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Elizabeth Belanger

Elizabeth Belanger, then known as Betty Jo Pacheco, was a 17-year-old high school student when she entered and won the 1961 Scallop Festival Queen contest. 

“I’ve always loved the Miss America Pageant. I just thought, wouldn’t it be nice to go out with other girls my age and compete just to see how I made out. That was my attraction to it. So, when I saw it in the paper advertising for contestants, I wrote on the form that they gave me and that was how I got into it.” 

“We all had our gowns on. Jay Kroll, he was a Providence, Rhode Island television personality, he was the emcee. One by one we were called to give the final questions, which were very basic. They were in those days. They didn’t ask about the world. They just asked what our age was, what we did, what do we want to become. There were eight finalists. They asked for the second runner up. It was so nice because by then I felt like I knew her. We talked so much. She gets her flowers, and a second place trophy. Then they asked for the first runner up, and her name was Norma Rivet. I remember that so clearly. I thought, if she’d number two, then maybe I’m number one. Of course, once they said my name, I immediately started crying. But I was happy. It was happy tears. The crowd, 250 people when they’re clapping and going, ‘Yay!’ It’s amazing. It always gives me the chills even today to think about it. It was fantastic. Then I got the crown, huge roses, the sash, and a huge trophy, that was unbelievable. That was a great moment.” 

“My uncle told me that day, he was a special uncle, he would bake me birthday cakes every year, he took me aside and said ‘Just be who you are. Be yourself. And that’s all you can do. You’ll be fine.’ And I won!”


“The best part was winning the three-day trip to Washington, D.C. I went, I toured the White House. It was just me and my mom, my dad. We went to the Gold Room and the Blue Room, all the different rooms. Of course, President Kennedy wasn’t there at the time. He didn’t stay on the weekend, or his wife. The only place we could not go was their private quarters. But we saw everything else, it was very, very fascinating. Then we went to see plays at night for those three nights and had wonderful meals. We went to the best restaurants. It was a very, very exciting trip. And it was my first plane trip. In those days, you didn’t go in that long corridor. You went outside and then you go to the plane. You go up steps and then you’re in the plane. It’s a different era really.”

“Yes, it changed my life. I was contacted by a lot of different organizations. I did a lot of modeling all over. Then I was asked to judge beauty pageants; Miss New Bedford, a lot of the towns in Massachusetts. I went into Rhode Island pageants. Miss Teen America, I went all over. It was exciting. I was quite busy but I enjoyed it. The modeling was fantastic. I did that probably until I was about 27. That was really wonderful too wearing all these designer clothes. Once I modeled as a bride and that was really special when you’re that young putting on a wedding gown. I had a fantastic time.” 


“It’s a great experience for a young girl. It doesn’t matter if you win or not. It’s a wonderful experience being there, meeting other girls and talking with them. And just being in that, it just elevates you to be in a pageant. And it gives you self-confidence. So, I recommend that for anyone who has that interest.”

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