Miss Zephyrhills pageant winners past and present reflect on the crown

Since the 1920s, becoming Miss Zephyrhills was a dream for many local girls. They wanted the status, the coveted spot in the Founders' Day parade. Once queen, the young women aspired to outshine their evening gown-clad rivals from Dade City in the Miss Pasco pageant.

But in the past 80 years, interest has waned. The pageant was canceled for a while in the late 90s. To boost entrance numbers the competition was eventually opened up to women who lived outside of Zephyrhills.

This year, the pageant takes place in April.

As the city's 100th birthday approaches, we asked Miss Zephyrhills winners from the past and present for their recollections of the experience and their impressions of the city when they were crowned its queen.

Miss Zephyrhills 1963

Anna Jo Bracknell, now 63, lives in Zephyrhills. She is retired. She previously worked as a cosmetologist and teacher's assistant at Woodlawn Elementary School.

"When I was Miss Zephyrhills, they said the criteria was poise, personality and beauty. We didn't have a talent competition. Thank God, because I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.

"At that time, the competition was only for local girls. Businesses would pick a girl to sponsor. They got publicity from this. See, when you rode in the parade, your sign would say sponsored by so and so. It was in the newspaper.

"It was a big deal — oh, Lord yes, oh my gosh, yes — everybody wanted to be in the pageant. It was your little 15 minutes of fame.

"I still have my dress. It was bright red, strapless and had a bow at the back.

"I wasn't real outgoing at that particular time in my life. I was kind of shy. I was scared to death at the competition.

"It was held at the current municipal hall, where they have the council meetings now. The judges sat at the front of the auditorium. I'm not sure exactly how they scored; all you had to do was walk across the stage and smile at them.

"I won and rode in the Founders' parade. You were really lucky if you got a convertible to sit in. Those cars had such big engines back then; they would run hot and if you had to sit on the hood for the parade, they would practically scorch your bottom.

"I went on to compete in the Miss Pasco pageant. I was second runner-up. That was the first time a girl from Zephyrhills had placed in 13 years. Then we went to ride in the parade for the inauguration of the governor — good Lord, I couldn't tell you which one now.

"When I was Miss Zephyrhills, Gall Boulevard had big oak trees down the center. There were park benches along the road. You could stop and sit down and talk. The post office was there — that was a big meeting place.

"Everyone came into town on Saturdays to do their shopping. That was a big deal. Everyone knew everybody."

Miss Zephyrhills 1978

Diane Kennedy, now 48, lives in Wesley Chapel. She works for a computer company in Clearwater and is a former director of the pageant.

"The Miss Zephyrhills pageant was very nerve-wracking for me. I had competed in several pageants before, but it was very important for me to represent my hometown. It was like being Miss America. Everyone was expecting I would win, but what if I didn't? I was a 16-year-old girl. It was very emotional.

"The phases of the competition then were personal interview, then talent, swimsuit and evening gown. For my talent I sang The Way We Were.

"The swimsuit event was pretty intimidating. But back then you wore a one-piece. You were not allowed to wear a two-piece.

"My swimsuit was teal. My evening gown was a light blue color with a sequined bodice. When I sang, I believe I wore a jumpsuit, navy blue with red, white and blue stripes at the top.

"Back then, we had one red light in town. Many of the roads weren't paved yet. I think McDonald's came to town when I was 14. That was the only fast-food restaurant. It's a bigger metropolis now.

"A lot of the girls in town wanted to be Miss Zephyrhills. You got to throw out the first ball at the baseball game. You attended ribbon cuttings.

"My mother directed the pageant for five years. She had some years where she had 20 contestants. Now, it's very difficult to get a good group.

"I think it's because most girls are so involved in their social activities. They have to have jobs."

Miss Zephyrhills 2009

Ashley Ramsey, 20, lives in Tampa. She is a nursing student at the University of South Florida.

"It was really neat to become Miss Zephyrhills and work in a small town. Their queen is a really big deal. Everywhere you go, it's, 'Oh, there's Miss Zephyrhills, can I get a picture with you?'

"I worked a lot of events on Main Street. It was so nice. We don't have opportunities in Tampa for everyone from the community to come together. (In Zephyrhills) everyone knows everyone, they make you feel so welcome.

"There are always a lot of people hanging out downtown — walking around, going to lunch. I think that's so cool to see. There are a lot less fast-food chains than in Tampa. It's really nice to see that mom-and-pop restaurants still exist.

"I would love to live in a place like Zephyrhills. I feel there are good morals and values there, and on the weekend you can go out and explore the town and watch the skydivers.

"I found out about the Miss Zephyrhills pageant on the Miss Florida Web site. It was a qualifying pageant. I think there were only three or four girls out of 14 from Zephyrhills in the pageant.

"I think for some girls, the ultimate goal is to become Miss Florida. But I really wanted to become a working queen in the city and be very visible. It's the part you get to relax doing."

Fast facts

If you go

Zephyrhills officially turns 100 on Wednesday, but the festivities kick off Friday with a barn dance from 6 to 10 p.m. at Zephyrhills High School.

On Saturday, the parade takes place at 10 a.m. downtown, with activities going on all day. At 7 p.m., entertainment including skydivers and fireworks will be on display at Zephyr Park.

At Zephyr Park on March 14, there will be an art show, picnic and entertainment from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For information on the celebration and the history of Zephyrhills, including the Miss Zephyrhills pageants, visit www.zephyrhills100.com.

Miss Zephyrhills pageant winners past and present reflect on the crown 03/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 6, 2010 3:12pm]

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