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Judi Ford Nash, of Geneseo, Illinois, was crowned Miss America 50 years ago. This weekend she is participating in several events related to the annual pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

GENESEO, Ill. — Fifty years after winning her crown, former Miss America Judi Ford Nash of Geneseo will be at the annual pageant's national broadcast Sunday night.

Nash, who in 1968 was crowned Miss America of 1969, and several members of her family will be at this year’s event which airs locally at 8 p.m. Sunday. She also will be involved in a number of pageant festivities, she said.

Nash and 1948 Miss America BeBe Shopp are scheduled to be on stage at a Friday event where Nash said she has been instructed to share 50 years of pageant experiences into “about a two-minute time frame.” The two also will be honored at an anniversary brunch Saturday morning prior to a parade on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Nash also has been invited to co-host the pageant pre-show Sunday. “We will introduce widows of fallen soldiers and the program is called the Gold Star Moms,” she said.

Nationally, the Miss America Pageant is associated with the Children’s Miracle Network. Noting the Miss America organization is the largest scholarship program in the world for young women, Nash said she was fine with the pageant’s elimination of the swimsuit competition.

“Today’s competition places much more emphasis on the interview, which I think is good, she said. “Each contestant also has a platform she speaks about and works hard for all year.

“I think the bikinis have gotten a little too skimpy, and I am fine with doing away with that,” she said.

“But the category (formerly) was called ‘Physical fitness in swimsuit,’ and I think that if you are not in a swim suit, you should still have a category for physical fitness and instead of modeling swim suits,” she said. “Maybe contestants could model workout gear – athletic shoes and no high heels.”

Her path to Atlantic City began in 1966 when, as a resident of Belvidere, she was crowned Boone County Fair Queen. In 1967, she was named Miss Illinois County Fair; she won the Miss Illinois contest in July 1968.

That left her just six weeks to prepare for the Miss America competition.

Her talent was a trampoline performance, using her experience at both the national and international levels.

“I’m not a singer. I’m not a dancer. And I considered myself an athlete,” she said. “But back then, being an athlete was not a plus in this type of pageant. I was told it would be construed as too masculine; Miss America was not supposed to sweat.”

After winning the pageant, Nash said she traveled all over the United States and to Vietnam on a USO tour, averaging 20,000 miles a month. Her $10,000 Miss America scholarship paid for her remaining 3½ years at the University of Illinois in Champaign, where she graduated in 1972. This year’s winner, she said, will receive scholarships worth around $50,000.

Nash later served on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports for eight years through appointments by former Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. In 2011, she retired as a Geneseo school district physical education teacher and coach. She and her husband, Jim Nash, have a blended family of five adult children, 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Nash, who has returned to the pageant several times, said it is great to be back in Atlantic City where it started in 1921.

“The people out there also are happy to have the pageant back in Atlantic City,” she said. “It was held in Las Vegas for eight years.”

She and her husband attended the 2011 pageant, as well as the 2009 pageant in Las Vega.  She also was at the pageant in 2004, the last year it was held in Atlantic City, and the 50th anniversary of the first telecast of the Miss America Pageant.

Nash also was a pageant judge in 1986.

She said she realized not everyone appreciates the pageants.

“But you learn a lot,” she said. “You learn poise, public speaking and how to think on your feet.”


Business Editor/Night City Editor