Miss Thomasville won Miss N.C. half a century ago
Ten years before Miss High Point won the Miss North Carolina Pageant, Miss Thomasville did the same thing.
On July 11, 1964, 20-year-old Thomasville native Sharon Finch — the reigning Miss Thomasville at the time — captured the Miss North Carolina crown in Raleigh. This year's pageant, which gets under way this week, marks the 50th anniversary of her unorthodox journey to the title.
"Like a lot of former Miss North Carolinas, I was a tomboy and had no interest in pageants," says Sharon Finch Van Vechten, who now lives in Chapel Hill. "I was a pivot forward playing basketball in high school, and I was very passionate about dance. I played tennis and rode horses, and I was never a cheerleader or a majorette or a homecoming queen. But I knew all about the Miss America Pageant."
During the late 1950s and 1960s, Miss America winners came to Thomasville for the local pageant and stayed with area families. The 1957 Miss America, Marian McKnight, stayed with the Finch family for a week, so Van Vechten got to know her fairly well and was impressed by her beauty and charm.
It wasn't until 1963, though, that she entered the pageant world herself. The local Jaycees, who sponsored the annual Miss Thomasville Pageant, contacted her about being a contestant.
"They ended up being short one contestant — they needed a minimum of eight in order to keep their (Miss America pageant system) franchise, so they asked me to compete," she recalls. "I had performed in local talent shows. I thought I could do a little dance number for the pageant, but I never expected to win. With my talent, I knew I had a chance, but it wasn't a goal of mine. I just did it as a community service more than anything, so they wouldn't lose the franchise."
That was in November 1963. The following summer, instead of working, she was preparing for the Miss North Carolina Pageant, another pageant she had no expectations of winning. Again, though, Van Vechten's talent carried her to the crown.
"I just wanted to do my best — I wouldn't have been devastated if I had lost," she says. "It came down to the fact I knew I had to stand out and jump off the page with so many contestants (93 by her memory)."
She sang "Temptation" and performed a Spanish flamenco tap dance to win her talent preliminary competition, then went on to claim the Miss North Carolina title.
Pageant followers may remember what happened next. As Van Vechten began the new queen's traditional runway walk, the tiara slipped off her head and fell at her feet. She gracefully stooped over, replaced the crown on her head, and nonchalantly continued her celebratory walk as if nothing had happened.
A week later, she told a High Point Enterprise reporter, "While I was in Raleigh last week, signing autographs for some children, I started thinking that maybe I was pretty important. Then when I started to sign a little boy's autograph book, the first thing he said was, 'I seen ya when ya dropped your crown.' Then I was just plain Sharon Finch again."
During her reign as Miss North Carolina, she made more than 450 appearances across the state, keeping up with a whirlwind schedule that included more than a hundred appearances with the governor.
One of her favorite appearances, though, was when she came home to Thomasville for the first time as Miss North Carolina.
"When I got home from Raleigh, they had people lining the railroad tracks for hours, waiting for me out there in the summer heat," she says. "I didn't get there until 4 or 5 in the afternoon, and there were some 8,000 people waiting for me. You would never have that today."
The Thomasville Times published a special edition in the new queen's honor, and a local jeweler minted a commemorative coin with the Big Chair on one side and her likeness on the other.
"I had so much support from my hometown," Van Vechten says.
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