The Miss Altus Pageant has touched the lives of Altus’ young women for the last 47 years in influential ways well after the pageantry is over and the crown has been passed on.
Miss Altus 1999 Leila Hunt Willingham said the Miss Altus Pageant was much more than a scholarship program. It was a pivotal point that shaped her future.
“This may sound silly,” Willingham said, “but this pageant saved my life.”
Behind the perfectly applied makeup, the flowing ball gowns and glittering smiles, it’s hard to picture the contestants living normal, often unglamorous lives. But for Willingham that normal life was a hard reality.
Growing up on welfare, working a minimum-wage job and supporting herself while still attending high school, the pageant was more than a crown to win. It was a chance to change her life. A flier posted at Western Oklahoma State College advertised free tuition for the winner and runners up.
Borrowing dresses, costumes, and many other things, Willingham prepared for the pageant. She worked on a tap routine under the tutelage of Lisa Smith Miller.
“My tap skills were about that of a third-grader, but she made me look pretty good by adding jazz hands and catchy music,” Willingham said.
Wearing an $80 dress from JC Penney that shed glitter, Willingham said she was lucky to win her first Miss Altus Pageant, because it led her to compete in the Miss Oklahoma Pageant preliminaries that awarded scholarships to the University of Central Oklahoma or UCO.
Willingham graduated from UCO with a bachelor’s degree in corporate communications without any debt, thanks to pageant scholarships and Pell grants. She now has two children of her own and credits the pageant and the ladies who head the program with her success in many areas of her life.
“I have overcome some pretty big obstacles, and this is because a group of women decided to pore their efforts in to helping young ladies like me learn invaluable life skills,” Willingham said.
This year, eight contestants are scheduled to compete in the Miss Altus Pageant. As they prepare their interview responses, talents, and poise, Willingham encourages them to have the courage to give it all they have and to take every opportunity to learn and grow.
“Former Miss Altus winners have their own dance studios, are artists and teachers,” Willingham said. “Don’t be too quick to judge a small town pageant girl. We are deep, loving, successful women because of a program that is much more than a glittery dress.”
Rollann Horschler, one of several women who coach and teach the contestants, has seen firsthand the work that goes into making the pageant a success for each young lady.
“They’re sweet, talented young women with critical platforms, and I believe this year will be one of our best years for the pageant,” Rollann said.
The pageant is slated for Feb. 11 at the Altus City Auditorium. Tickets are $15 on the floor and lower balcony, and $10 on the upper balcony. All seats must be reserved before the pageant.
For more information, call Carol Steen at 580-482-0145.
Reach Katrina Goforth at 580-482-1221, ext. 2077.