Submitted by John Downs
December 31, 2012
Los Angeles is the City of Angels. Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love. New York is the Big Apple. And Chesapeake is …….? Judging from the number of talented and beautiful young ladies from Chesapeake who wow the judges in so many beauty pageants and competitions, Chesapeake should be known as the City of Beauty or at least the City of Beauty Queens.
No less than three current major title holders boast of Chesapeake as their hometown. Few Virginia cities, if any, can lay claim to so much home grown pulchritude. Chesapeake’s talented, fair haired ladies currently reign as Miss Virginia, Miss Outstanding Teen, and Miss Outstanding Preteen.
What’s in the water in Chesapeake, you might ask. The Executive Director of the Miss Chesapeake Pageant has an answer. He is Jeff Bunn, a member of the Chesapeake School Board and a successful local businessman. Jeff’s 30 year tenure with the Miss Chesapeake Pageant gives him special insight. “Why does Chesapeake produce so many talented and gorgeous young ladies?” he responds, “Chesapeake is simply a great place to raise a family and I think you have to look at the fine, supportive family atmosphere these women come from. Their talents are strongly supported by their family and friends. They receive encouragement and love at every level. And Chesapeake gives these ladies another very important advantage. We have a series of local high school pageants where the contestants hone their skills. They learn to respond under pressure, perform in front of large audiences, and deal with the all the challenges these competitions generate. It definitely gives our contestants an edge.”
Brenda Johnson, community leader and former Chesapeake School Board member agrees, “The young ladies who represent our city are a reflection of the many positive values instilled at an early age. It says a great deal about our city to produce such quality individuals.” Johnson served the Miss Chesapeake organization for nearly two decades.
The current Miss Virginia, Rosemary Willis, is a 2009 graduate of Indian River High School. She is the daughter of Chesapeake Judge Larry Willis and former City Councilwoman Patty Willis. Although a Chesapeake native, Rosemary won the Miss Virginia crown competing as Miss Roanoke Valley. While the Miss Chesapeake pageant is open only to Chesapeake residents, other competitions throughout the state are open to everyone.
As an astute observer of numerous competitions, Bunn felt Rosemary was definitely going to win the Miss Virginia pageant. He adds, “I was right about that and I also feel she is going to be our next Miss America.” If determination, talent, and beauty equals success, then Rosemary is a shoo-in as the next Miss America. Her competition resume includes titles as Miss Chesapeake, Miss Hampton Holly Days and Miss Roanoke Valley. She is working toward a Master’s degree in exercise science and would like one day to direct her own non-profit organization. Her singing talents at the Miss Virginia competition impressed both judges and audience alike. She sang a difficult piece entitled: I Who Have Nothing and literally hit a musical home run.
Rosemary Willis shatters the stereotypical image of a one dimensional beauty queen. In addition to poise, grace, and charm coupled with an extraordinary singing talent, she has chosen as her platform issue one that is vitally important to the well-being of our country. “I suffered a debilitating brain injury in high school and had to sit out many of the athletic activities I cherished,” she recalls, “I learned the negative aspects of a sedentary life style, including weight gain and poor self-image. For that reason, I developed a passion for educating others about the benefits of an active lifestyle and I will use my position as Miss Virginia and, hopefully, Miss America to promote healthy exercise for students and adults alike resulting in better self esteem, healthier bodies, and renewed energy to be an active and productive member of the community. It is my goal one day to found a non profit organization to help disadvantaged people develop healthy lifestyles. Help for a better and healthier life should be available to everyone.”
To help the young ladies who compete in various competitions achieve their life’s goals, scholarship money is usually offered as one of the prizes. The current Miss Virginia took home $3,000 in scholarship money from the Miss Roanoke Valley organization and $17,000 for winning the Miss Virginia prize. Last year’s Miss America left with over $50,000 in scholarship assistance.
On December 30th and coincidentally Rosemary’s birthday, she was feted at the Chesapeake Conference Center with a gala send-off party replete with a string quartet, teary-eyed tributes, a sumptuous buffet, and scores of community leaders wishing Rosemary success in Las Vegas. She will leave for the national Miss America competition on January 2, 2013. The site will be the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. It will be broadcast nationally January 12 on ABC from 9 pm to 11 pm. This year everyone can vote now for Rosemary by going to www.missamerica.org.
In attendance at the send-off were the two “ladies in waiting” for future Miss Virginia titles. Andolyn Medina, Miss Virginia’s Outstanding Teen, is a Chesapeake resident and a 12th grade honor student at Hickory High School. Andolyn has received scores of academic and community service honors and has performed at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama. She has been selected as an on-stage performer at the Miss America competition. Her platform issue is encouraging volunteerism among her peers. Andolyn’s ample vocal talent was displayed as she serenaded Rosemary during the festivities.
Samariah Cordew is Miss Virginia’s Outstanding Preteen. Academic awards include perfect attendance citations and a continuous streak of honor roll achievement dating back to her second grade. She received a personal letter from President Obama with congratulations for extraordinary academic achievements. Even at her early age, Samariah has chosen a meaningful and vital platform issue: Stop bullying now. Take a stand. Lend a hand. Samariah is co-founder/president of the first No Bullying Club at her school. She playfully led the crowd’s heartfelt rendition of Happy Birthday for Rosemary.
While the Miss Chesapeake organization has had extraordinary success, others with ties to Chesapeake have added to the city’s legend of achievement. Darla Lacey, now a librarian at Deep Creek, was chosen Mrs. Virginia in 2007. “It was my fourth try,” she recalls with a grin, “Now I use it as an example for my students to never give up. If you want something bad enough, you have to keep trying.”
Meg Mathias, another lifelong Chesapeake resident, just finished her reign as Miss National American Cover Model. “I have learned so much,” she shares, “I now have confidence in public speaking and I also have had the opportunity to meet some exceptional people through my volunteer work. I’m very involved as a volunteer with Special Olympics and am looking forward to this year’s Polar Plunge.”
Chesapeake’s Pat Southall was Miss Virginia USA in 1993 and came in as first runner up in the national pageant. Along with her husband, Dallas Cowboy football legend Emmitt Smith, Ms. Southall is a philanthropist and donates to many worthwhile causes through her own organization Treasure You and the Pat and Emmitt Smith Charities Foundation.
Ironically, another beauty title associated with Chesapeake is that of Mrs. Virginia Beach. Rae Pearson Benn is the current title holder and she is a multi-talented personality who serves as a producer at Chesapeake’s television station, WCTV. She also wears another hat as Public Information Officer for Chesapeake’s Office of Economic Development. “I have been involved with a number of pageants,” Rae shares, “But mostly as a judge. My friends and relatives know me as a passionate advocate of recognizing and dealing with the issue of domestic violence. They urged me to enter the Mrs. Virginia Beach competition and use the title as a platform for educating the community about domestic abuse and violence. I was fortunate enough to win and I have spent the past year continuing to speak out to civic groups, churches and organizations. It’s been one of the most meaningful years of my life.”
Two consistent themes were shared frequently during Rosemary’s send-off. One was the camaraderie, love, and respect shown throughout the hall. Andolyn Medina summed it up best, speaking for herself and Samariah, “We love Rosemary so much. She is our mentor, our big sister, and our friend. We couldn’t have a better example to follow.” The other factor goes much deeper. Time and again, these young ladies openly and proudly displayed their deep spiritual commitment. Rosemary is a devout Christian. One of the songs she chose to sing was How Great Thou Art which was enthusiastically received by the hundreds of friends and supporters in attendance. As she prepares to leave for Las Vegas on January 2nd, Rosemary will represent Chesapeake and Virginia with her talent, charm, and stunning appearance. But she will have one other distinct advantage. Rosemary Willis’ beauty is much more than skin deep.