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A WORTHY JUNIOR MISS PROGRAM BATTLES SOME MAJOR MISCONCEPTIONS

"You write about misconceptions quite frequently. Does the biggest misconception of all concern beauty pageants?"

My answer to the person who sent me the above note was, "Yes, it does. You see, too many people go along with the legend that the contestant who is friendliest to the judges wins the title. And it will take something to change that thinking. The credentials of the judges and the big scholarship money don't seem to matter to most people."

The other day I talked to Susan Makai, who is the local driving force (read state chairman) of the Junior Miss program. And my first question was about the misconception. "It has never been that way with us since we started in 1958, and we are definitely not a pageant, "she said. "We are the Junior Miss program.

"These contestants are not beauty pageant types. First of all, they have to be seniors in high school. Nobody else is eligible.

"Then the contestants are graded in five ways. They must go through interviews, have a high scholastic average, have poise, be physically fit and able to do a creative performing act. There is no swimsuit competition, and there never has been."

Now a man in the first row is saying, "You often devote your Sunday columns to charities or ethnic groups. What's with the Junior Miss program?"

The answer is, "The program needs help and in the long run is good for Western New York, and anything that's good for Western New York is good for all of us. Right now the Junior Miss people need help getting volunteers. They also need help getting host families who will give the girls room and board while they're here."

The word around is that they could also use one college for their home base. "Such a local college would benefit from the exposure," an observer said. "The contestants are all college types, and that move could also get a local person interested in the college. And whatever prize money the contestants gets goes directly to the college."

Now a man in the second row is asking, "Why is it good for Western New York?" A possible answer made me think of the man who is so wealthy he has a son away in college and doesn't know about it.

The real answer came from Ms. Makai, who is on the Junior Miss board of directors at the headquarters in Mobile, Ala. She said, "The eventual winner gets a scholarship that's worth $40,000. She also has appearances that bring in money. There will be a national treasury of $5 million.

"A local winner gets whatever the state committee can get together. In the case of New York State, that is about a minimum of $10,000."

Like many others, I first heard about the Junior Miss program because of Diane Sawyer, the ABC-TV star, who is a previous winner. When that was mentioned to Ms. Makai, she said, "We have had some other big names, like Kim Basinger, Kathie Lee Gifford and Deborah Norville."

There will be a meeting of volunteers in Snyder at the Personal Best agency, which is owned by Ms. Makai, at 7 p.m. April 2. The local competition will be in June, and the national winner will be crowned in October.

New multinationality event

When I first heard of the first annual St. Patrick Joseph Dyngus Day Party, I thought of Dyngus Day. After all, the 1998 versions of St. Patrick's Day and St. Joseph's Table are history. And here let me say that I would have included Fontana's in my St. Joseph roundup if I had heard about it.

Anyway, the event will go from 3 to 8 p.m next Sunday in the Buffalo Irish Center. Sponsors will be the Irish Center, the Federation of Italian-American Societies and the Polka Boosters of Western New York.

The music will be provided by Jerry Darlack and the Buffalo Touch, The Blackthorn and Angie Rizzo and his Neapolitan Knights. My thanks go to Dan McCue, who told me about the Great Experiment.

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