Miss America - Carol Jean Held
Niobrara Daze and Knights
by George Flint from Reno, NV
Always pretty always special
Carol Jean was ours to adore
For this gal from early on
We knew there was much in store
BUT WHO WOULD HAVE
OUR OWN MISS AMERICA 1948
The last time I visited with Carol Jean was in June of 1997. She was in Lusk commemorating her 50th L.H.S. graduation reunion. I was there doing the same, except for me it was 45 years.
Carol Jean Held was a lovely angel. Inside as well as out. Physically she was a near mirror of the young screen actress Grace Kelly. That all American girl who married Prince Rainier of Monaco.
In high school you would have possibly found her a bit aloof. Probably more shyness than any personal snobbishness. Her mom and dad owned the Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in town and the family lived about the service area in a most humble apartment. Carol Jean, her parents and just old sister Mary Lee.
George, her dad, unfortunately died in an automobile accident near Node as memory serves. Mom carried on alone very successfully operating the business and raising their two daughters.
There was never any question. Carol Jean, never just Carol, was destined for the University in Laramie and entered as a freshman in the fall of 1947. An immediate standout she was named Miss University of Wyoming in the early spring of '48. Also giving her the title of Miss Wyoming and an invite to compete in the Miss American Pageant at Atlantic City.
I still have vivid memories assisting my dad taking formal portraits of the lovely Miss Wyoming. Complete with crown and a fresh bouquet of long-stemmed roses resting on her lap. All Niobrarawise were totally in awe of Carol Jean and that accomplishment and honor. As a young university co-ed she was beautiful beyond any normal measure. Carol Jean was totally off the charts in the loveliness department.
Of course these were the days before television and most outside news reached Lusk either by KOA radio from Denver, the then Rocky Mountain News or Denver Post which was dripped off daily at the Ranger Hotel by Trailways Bus.
I was processing film in the darkroom of the Flint Photo Shop when my mother called exclaiming she had wonderful news. Our Miss Wyoming had been named one of five finalists at Atlantic City. All part of the week-long Miss America competition. The next day Lusk and surrounding area literally went berserk when Carol Jean was announced first runner-up to Miss America BeBe Shopp, the reigning Miss Minnesota.
Since this "Daze and Knights" isn't book length let me cut to the chase and share how Carol Jean became acting Miss America and as such served out the year holding that exulted honor. Miss America from Hopkins, Minnesota went abroad by steamer for a series of European appearances. Lost in the mists of history Miss America didn't hurry home. While she lingered on the Continent with no hint of returning pageant officials needed someone to carry on. Suddenly our hometown gal was wearing that ultimate crown and Lusk was really on the map and in the national spotlight. Whatever happened to BebBe Shopp still remains somewhat a mystery.
Carol Jean had chosen to play the piano for her talent effort at Atlantic city. At the last moment, for reasons also unknown, she changed her planned agenda and to perfection played Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody. A rather difficult and complicated musical presentation not part of Carol jean's usual repertoire. Doubtful there is anyone remaining that fully knows why the last minute adjustment. Regardless, it wowed the judges and probably played a major facet in her being included as a finalist.
Carol Jean married Ed Chenoweth and the young couple moved to Ohio. Ed had been a footballer of some renown both at Worland High School as well as for the U. of W. Cowboys. He had with honor earned his degree in psychology. The move to Ohio was intended for and successfully led to a doctorate from Ohio State University. Carol Jean spent her time there modeling and teaching piano. Both talents in which she excelled. Returning to Laramie Ed Chenoweth taught at the University for nearly 40 years. Chenoweth's forte delved into the misty areas of experimental psychology.
In her later years I was struck by how much Carol Jean exactly reflected the way I remembered her mom as a young lad. Exquisite platinum hair, ivory skin and always lovely complexion. When we visited that last time, nearly 15 years ago, I teased her a bit about being "our own" Miss America. She blushed and confirmed the specialness of that honor.
Carol Jean battled health issues as the years became decades. She suffered from the "Big A" and passed on a decade after we chatted at the Niobrara Alumni Reunion. Death came quietly on February 19, 2008 at age 78.
You must stop by the Lusk Museum and view the lovely salute to Carol Jean. That portrait of the lady taken by my late father with an engraving honoring her life. Mann Flint considered that photograph of Miss Wyoming among his greatest efforts behind the camera.
I've crossed paths, even rubbed shoulders, with some lovely ladies in my time. Silver screen beauties including Lana Turner, Jane Russel, Mitzy Gaynor and more currently that knockout gal Ms. Helen Mirren. Highly enjoyed the pleasure of officiating at the wedding of actress Kim Novak who may have been among my favorites. I particularly enjoyed my friendship with the late dancer Juliet Prowse from much earlier Las Vegas "Daze and Knights." Ms. Prowse, the long legged South African beauty, became engaged to Frank Sinatra. He was always involved and much too busy and Juliet just plain became bored. There never was a wedding. Personally I would never have allowed her to just drift away as Frank did. Ms. Prowse was too much a treasure.
These aforementioned women of great beauty each in their own way unique and extraordinary. Special ladies one and all. However in all candor, Carol Jean Held in her own rather quiet and serene way enjoyed an edge on all of them. I hold dear the fact that I can look back all these years later at the wonder of it all. That grand lady from Lusk who became Miss America 1948. It still leaves me breathless.
I keep Carol Jean's portrait on a shelf behind my desk here in Reno. She still has the ability to cheer me up on any given less than perfect day. I still celebrate Wyoming's one and only recipient of the Miss America crown.
Ed Chenoweth lived a long and full life, passing away January 11, 2011 in Houston, Texas at the age of 88. Carol Jean and Ed left a wonderful family of three daughters, all of which survive them. Each today with their own extended family.
Carol Jean's total legacy distinguished yet simple. A kind heart, generous smile and a most loving disposition. A great mom and wife who also just happened to be Miss America 1948. We all knew Carol Jean as one of us. The girl next door. Always pretty as a picture and twice as nice.
Images & Attachments
|Obituary||Lee, Mary (06/08/1926 - 06/25/2003)||View Record||Obituary||Lee, Mary (07/07/1865 - 09/22/1932)||View Record|