Learn the connection between Muskegon County and the Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant, hosted here since 1951.

Miss Michigan Credit Lakeshore Museum Center
Photo Courtesy of Lakeshore Museum Center


From Hoops to High Heels: My Miss Michigan Journey

Miss Michigan
Photos Courtesy of Stacy Shepherd


Winning the Miss Michigan title in June 2001 at Muskegon's historic Frauenthal Center was an incredible honor, especially for a local girl like me! Growing up in Whitehall, part of Muskegon County where Miss Michigan is held annually, I may have seemed an unlikely candidate. I spent my summers sweating it out on the basketball court, gassing up boats at the White Lake Municipal Marina, and sunbathing on our idyllic West Michigan beaches. I never realized the educational opportunity and rich history that began right in my backyard.


Stacy Shepherd Miss Michigan photos
Photos Courtesy of Stacy Shepherd


As a child, I was set on playing basketball in college, not wearing a crown. However, when confronted with the reality of college tuition, I needed to explore another avenue. In 1999, I entered my first local pageant, Miss Muskegon-Ottawa (now Miss Shoreline), and I was hooked. Being a three-sport athlete and a competitive kid, this was right up my alley. I revisited my old stomping grounds, the Lumbertown Cloggers, perfecting a clogging routine for my talent. I chose Breast Cancer Awareness and Prevention as my community service initiative, inspired by my own mother’s battle with breast cancer. I volunteered with the American Cancer Society, donned a pantsuit, and channeled my best Katie Couric interview skills, despite my severe fear of public speaking!

Five pageants later, with the title of Miss Great Lakes, I walked the beloved and historic Frauenthal stage in front of a roaring home-field crowd. I couldn’t imagine how much this West Michigan girl’s life would change that weekend!

This story isn't just about me, though. The Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant, held annually in Muskegon, is all about empowering young women. It's about scholarships, discovering your strengths, building confidence, and finding your voice.


More Than Just a Crown

Black and white photograph of 4 Miss Michigan contestants circa 1960s Photo Courtesy of Lakeshore Museum Center


Sparkling with tradition, the Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant has called Muskegon County home since 1951. Pioneered by the Greater Muskegon Jaycees under President Merrill Bailey, the pageant found its permanent stage at the stunning Frauenthal Theater. Bailey's visionary leadership is honored by the namesake Norton Shores Bridge.

Empowering young women since 1939, the Miss Michigan pageant has evolved alongside its contestants. Today, it celebrates intelligence and beauty in equal measure, awarding scholarships that fuel their dreams.

Every second weekend in June, Muskegon's heart beats with excitement and downtown comes alive with fans from across the state. They come to cheer on their hometown hopefuls, who are vying for the coveted title and the chance to compete for the national Miss America crown – a televised tradition since 1921.


Making history and Threading the Needle: Nancy Anne Fleming 

3 black and white photos of miss michigan, nancy anne fleming on pink, rose background
Photo Courtesy of Hackley Public Library


Nancy Fleming Lange, crowned Miss America in 1961, hailed from Montague, Michigan. Competing as Miss White Lake, she won the state title with her talent for sewing, a skill no other Miss Michigan or Miss America has ever replicated. Today, the Montague Museum celebrates her legacy with a dedicated exhibit.

The pageant weekend features a diverse array of talented women, from hula dancers to acrobats, speed painters to MIT graduates, and pre-med students. These women are not only talented but also committed to community service and public policy initiatives. Their well-roundedness, diversity, beauty, and intelligence are the heart of the Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant.


Three images of miss michigan 1961, Nancy Anne Fleming, arranged on pink rose background Photo Courtesy of White Lake Area Historical Society


Miss Michigan has proudly produced five Miss Americas:

  • Patricia Donnelly (1939): "The Long-Stemmed American Beauty" sang "To You" and "Old Man Mose" in the talent competition.
  • Nancy Fleming (1961): A White Lake and Montague native, who showcased her sewing talent and later became a television personality.
  • Pam Eldred (1970): The ballerina who danced to music from "Romeo and Juliet".
  • Kaye Lani Rae Rafko-Wilson (1988): Advocated for hospice services and performed a Tahitian dance.
  • Kirsten Haglund (2008): Sang "Over the Rainbow" for talent, with a platform of "Eating Disorder Awareness."


Empowering Dreams

black and white photo of 9 miss michigan contestants on stage, perhaps 1960s?
Photo Courtesy of Lakeshore Museum Center


The four sparkling points of the Miss Michigan rhinestone crown symbolize what the pageant is all about: Style, Service, Scholarship, and Success. If you are a Michigan female resident between the ages of 17-24, passionate about your community and in need of financial assistance for college, this is the opportunity for you!

Scholarship awards are the backbone of the Miss Michigan program, offering nearly $40,000 annually to both finalists and non-finalists. Awards highlight excellence in talent, interviews, community service, S.T.E.A.M., and even Miss Congeniality, sponsored by Muskegon native Bob Scolnik in memory of Merle Nancy Scolnik. Additionally, the program provides College In-Kind Scholarships for Saginaw Valley State University and Sherman College of Chiropractic.

Our current Miss America, 22-year-old U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. and Harvard University student Madison Marsh, has earned over $70,000 in tuition scholarship assistance. She uses her national platform to advocate for “Pancreatic Cancer Awareness” after losing her mother to the disease.


Beyond the Crown

color photo of blue and white parade float carrying miss michigan , perhaps 1970s?
Photo Courtesy of Lakeshore Museum Center

I am forever grateful to the Miss Michigan program for giving women like me a chance to showcase all facets of our personalities. As a University of Michigan graduate (Go Blue!) and the first in my family to attend college, I appreciate how this program allowed me to remain true to my roots as a small-town athlete while enhancing my appearance and refining my eloquence. Through preliminary competitions, I earned nearly $30,000 in pageant scholarships, won the title of Miss Michigan, and received the preliminary talent award. I also became a Top Ten Finalist at Miss America 2001, during 9/11.

Being debt-free after college was one of the greatest gifts this program gave me. However, the personal growth and sense of wholeness I gained were invaluable. Whether or not you wear the crown, participating in Miss Michigan makes you a better person. It challenges you to be the best version of yourself by balancing the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional aspects of your character. It also provides a platform to demonstrate that young women today are passionate about important social causes, articulate, and capable of making a significant impact.

Miss Michigan, and programs like it, highlight the importance of pageant scholarships and personal growth through pageants. They show that with the right support, young women can achieve their dreams, promote social change, and become successful alumni, like many from the University of Michigan.


More Than Glitz and Glamour

Miss Michigans

The public perception of Miss Michigan and Miss America is often limited to a one-night event, but it’s so much more. My life was profoundly enriched by the experiences and people I encountered during my year serving our great state as Miss Michigan. From golfing in the Soo to snowmobiling over Lake Superior during Houghton’s WinterFest, from riding on a flying carpet in the River Raisin Festival parade to speaking at Relay for Life events, my journey was diverse and impactful.

I had the honor of having lunch with the Governor’s wife to advocate for policy changes in breast health care, humbly shaking hands with veterans at the Ann Arbor Veterans Hospital, delivering commencement addresses, visiting schools, and, my personal favorite, being announced at the Big House during the Ohio State game. This once shy West Michigan girl was overwhelmed with pride serving as Miss Michigan 2001.


A Year of Service and Self-Discovery

Photos Courtesty of Stacy Shepherd
Photos Courtesy of Stacy Shepherd


My experience as Miss Michigan 2001 wasn't just about sparkling tiaras and red carpets; the true reward was in the year of service that followed. It was a transformative journey of self-discovery, leadership, service, personal growth, and giving back.

black and white photo of white convertible carrying Miss Michigan through a parade Photo Courtesy of Lakeshore Museum Center