There she is, Miss North Dakota

Back in the day when Miss America ruled the world of beauty pageants, host Burt Parks serenaded each year's winner with the iconic song, "There she is, Miss America, our ideal."...

Miss North Dakota Beth Dennison
Miss North Dakota Beth Dennison poses for photos that will be sent to the Miss America organization. Right before the photo shoot, she donated at a blood drive in Williston, N.D., which is why she has a bandage on her arm. (Photo by Terri Ridder)

Back in the day when Miss America ruled the world of beauty pageants, host Burt Parks serenaded each year's winner with the iconic song, "There she is, Miss America, our ideal."

Our culture has changed a lot since then, and the Miss America pageant has survived plenty of ups and downs, but in the mind of newly crowned Miss North Dakota Beth Dennison, Miss America remains an ideal and role model for girls and young women today.

"She's so much more than beautiful," said Dennison, 21, the reigning Miss Grand Forks. "She lives a lifestyle to be a leader and a role model. She's talented. These girls (who compete) are so ambitious. All the contestants, win or lose, they are a great group of girls."

The women she met through the Miss Grand Forks and Miss North Dakota contests were smart, organized, goal-oriented and passionate about what they were doing, she said. They provide thousands of hours of volunteer work and raise money for the Children's Miracle Network, one of the Miss America program partners. What's not ideal about that?

Dennison became the 62nd Miss North Dakota since Miss Bismarck Kitty Page won the first title in 1949. This was Dennison's first time competing in a Miss America program pageant. Previously she had been one of the young women chosen for the ambassador program in her hometown of Hutchinson, Minn. After a selection process that included an interview and a talent and evening gown competition, the winners made public appearances to promote their community as a great place to visit and live.


"I enjoyed that so much," Dennison said. "It helped me with scholarship money and helped me get better with public speaking. Once it was over, I thought, I would love to continue on with this. What's the next step?"

She did what any modern young woman would do -- a Google search. Online, she learned about the Miss Grand Forks scholarship competitions, and met Caroline Hayden, the director of the local pageant scene.

Beth's background

But let's back track a bit. Beth Dennison grew up in the country outside of Hutchinson. Her father, Steve, is a welder and her mother, Jean, is a cardiac nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Mankato, Minn. She has four sisters, Jennifer, 25, an engineer, who's married and lives in Duluth; and Katie, 15; Michelle, 13; and Christina, 9.

In the country, the Dennison family kept chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, cats and a dog, and spent a lot of time outdoors. Jennifer and Beth would take care of the house and watch their younger sisters while their parents worked. Dennison's first paying jobs were detassling corn, picking rocks and working in an apple orchard, but by the time she was 10 or so, she knew she wanted to be a nurse, Dennison said.

Dennison was a dancer, played soccer, ran cross-country and did a lot of volunteer work growing up in Hutchinson, a town of about 15,000 south of Minneapolis. She moved to Grand Forks in the fall of 2007 to begin classes at UND at the urging of some close family friends who had great things to say about the Grand Forks community and the university, she said.

After her arrival, Dennison worked for UND dining service and volunteered at the Humane Society and elsewhere. Once she decided in July to enter the January Grand Forks competition that led to the Miss North Dakota pageant in June, she chose a program about volunteering as her competition platform. "Leading by example: A child's guide to being a volunteer" encourages children to volunteer in formal and informal ways.

Dennison is eager to speak about volunteering to adults and children and to make other public appearances. If you'd like Dennison for a speaking engagement, contact Miss North Dakota executive director Marian Hamilton at or call (701) 770-0655.


Competing in a scholarship competition is physically and mentally challenging, Dennison said. You have to develop your platform and be able to sell it. You have to be ready to demonstrate talent and look alluring in an evening gown. And you have to be ready for tricky interview questions, or -- as Dennison put it -- "to put out the most information with the least amount of words." It's important to pay attention to the television news and read a newspaper, she said.

"Most of those questions have to do with stuff that's going on in the world," Dennison said. "So you want to make sure you're really knowledgeable about what's going on around you, and to discuss what's going on with your family and friends. That helps you decide what you think about an issue."

Dennison said she has the hardest time with questions about "favorite" celebrities, and with questions that are negative.

"Some judges like to ask things such as, 'What is the worst thing about your state?' I try to focus on the positive, so it's hard for me to think in the negative," she said.

Then there's the swimsuit competition. Even women who look like models can have issues with body image. Walking across the stage in a two-piece swimsuit, high heels and a smile has got to be intimidating, right?

"I think what you need to focus on is that they aren't looking for someone who is stick thin," Dennison said. "They're looking for someone who is healthy and strong, and who is poised. I've never really been hard on myself because I know I am healthy and strong. I don't have the traditional pageant body, but I am confident in myself."

At Miss North Dakota, Dennison had the highest score in both the interview and the swimsuit competition.

Dennison entered the state competition with fellow titleholders Miss Empire Stephanie Erickson and Miss Eastern Dakota Emily Burkland, who also had won their crowns in January in Grand Forks. The three women formed a friendship bond of camaraderie and mutual support. At Miss North Dakota, all three women were named finalists, and Erickson was third runner-up.


"All of us made it to the top 10, and it was so exciting," Dennison said. "We call ourselves the three sisters."

As Miss North Dakota, Dennison had to hit the ground running, with interviews, public appearances and photo shoots that started the day after she was crowned. There's a lot to do and a lot of ground to be covered before the 2011 Miss America pageant, which will be broadcast live on ABC Jan. 15.

"It's been a dream of mine to compete for Miss America ever since I was little," Dennison said. "It's crazy to have your dream come true. It just feels wonderful."

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to .

Dennison practices
Beth Dennison practices her talent at Empire Art Center in Grand Forks before heading to Williston, N.D., for the Miss North Dakota scholarship competition. (Photo by John Stennes)

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