I never dreamed, as a little girl, that I would one day become Miss America. I didn’t really want to. I always loved animals. And, except for a brief time in elementary school when I thought I wanted to be a teacher, I always wanted to be a veterinarian. Since I was a young girl, I knew that the expensive veterinary education was way beyond my family’s financial abilities. So I began looking for scholarship opportunities to help get me through veterinary school.


Debbye waves to the crowd after winning the title of Miss America 1990.

When the Director of the Miss Jonesboro pageant approached me about entering her “local” pageant which is in the Miss America System, I was more then willing because she told me that the Miss America Scholarship Program was the largest source of scholarship for women in the world. She then told me that I could win tens of thousands of dollars if I won a state pageant and went on to the Miss America competition. I knew right away that this might be my ticket to paying for veterinary school!

But before I met the Miss Jonesboro Director, I had participated in two other pageants. Thanks to the encouragement and inspiration of my church choir director, I entered my very first pageant, “Miss Black Teenage World.” I was fifteen at the time. All my friends were in it too. It was more fun than competition. Still my natural tendency to want to win made my First Runner-Up placement a bit of a disappointment. But I did enjoy the experience, so when the high school counselor announced the Junior Miss Program was looking for participants, I signed up. I went on to win the title of Northeast Arkansas Junior. And placed in the “Top 8” at the Arkansas Junior Miss Program. I was later told that I was “too sophisticated” for the Junior Miss Program and that I should consider the Miss America program.

In 1983, I was nominated to represent the FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) in a high school pageant. I gladly accepted. I won! That’s where I met the lady from the Miss Jonesboro Pageant. So later that year, I entered my first pageant in the Miss America system, the Miss Jonesboro Pageant. The road was long to the Miss America stage. You see, I HAD to win a “state pageant” in order to get to the Miss America pageant. It took seven years, eleven tries in two states to get there. I entered four local pageants in the Miss Arkansas system. I won three of them, which meant that I went to the Miss Arkansas pageant three times. But I could never win the Miss Arkansas title. So after that third failed attempt, I changed my method. By this time, I was a veterinary student at the University of Missouri-Columbia. So, since I was a student in the state of Missouri, I was eligible for the Missouri preliminaries. So in February of 1989 I entered the Miss Columbia pageant and won. I went on to the Miss Missouri pageant that summer and won. In September, I became Miss America 1990. And my life changed forever...


The same year that Debbye won the Miss America title, she was crowned Miss Columbia and Miss Missouri.

If you want to know more about the Miss America system, click here: www.missamerica.org.

Below is a list of every pageant I’ve ever been in, including the year, and my placement in the competition:

  • 1981
    Miss Black Teenage World pageant—1st Runner-Up
    Northeast Arkansas Junior Miss Program—I won
  • 1982
    Arkansas Junior Miss Program—made the “Top 8” semi-finalist
  • 1983
    Jonesboro High School Valentine’s Sweetheart pageant—I won
    Miss Jonesboro—2nd Runner-Up
  • 1984
    Miss Jonesboro—1st Runner-Up
  • 1985
    Miss White River—no placement
    Miss Arkansas State University—I won
  • 1986
    Miss Arkansas—made “Top 10” semifinalist
    Miss White River—I won
  • 1987
    Miss Arkansas—1st Runner-Up
    Miss Northeast Arkansas—I won
  • 1988
    Miss Arkansas—1st Runner-Up (Again!)
  • 1989
    Miss Columbia (Missouri)—I won
    Miss Missouri—I won
    Miss America—I WON! ( I became Miss America 1990)