The Crown Of Columbus

The verdant lawns of Tryon Estates glistened in the dimming light of a recent fall Saturday evening as the stately pace at the up-market retirement community proceeded in its unruffled progress. The vast entrance lobby, awash in deep plush carpet and the glow of lovingly polished furnishings, was nearly empty. The gift shop was closed for the evening, the library cushioned no readers, the card room was silent. But a soupçon of excitement could be detected flowing from the Laurel Room, the facility’s elegant main dining room, a faint echo of giggles and exclamations from voices sounding decidedly younger than the average resident. It was enough to draw one or two curious Tryon Estaters to the doorway for a peek. The cause of the celebratory atmosphere was the closing chapter of the annual three-day Miss Columbus USA pageant, at which the 2005 Miss Columbus would be crowned. 

Tryon Estates had been chosen as the host site for the national finals festivities and awards, organized by a committee led by Missy Fincher, the North Carolina coordinator for the pageant. “We started planning way back in February of 2004,” Missy said as the six contestants and their guests settled in to dinner after interviews and presentations with judges in the auditorium next door. The committee, naturally enough, wanted to keep as much of the pageant as possible in Columbus, which presented a challenge when it came to handling upwards of two hundred people, including feeding them, in a town whose population barely breaks a thousand souls. “Tryon Estates has its own kitchen and staff, so we didn’t have to hire a caterer,” Missy said, “and both the dining room and the auditorium are big enough to hold everyone.”

Tryon Estates, despite the name, is actually in Columbus. There are 23 cities or towns in the United States bearing that name, a fact not lost on a group of Italian-Americans in Columbus, Ohio who staged the first Miss Columbus pageant in that city in 1964 in connection with their Columbus Day observances. Since then, three young ladies from North Carolina have captured the Miss Columbus tiara, including Gwen Felton, who was the first North Carolina Miss Columbus and was a guest of honor at this year’s event. Missy was proud of the fact that 2005 was the first year the national pageant had been held in Columbus, North Carolina which, unlike all the other Columbuses, is not named for the sea-faring Christopher but for Dr. Columbus Mills, an early town father.

This year’s contestants came from Columbuses in Kansas, Wisconsin, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia and, happily, from our very own Columbus, where Stephanie Cantrell emerged the winner in June from among three local contestants. Stephanie, who’s a freshman at Winthrop University majoring in dance performance, was sitting at the dining room’s head table with her sister competitors, all elegantly turned out in gowns, chatting excitedly, and not the least bit nervous about the upcoming announcement as to which of them would wear the national Miss Columbus crown for the next year. They’d been through a lot together over the last three days - visiting local sites (Miss Columbus, Kansas and Miss Columbus, Wisconsin, both from topographically challenged states, were especially impressed with the view from atop White Oak Mountain), laying a wreath at Columbus’ Veterans Memorial, touring the Green Creek Winery, dining at local restaurants and exchanging gifts with each other, a Miss Columbus tradition. Crystal Crombie, who was Miss Columbus, Wisconsin, brought samples of her state’s cheese – “real cheese”, as she made sure to point out; Miss Columbus, Tcxas, Megan Hoyer, chose a cowboy theme by bringing bandannas; Cathryn Shaw, Miss Columbus, Georgia, reached back into her state’s history and brought bottles of Coca-Cola, which was invented in Atlanta; and Christa Weber, Miss Columbus, Kansas, honored her state flower and brought sunflower seeds. Stephanie provided everyone with afghans handmade in North Carolina.

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