When the people associated with the Miss New Jersey Pageant describe the event and other local pageants that lead up to the finals as family affairs, they aren’t joking.
Among the executive directors and other volunteers are mothers, daughters and sisters who have competed or passed on their love of pageants to the rest of their families.
“Other than my life, the pageants were the greatest gift she could have given to us because of the people we now have as our extended family,” said Rosanna Consalvo Sarto, a West New York, Hudson County, resident and executive director of the Miss Columbus Day Pageant, a dual competition held at the same time as the Miss Atlantic County Pageant.
Sarto was speaking of her late mother, Frances “Bonnie” Consalvo, who served for 37 years as executive director of the Miss Columbus Day pageant. That role was passed onto Sarto in 2004 when her mother died.
“I saw the impact my mother made on individual lives as a mentor,” Sarto said of her decision to stay involved in pageants.
Sarto and her sister Giulietta Consalvo, a Margate resident and executive director of the Miss Atlantic County pageant, each competed when they were younger, both holding the Miss Ventnor title at one point. Giulietta Consalvo went on to compete at Miss New Jersey twice.
The two women and a third sister, Giovanna Consalvo Spina, of Marco Island, Fla., spent countless hours helping their mother.
“Our family was all-hands-on-deck during pageant week,” Sarto said, adding their father, retired Municipal Court Judge Gennaro Consalvo, of Margate, serves as executive producer for the Miss Atlantic County and Miss Columbus Day pageants.
The family also started The Bonnie Blue Foundation, a nonprofit that honors Bonnie Consalvo and supports the dual pageants.
“Growing up, we were always part of the production,” Giulietta Consalvo said.
She said she continues to work as executive director of the Miss Atlantic County pageant because the work is rewarding.
“You get so much more out of it than what you put in. It’s a wonderful feeling of accomplishment to help them achieve their goals,” she said.
Like the Consalvo family, the Pruitts have made pageants a family tradition.
Sisters Deborah Pruitt, of the Marmora section of Upper Township, and Betsy Pruitt-Harrison, of Millville, competed when they were younger, going head to head in 1995 at the Miss New Jersey contest.
“Actually it was really fun to have someone to share it with,” Pruitt-Harrison said of the year the two competed for the state title.
The Pruitt sisters became involved because of their love of singing.
Pruitt-Harrison called the pageants “a natural progression” for them because of the opportunity to sing and perform.
“I think it’s good for young women. It helps build their confidence, and it provides scholarships to further their education,” Pruitt-Harrison said.
The family had attended Miss America contests in Atlantic City for many years, but it was the sisters’ involvement that led their mother, Betty Pruitt, to join the board of the Miss Cape May County pageant, and today she serves as that pageant’s executive director.
“I was coming off being a pageant mom, and I wanted to stay involved,” said Betty Pruitt, of Marmora. “I believe in the system. I believe it helps the girls in so many ways.”
Pruitt said she watched as her shy daughters gained confidence.
“I was thrilled they wanted to do it. They got to perform and speak in public. It made their lives better,” she said.
Deborah Pruitt said her reasons for becoming involved were simple.
“My older sister did them, so I had to do them, too,” she said as she recalled her first pageant, when she was about 17.
The two Pruitts went on to become the first sisters to compete in the same year at Miss New Jersey.
Deborah Pruitt said she also started because of the chance to perform, “but it ended up being so much more.”
The pageants, she said, gave her a reason to focus on her physical fitness as well as improve her interviewing skills and public speaking ability.
Other contestants, she said, continue to see the same lasting impact.
“The crown lasts a year, but what you gain will last a lifetime,” Deborah Pruitt said, adding, “I was shy before. Now, I don’t stop talking.”
Pruitt-Harrsion is now executive director of the Miss Cumberland County pageant, while Deborah Pruitt acts as a pageant consultant, helping contestants in a variety of competitions. She also serves as emcee for the Miss Cape May County and Miss Cumberland County competitions.
“We’re a very close-knit family, so it kind of comes naturally to us,” Deborah Pruitt said of the family’s involvement.
The sisters’ father, Jack Pruitt, died in 2009, but “he was our number one fan,” Deborah Pruitt said, adding that her niece Natalie Harrison is about to enter her first pageant, continuing the tradition.
“That was her own choice,” her proud aunt added.
Miss N.J. Pageant
This year’s Miss New Jersey Pageant will be held the week of June 11 at the Music Pier in Ocean City. Preliminary contests take place June 13 and 14, and the finals are June 15.
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