Saturday, September 10, 1977, was must-see TV night in Monroe and Middletown, Ohio. The Miss America Pageant would be broadcast that evening.
Suspense ran high. Excitement was palpable. Who would be the next Miss America -- the 1972 Lemon-Monroe High School grad who had charmed pageant judges and local audiences with her voice, grace, poise and appearance? Or would a contestant from another state win the coveted crown?
The nail-biting ended when legendary host Bert Parks announced the winner. Then it was official : Miss Ohio, Susan Yvonne Perkins, daughter of Paul and Gladys Perkins, Miami University alumna who had honed so much of her talent in the schools of Monroe, was now Miss America 1978.
The Associated Press recorded her reaction in news reports the following day: “Miss Perkins, 23, … looked at the ceiling and brought her hands to her mouth” when her name was announced “before a nationwide television audience and an estimated 19,000 persons in Convention Hall on the famed [Atlantic City, N.J.] Boardwalk…”
Elated by her win, but probably not surprised, were the locals who’d been following Susan Perkins’s musical maturation since her school days : her appearances in Monroe’s “Blue and Gold Revue,” her roles in school musicals, her titles as 1972 Miss North Butler County Junior Miss and Miss Miami (University) 1976 and so much more. Each step along the way would lead to the New Jersey Boardwalk on a historic September evening in 1977.
Monroe and Middletown were eager to welcome home the songstress with the megawatt smile. On October 28, 1977, proclaimed “Miss America Day” by then-Governor James Rhodes, Susan Perkins returned to the area where her dream began. Each community embraced her in its own special way.
The homecoming festivities began with a press conference in Middletown and included a private assembly at Lemon-Monroe High for students and faculty, a Middletown parade, a welcome-home ceremony in Middletown, a reception at Arts In Middletown, a Monroe parade, pre-football game ceremonies at Lemon-Monroe High stadium, followed by a game against Hamilton-Garfield High.
Many creative gifts and proclamations were presented to Miss America that day. Perhaps the most unusual were the actual shoes she wore when she walked down the aisle in Atlantic City as the newest Miss America -- bronzed and mounted on a plaque. “I can’t believe that,” she responded upon receiving them, laughing and shaking her head at the unique gift from the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce.
In Monroe fond memories came flooding back during a special assembly at the high school. Similar to a “This is your life” presentation, the program featured home movies and slides from Miss America’s days at LMHS and her previous pageant competitions. The assembly was also an opportunity to reunite with Paul Bell, her former choir director and private voice teacher, and othereducators who played an important role in her youth.
That evening the Monroe homecoming continued with a parade down Elm Street and a pre-football game ceremony in which the former Lemon-Monroe cheerleader received a football from the team and a megaphone from the varsity cheerleaders.
She easily settled back into cheerleader mode as she chanted “We’re still number one!” before the game against Hamilton-Garfield High School at Lemon-Monroe stadium.
“It’s so good to be back with the Hornets,” said the cheerleader-come-home. “I’m sorry, Garfield, but I hope the Hornets win.” Her wish was eventually granted.
Seth Johnston, Monroe mayor, declared Miss America “an honorary lifetime citizen of Monroe” and a “goodwill ambassador for the city.” No doubt many who attended her homecoming retain fond memories to this day.
In later years the former Miss America became a professional singer, spokesperson and television reporter. She married Alan C. Botsford Jr., became the mother of two and a resident of Boston, Massachusetts, and Cape Code.
“Susan Perkins is Miss America,” Associated Press, Middletown Journal, September 11, 1977
“Miss America will visit school where it started.” Middletown Journal, October 16, 1977
“Miss America home tomorrow,” Middletown Journal, October 27, 1977
“Monroe to help Susan remember student days,” Middletown Journal, October 27, 1977
“Susan Perkins welcome joyous,” Middletown Journal, October 29, 1977
“It’s so good to be back with the Hornets,” Middletown Journal, October 29, 1977
“‘Tears almost came’ for ‘Susie’,” Middletown Journal, October 29, 1977