The Miss Gastonia program has been around for at least 75 years, and perhaps even longer. Winners have been confirmed as far back as 1944 when 19-year-old Virginia Huffstetler was crowned Miss Gastonia, but the pageant may have taken place in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Information about our history has been taken from library archives, newspaper articles, and program books. One newspaper article indicates that Gastonia was the host city for the Miss North Carolina pageant in 1944 and 1945. The pageant was held at the Gastonia Armory with Miss Gastonia crowned on Friday night, and she then competed on Saturday night for the Miss North Carolina title. The 1944 state pageant was to be held in Wilson, but last-minute changes moved it to Gastonia.
Winners from 1949 to 1957 are unknown, and it is believed that the pageant was not held. During the 1950s, several young women were appointed Miss Gastonia beautification queens to reign over the city's annual clean-up campaign, but there isn't any indication that the women represented Gastonia in the Miss North Carolina pageant.
One newspaper article states that Miss Gastonia 1958 Theresa Ward was the first Miss Gastonia to be crowned in 10 years and advance to the Miss North Carolina pageant. Miss Gastonia 1960-61 Leila Eden served as Miss Gastonia for about 14 months since the local pageant was post-dated and moved from June to August. This gave Miss Gastonia more time to prepare for the Miss North Carolina pageant, which was held in July.
While there has never been a Miss Gastonia to become Miss North Carolina, there have been a number of top 10 finalists, runners-up, and competition-related award winners at the state pageant.
Miss Gastonia 1965 Georgia Kay 'Peach' Pearce was first runner-up to Miss North Carolina. It is believed that Miss Gastonia 1971 Carol Hawkins, Miss Gastonia 1972 Donna Susan Colvin, and Miss Gastonia 1973 Aundrea Belle Mull were named to the top 10 at Miss North Carolina, and Miss Gastonia 1974 Teresa Elledge was second runner-up. More recent, Miss Gastonia 1996 Megan Downing was named fourth runner-up to Miss North Carolina, Miss Gastonia 2002 Lesley Royster, Miss Gastonia 2010 Mikhaila Leinbach, and Miss Gastonia 2013 Tiffany Payne were top 10 finalists, and Miss Gastonia 2011 Maddisson Sheppard was second runner-up to Miss North Carolina.
The Gastonia Jaycees directed the pageant for many years before deciding to end their sponsorship in 1982. Larry and Delores Cox established a pageant association independent of the Jaycees and held their first pageant in 1983. Delores assumed the duties of executive director in 1986 upon her husband's death and still serves in that role today.
The Miss Gastonia program made history on August 7, 2004 with the crowning of Jessica Floyd as Miss Gastonia 2005. Jessica is the first African-American to win the coveted Miss Gastonia title. In 2007, the pageant made history again with the crowning of two winners – Miss Gastonia and Miss Gaston County. Nicole Southgate was crowned the first Miss Gaston County and was a top 10 finalist at Miss North Carolina. Miss Gaston County 2008 Sarah Portela and Miss Gaston County 2015 Mackenzie Church were also named to the top 10.
The Outstanding Teen program was added in 2005, and in 2008, Miss Gastonia’s Outstanding Teen Mya Hipps was crowned Miss North Carolina’s Outstanding Teen. A number of our Outstanding Teen titleholders have won awards at the state pageant as well as placing as top 10 finalists and runners-up. Marissa Garrison, Miss Gaston County's Outstanding Teen 2016, returned to the state pageant the following year and was crowned Miss North Carolina's Outstanding Teen 2017.
In 2017, our program began producing the annual Miss Mount Holly competition. Our first winner – Allison Farris – won a preliminary talent award at Miss North Carolina and was a top five finalist. She went on to be crowned Miss District of Columbia 2018 and finished in the top 10 at Miss America. Click here for an article about Allison's journey to Miss America.
On November 23, 2019, the Miss Gastonia program began its ninth decade of pageantry in Gaston County with the crowning of Julia DeSerio as Miss Gastonia 2020 and Mariana Linares as Miss Gaston County 2020. Keelie Jones (Gastonia) and Alexandria Foy (Gaston County) won the Outstanding Teen titles. Almost three months later on February 8, 2020, Anne Marie Hagerty was crowned Miss Mount Holly, and Micah Eustache was crowned Miss Mount Holly's Outstanding Teen, thus giving the Gaston region its six pageant representatives for 2020.
In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit, and many appearances and activities had to be canceled, including the 2020 Miss North Carolina and Miss North Carolina's Outstanding Teen competitions. It was decided that the 2020 local titleholders would be given the opportunity to continue their reign beyond the typical year of service and compete for Miss North Carolina in June 2021. With the 2020 titleholders continuing to reign, the "2021 Miss Gastonia Scholarship Pageant" was not held -- it was the first time in six decades that a year has gone by without the staging of the annual pageant competition.
Anyone with information about the history of the Miss Gastonia program should send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.