By Anne Eickstadt

ANNE EICKSTADT PHOTO Belvidere Daily Republican
50 years after being named Miss America, Judi Ford Nash, returned to Belvidere for Heritage Days.

Editor

This year is the 50th anniversary of Judi Ford (Nash) being named Miss America and she returned to Belvidere during Heritage Days to speak at the Boone County Museum of History.

“It’s great to back home again,” she said. “Belvidere was a wonderful place to grow up in. The people were very friendly and supportive. It’s a progressive community.

“I was a tomboy growing up. I worked at the pool as a lifeguard and I taught swimming. I was never a pageant person. I never thought of entering a beauty pageant. At the pool we each had certain jobs we needed to do before the pool opened. My job was cleaning 13 toilets. We also each had a nickname. Mine was Judi John Cleaner.

“I was approached by a sponsor who wanted me to represent them in the Miss Boone County pageant. I wasn’t sure but I did it to supporting cheers of ‘Go, Judi John Cleaner!’ and I won. Then they told me, ‘You will be in the Miss Illinois pageant. You can do your competitive trampoline act for your talent.’

“I talked to my coach and we figured out how to stretch a 20 second act into a two minute and 40 second performance. It was challenging.

“I won Miss Illinois and just a few weeks later I was in Atlantic City for the Miss America pageant. I was nervous. I didn’t think I would fit in with all those ‘pageant’ girls, the ‘beauty contest’ types. They were just regular people. We talked, we laughed.

“I didn’t think I had a chance. The Miss Illinois team didn’t think I had a chance. They said, ‘You already have three strikes against you. You’re only 18. You’re a blonde and a blonde hasn’t won Miss America in years. And trampoline is athletic – that’s not a good thing. Miss America is not supposed to sweat.’

“That actually took the pressure off me. I could just go out and have fun. All I wanted was to make the top 10 to give my sponsors their money’s worth. After the questions, I thought…

For complete article, pick up the July 1 BDR.