40 and fabulous: Clark County DYW scholarship program celebrates 40 years
Published 11:59 am Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Lisa Stone recalls when she first learned about a scholarship program for high school girls in Clark County.
The summer after her junior year at George Rogers Clark High School, her dad sat her down to talk to her about Junior Miss.
“Fara (Fox Tyree) had gone around and recruited our parents in order to get participants for the first program,” Stone said.
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It was 1977 and Tyree had been asked to take the reigns of establishing a Junior Miss scholarship program in Clark County.
“I had been asked to judge several of the programs throughout the state,” Tyree said. “I had a very close friend who was on the board and told me she was hopeful we might have a program in Clark County.
“I felt we had some stunning young women that needed to be honored and thought Junior Miss would be a great fit for Winchester.”
Junior Miss, now known as Distinguished Young Woman, is a non-profit scholarship program created in 1958. It is the largest and oldest national scholarship program for high school girls, providing more than $106 million in cash scholarships. The program focuses on helping young girls develop life skills, like interviewing skills, public speaking and making positive choices.
Through her efforts, Tyree was able to recruit 13 girls who would be entering their senior year of high school in the fall.
With the help of many others, including Ruth Thornberry and Mary Scott Mastin, Tyree set out to help name the first Clark County Junior Miss.
“That first year was just so super unique and special because of Fara,” Stone said. “So many of us had never done anything like this before. Fara was so smart about how she went about it. There was a whole group of us who had grown up together. We had never seen anything like this, but many of our parents convinced us to try it because it was a scholarship program.”
Along with a dozen of her classmates, Stone recalls rehearsing all summer for the program. Tyree told the contestants to “put on a show for Clark County.”
“That we did,” she said. “That first year was not competitive. We were just giving Clark County our best like Fara asked us to.”
The theme of the evening was “A Chorus Line,” which was one of the most popular Broadway musicals at the time.
That evening Stone was named the first Clark County Junior Miss. Forty years later, Tyree said she can still remember what she was like on stage.
“She was a very nice young girl,” she said. “She was very attractive, very talented. She sang for her talent and had a beautiful voice. She seemed a little more poised on stage than the other girls. I’m sure it was very difficult to choose that year, though. We had some wonderful young ladies on stage that night.”
Be your best self
Since that first program, Junior Miss has seen name changes, venue changes, criteria changes and even chairperson changes. Those who have been involved with the program throughout the past four decades agree the premise of the program remains the same: to help young women build confidence and learn to be their best self.
“The program used to be Junior Miss, then it was Young Woman of the Year for a short time now it is Distinguished Young Woman,” Tyree said. “While every pageant or scholarship program has something to offer, DYW is appealing to me because it places an emphasis on the whole girl. It’s not just about who is most talented, or maybe just the one who can express herself best. It celebrates girls who are poised and athletic and interested in school.”
Donna Fuller has been chairing the program for more than years, after she encouraged her daughters to participate in the 1994 and 1996 programs. She said the program teaches young girls to be confident, to step out of their comfort zone and to celebrate their differences.
“Distinguished Young Woman is not about winning,” Fuller said. “I always tell the girls this. Yes, we all want to win. We’re human and we don’t want to do anything knowing we’re not going to win. But so many of the girls learn that the real prize is the experience. It’s not about winning it’s about the journey.”
She said from learning to be on stage, to the interviews and the camaraderie, DYW encourages participants to “be their best self.”
“The girls themselves recognize that it’s not about how you look,” she said. ‘It’s about how you act. How you conduct yourself. How you act. It looks at the inner beauty of the contestants.
“I’ve had people tell me, ‘Well, I’ve never seen an ugly girl win.’ But I tell them that if they are sincere on the inside, their inner beauty shines.”
Open to anyone
Fuller said one of the best examples of the inclusiveness of the program is Clark County’s 2009 Junior Miss, Michelle Rodgers, who went on to become Kentucky’s and America’s Junior Miss.
Rodgers said when she registered for the program, she was told she didn’t really fit the mold.
“A lot of people told me that I wasn’t the typical person to participate in the program,” she said. “I didn’t wear a lot of dresses. I don’t know how to walk in heels. This wasn’t my world.
“The real truth is, there is no ‘typical person’ for the DYW program. There is no mold. All you have to be to participate in this program is someone who believes you can be excellent.”
Fuller said there is no way to fully describe who is right for the program, and she has learned over the years to expect the unexpected.
“There are many, many young girls who have won that I would have never imagined,” she said. “When I first met Michelle, I wouldn’t have pictured her as America’s Junior Miss, but she proves that you can’t say who is right for this program. It’s amazing to see how they mature and grow in the year after they win.”
Lasting confidence and connections
Today, Stone is the community relations director at Morning Pointe Lexington East, a personal and memory care community. She has a daughter and two grandchildren, and attests to the boost in confidence and skills she gleaned from her Junior Miss experience.
“To be 17 or 18 and be put through mock interviews, that helped me a lot later on with my college entrance, sorority rush and even job interviews,” she said. “Then, of course, just the confidence of being on stage. Any scholastic scholarship made my father happy, but it opened doors to other things for me.”
Stone said she made lasting connections with the other local and state-level participants, which Fuller and Tyree said can be the most rewarding aspect for some.
Many former contestants and past winners return to help keep the program going because of the connections they built.
“So many of the girls who participated are now the ones helping backstage, organizing things and talking with the girls,” Tyree said. “They’re role models now and that, to me, is exactly what anyone wants. When you begin something, you want to see it go on and be enriched by the participants.”
Fuller said participants become like family and continue giving back years later.
“They believe in this program,” she said. “They see what they can get out the program and share the rewards with others. We believe that if we could just reach out to and mentor these girls, we could change their life in some way and make them a better person. That’s rewarding for us.”
Stone seeing the program celebrate its 40th anniversary is a testament.
“This program recognizes everything that, as a parent, you would want a young girl to be,” she said. “It recognizes scholastics, talent, fitness, poise and interviewing — all of those things that benefit you going into life as a young adult. To see the program thrive and continue to honor what it does, I think Clark County should be proud.”
Celebrating 40 years
Friday night, Clark County will recognize an outstanding young woman through the program for the 40th time.
Fuller said she is proud of the group of girls participating this year.
While participation is lower than average this year, Fuller said she is proud of the group of contestants this year.
“Because of several conflicts with scheduling, we had several girls who want to participate but just couldn’t,” she said. “We’re having to rethink the process because of that, but we have a really great group of girls competing.”
Fuller said next year’s program will likely be hosted in August to provide an opportunity for more girls to participate.
“It has lasted for 40 years, and it has gone through changes,” she said. “Everything has to be tweaked as time goes on.”
In honor of the milestone anniversary, the committee will host a reception for all past winners.
While there is a typically a theme for each program, Fuller said this year is all about celebrating.
“Lisa will return to present some awards and we will have some other past winners participating,” she said. “There will be a special video at the start of the program and we will also have photos from past programs in the lobby.”