Getting this year’s 53 Miss America contestants where they need to be when they need to be there and with what they need to carry doesn’t just happen.
That’s the job of a group of women rarely seen about in public — the Miss America hostesses.
This year, 30 women share the title, and each will spend the next few days helping, guiding and generally supporting the young women who have traveled from across the nation to compete in Atlantic City.
“It is demanding. It is exciting. It is rewarding,” said first-time hostess Denise Walsh, of Egg Harbor Township. “We’re on the go constantly. We’re doing whatever needs to be done to support them.”
They get up early, out on the road by 6:30 a.m. some days. They make sure the contestants know where they are going and take the right clothes or other items they need for the day.
The hostesses generally don’t attend many of the night events — that’s handled by the security committee — but they greet the young women when they return and talk about the day and what’s next on the hectic schedules they keep.
The hostesses have a long history with the competition.
Some, such as Rosey Wynn, of Margate, and Judy Dale, of Egg Harbor Township, have filled the role of hostess for more than three decades.
Wynn, whose mother was also a hostess, started as a teen at a time when local teens were given the task of entertaining the little brothers and sisters of the contestants.
“We’re making new friends and meeting people from all walks of life,” she said of the experience, which has included trips to Las Vegas, the competition’s home from 2005 until early this year.
Dale moved to New Jersey in 1977. After meeting someone involved in the competition, she welcomed the chance to volunteer, so she interviewed for the job. She started in the early 1980s.
“It’s quite different,” she said, noting that at the time she had just two contestants in her charge and the help of an assistant hostess. Today, she has six.
“I’d take as many as they’d give me,” Dale said.
Back then, she added, the hostesses stayed in their own homes and traveled back and forth, grabbing a bite to eat at home before getting back to work. Today, they stay in hotels, nine locations in the city, with the contestants.
Some hostesses, she added, fill other roles, such as working in the dressing room to keep things moving as the contestants make quick costume changes.
The women said they cheer for all of the women, though Wynn said proudly that two of the women she worked with as a hostess, Mallory Hagan and Teresa Scanlan, went on to win the coveted title.
“It’s very exciting, but you don’t even get to say goodbye,” Wynn said, explaining that the winners are quickly whisked off to start their reign.
The women are thrilled to see Miss America return to Atlantic City.
“I have never seen the city so excited in my life,” Wynn said days after the contestants arrived.
Walsh said the return came just when the state needed a boost after Hurricane Sandy.
“Everyone in this area feels as if they own this,” Walsh said. “This is their pageant.”
Dale, who became a little emotional as she spoke about the return of the competition, said Miss America is a regular topic of conversation wherever she goes.
“How can you think of Miss America without thinking of Atlantic City? The two go hand in hand,” Dale said.
And, they might tell you, the hostesses and the contestants go hand in hand as well.
“We’re their safety net. We’re their reminders,” Wynn said.
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