Lindsey Petrosh is used to being in the limelight.
That should serve the 23-year-old Egg Harbor City woman well this week as she competes for the title of Miss America 2013.
Petrosh is the youngest of four children. Her parents, Bob and Joyce Petrosh, had the future Miss New Jersey two decades after their other children.
"I was a late in life surprise for my parents. My oldest brother and I are 20 years apart," said Petrosh.
The circumstances of Petrosh's birth meant that she received a lot of adult attention as she grew up.
Joyce Petrosh said her oldest child, Bobby, 43, of Mays Landing, was 20 years old and in the military when her Lindsey was born.
"All of our friend ... they all kind of adopted her because they didn't want to have any more babies. Everyone has just followed her. She has been in high school plays and this and that. Our friends have just enjoyed her so much," Joyce Petrosh said. "They have watched her grow up in our church."
Nicolle Tepedino, of Northfield, can attest to the power of Petrosh's personality to win over people of all ages. Tepedino, 39, regards Petrosh like a sister and a daughter.
"She is very mature... She's more like family. She celebrates the special times of the year with us. She is with us during the off times of the year. She's wonderful to my children, my nieces and nephews. We all love her. My parents took out a full-page (advertisement) for her in the Miss America program," said Tepedino. "She inspires. She gives you hope for the next generation."
Petrosh has more going for her than just a lifetime of dealing with older adults.
Miss Atlantic County of 2010 and 2012 honed her singing talent while attending St. Joseph High School in Hammonton. She's an athlete too, playing on her high school's basketball and volleyball teams. Petrosh also is fortunate enough to have picked a platform of volunteerism and the importance of community service at a time Hurricane Sandy brought renewed attention to such activities.
As a little girl, no one could keep Petrosh from singing. She started lessons at age 7.
"I would sing everything from the commercials that I saw on TV, to the songs on the radio," Petrosh said. "My grandfather really pursued my singing career. I would go to dinner with him every week. I was so proud that I knew the song "My Country Tis Of Thee." He would always ask all of his friends if they wanted to hear his granddaughter sing. They always would give me a dollar after I sang."
Petrosh said she has been told by others that her voice is good enough for her pursue a professional singing career, but she isn't interested.
"I really never wanted to make a career out of my God-given talent. I just wanted to give back and use it as much as possible. That never crossed my mind once I started applying to schools (colleges)," said Petrosh, who this year finished the first year of her master's degree IN WHAT??? at Rowan University in Glassboro, Gloucester County.
Nicholas DiValentino, of Sewell, Gloucester County, starred with Petrosh in musicals when they attended St. Joseph High School together.
"I manage a funeral home, and I see a lot of singers in the churches, and I know she does do funeral singing. Of anyone I've ever heard, she is without question the best. She really is. I tell people I have a biased opinion because of how good friends I am with her," said DiValentino, 24. "It gives me chills when I hear her sing."
When Petrosh won Miss New Jersey, she sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." She will sing the song again during her talent portion of the Miss America preliminary competition Tuesday. Miss America contestants compete in three days of preliminaries, which help select the finalists for televised Miss America Pageant final.
Petrosh bought a red bikini she wore for the swimsuit competition for the Miss New Jersey Pageant. The Catalina swimsuit company is Petrosh's sponsor for her swimsuit for the Miss America Pageant. Petrosh is confident when it comes to showing fitness in a swimsuit. She's 5 feet, 4 1/2 inches tall and weights about 120 pounds. She has been visiting a trainer every weekday at Train Studios in Mays Landing.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Petrosh couldn't have picked a better platform issue than volunteerism as the disaster produced countless examples of people volunteering to help their neighbors and complete strangers.
Volunteerism has always been a part of Petrosh's lifestyle, she said.
"I come from a long line of volunteers. My parents were very active in our community, in our church community, so giving back was always second nature for me. I love to volunteer," said Petrosh, whose family attends St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church in Egg Harbor City.
Hurricane Sandy didn't impact Egg Harbor City much. Petrosh said she lost power at her parent's house for about four hours.
Petrosh donated clothes, food and time in Ocean City. She also visited Wildwood to spend time with displaced children in a hotel. She did not stop by either of these places as Miss New Jersey or wearing her state crown. She tried to provide a friendly, happy face to the children.
"Seeing the devastation and seeing towns that I grew up in and have spent so much time in underwater was absolutely heartbreaking," Petrosh said. "I have many friends who live in the northern part of New Jersey who lost their homes and lost everything that they have. I can't even imagine what that would be like to go through, and my heart just goes out to those families."
If Petrosh is named Miss America, she would only be the third Miss America from this state after Miss America 1937 Bette Cooper, of Bertrand Island, Morris County, and Miss America 1984 Suzette Charles, of Mays Landing.
Winning the Miss America contest would be the best birthday present Petrosh could receive because she turns 24 on Jan. 14.
"My chances of winning are one in 53. They are one in 53. I'm going to go, and I'm going to do my very best," Petrosh said. "I know that I personally have a lot to offer. I'm very well rounded and very easy to get along with, and I'm a very friendly individual. I'm very loving, kind, so at least, I would be able to leave behind a legacy of kindness as a Miss America."
Contact Vincent Jackson:
Miss America Pageant
Competition airs 9 p.m. Saturday on WPVI-TV 6. "The Road to Miss America" airs 8 p.m. on WPVI-TV 6