Hoopeston, Ill. (WCIA)

 This weekend is the annual National Sweetheart Pageant! In 2022, the National Sweetheart Pageant partnered with the Miss Volunteer America Organization to send a runner-up contestant from their respective states’ Miss Volunteer America pageant.  

The National Sweetheart Pageant is a scholarship program based in Hoopeston, Illinois that seeks to provide a national level training and life experience for young women whom excel in service, communication, and personal well-being.

 As is common to most festivals in this area, a pageant was held to name a local girl, chosen by popular vote of the persons in attendance, to reign over the celebration. In 1939, local judges were responsible for selection of the Sweetcorn Queen. 

 In 1940, the canning and canning-related industries of Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin were persuaded to send a contestant to Hoopeston to vie for the title. Since the festival and pageant now had persons in attendance from several states, the name “Hoopeston Sweetcorn Festival” was changed in 1941 to the “National Sweetcorn Festival” and “Miss Sweetcorn” became “National Sweetheart”.

The Junior Chamber of Commerce assumed the sponsorship of the festival and pageant following World War II and has continued to the present. They followed the same format until 1952, when the Jaycees invited the 1st runners-up from their respective states’ Miss America pageants. At the same time, judges from the Miss America circuit were invited to judge the pageant. The idea was to bring national recognition to the pageant, as well as provide a training pageant for girls who may wish to reenter their states’ Miss America competition in future years. In 2016 the Hoopeston Jaycees were forced to change their national format thus opening it up to contestants from all across the United States to compete for the title of Miss National Sweetheart.

Nine contestants from our National Sweetheart Pageant have become Miss America. Pam Eldred, Miss America 1970; Rebecca King, Miss America 1974; Grace E. Ward, Miss America 1982; Debrah L. Turner, Miss America 1990; Carolyn Sapp, Miss America 1992; Leanza Cornett, Miss America 1993; Tara Dawn Holland, Miss America 1997, Katie Marie Harman, Miss America 2002, Caressa Cameron, Miss America 2010.