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Tribune News Service
Janet Ward Black, owner of Ward Black Law, speaks during the Women to Women luncheon in 2016.
Elise Manahan/ News & Record
SANFORD — A Sanford native has been pulling the strings on one of the newest exhibits at the N.C. Museum of History, featuring the Miss North Carolina pageant.
David Clegg, who now lives in Raleigh, has helped put together a retrospective of the pageant for its 80th anniversary for the museum. Clegg said he has been “actively involved” in pageant operations since 1977 and currently serves as the president of the Sisterhood of Miss North Carolina, an alumnae and historical association.
The exhibit opened June 13 and will be on display through Sept. 4. The lobby-case display features mementoes and clothing, a video and awards from several pageant winners.
Clegg first got interested in the pageant in the mid-1960s. His teacher and a friend of the family, Sara Wicker, was crowned Miss Sanford in 1964.
“When I saw the crown on her head, it transformed my perception of her,” Clegg said. “Her kindness to me and willingness to take time to befriend a small boy left an indelible imprint in my mind that these women were special.”
The next year, another family friend, Penelope Clark, was crowned Miss Sanford. Clegg, who was 9 at the time, and his parents went to the Miss North Carolina Pageant in Charlotte to see Clark win the state crown.
“It was unbelievable to witness Penny become Miss North Carolina 1965,” he said. “I would play in my front yard for hours hoping to see Penny pass my house on her way home being driven in her 1965 red Oldsmobile Toronado with the Miss America seal and gold 'Miss NC' lettering on the side.”
Twelve years later, Clegg began doing various jobs for pageants. He started out as a curtain puller, then elevated to local pageant executive director to Miss North Carolina Pageant Scholarship chairman. He still judges state finals across the country.
Clegg emphasizes that the winners of these pageants are very involved in their communties and their country, all the way back to the 1940s.
“In the '40s, the queen sold war bonds, and in the '50s she helped redefine the changing role of women by promoting education and charities,” he said. “In the '60s she was a mirror of women’s liberation as she spoke out about the Vietnam War, and in the '70s and '80s, she championed women’s achievement in business, politics and media.”
More than 4,000 women have made it to the state finals and more than $4 million has been awarded in cash scholarships over the history of the N.C. pageant. The museum exhibit is designed to highlight that.
Clark’s winning gown and crown are featured in the exhibit, as well as a lapel pin from Nannette Jackson Minor of Charlotte, Miss North Carolina 1966, and an evening gown worn by Kathy Fleming of Hamptonville, the winner in 1977. The exhibit also highlights the academic and professional accomplishments of some winners, including New York dramatist and 1956 winner Joan Melton, Greensboro attorney and 1980 winner Janet Ward Black, and Google executive and 1991 winner Jennifer Smith Barth.
Clegg said he wants people to understand the meaning of the pageant through the exhibit.
“It shows that the pageant invites us all to set personal goals, have pride in our community, and understand service is our most cherished mission,” he said.
Along with his professional relationship with the pageant, he has a bit of a family history. His distant cousin, Sarah Burton Clegg, was among the competitors for the Miss Greensboro crown in 1934. He’s sought to keep the pageant up to its standards, particularly in how the contestants relate to kids.
“I have told each contestant for 40 years to take time with each child they meet, because the little boy they speak with could turn out years later to be a pageant executive like me due to their inspiration," he said. "And every little girl could be a future Miss North Carolina.”
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