented Colorado where she was going to college.

Omaha World-Herald

GRAND ISLAND - When Teresa Scanlan of Gering won the title of Miss America this past Saturday evening, she probably didn't realize one of her biggest fans was rooting for her from Hawaii.

Sharon Kay Ritchie, a 1954 graduate of Grand Island Senior High, was crowned Miss America in 1956.

Although Ritchie was born in McCook and grew up in Grand Island - where she attended Wasmer Elementary, Barr Junior High and Grand Island Senior High - she was a student at Colorado Women's College in 1956. As a result, Ritchie entered the pageant as Miss Colorado before winning the crown of Miss America.

That's why Scanlan is justly proclaimed as the first Miss Nebraska - but not the first Nebraskan - to ever win the title of Miss America.

Ritchie said she often tries to personally attend the Miss America pageant, but she noted that she had a conflict that prevented her from being at the contest this year. However, she said she watched the pageant on television.

"I was so thrilled," said Ritchie. "She's great!"

Although the new Miss America is just 17, Ritchie said she has no doubt that Scanlan will be able to carry out all her duties successfully. After watching Scanlan on television, Ritchie said she was impressed with Scanlan's ability to be articulate, even when she has to provide impromptu answers to questions.

She said that quality that will serve Scanlan well during her coming reign as Miss America.

Of course, seeing Scanlan being crowned as Miss America prompted Ritchie to recall her own time as Miss America. She said that she did not just get to meet people from all over America, but all over the world. Ritchie said that she was the first young woman to make an official visit to Europe while still bearing the title of Miss America.

"The job is really that of a goodwill ambassador," said Ritchie, who predicted Scanlan will be able to fulfill her own ambassador role with ease.

Ritchie said her own reign as Miss America passed by quickly, but she added that "it is a hard job. People forget when you are in their community, that you might be there with very little sleep, because you came there from somewhere else."

Because Scanlan is just 17 and is a high-energy person, Ritchie again believes that the new Miss America will be able to keep up with a demanding travel and interview schedule.

The pageant returned to network television when the competition aired on ABC. Ratings for the two-hour program were 47 percent higher than the previous year, with an average of 6.6 million viewers for the entire show.

That also pleased Ritchie, who said the pageant was a fast-moving, tightly-produced event that easily maintained viewers' interest. She said this past Saturday's competition was one of the best pageants she has seen. Ritchie said she hopes the excellent ratings will mean good things for the Miss America pageant in the future.

When asked, Ritchie said being Miss America is really a lifetime title, even if the crown is passed to a new person each year. Ritchie said that anywhere she goes, she is recognized as a former Miss America.

As such, Ritchie said, she is expected to be open, friendly and gracious to everyone she meets. She said she enjoys that part of being a former Miss America. Ritchie said she has met many other Miss America winners and she said they all like continuing in the role of a person who loves meeting and talking to people.

In fact, Ritchie would not even call it a "role." Instead, the ability to enjoy being a goodwill ambassador who likes to meet new people defines the very essence of being Miss America, past or present, she said.

Ritchie said she would certainly relish the opportunity to meet Scanlan. In fact, Ritchie noted that she will be back in Grand Island this coming October. While she would like to meet Scanlan at any time or any place, Ritchie said, it would be a special thrill to meet her on Nebraska soil.

Given the demanding Miss America travel schedule, the chances of seeing Scanlan during her visit to Grand Island probably would be a miracle, she said. On the other hand, Ritchie pointed out that she is the type of person who believes in miracles. - World-Herald News Service

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