Oldest living Miss America winner, Jo-Carroll Dennison, dies at 97

Shortly after the United States formally entered World War II, a beautiful young woman by the name of Jo-Carroll Dennison, unknown to the nation at the time, was plucked out of her job working at a Texas bank and thrust into the world of beauty pageants.

It didn’t take long for Dennison to win the ultimate crown of the trade, as she claimed the Miss America title in 1942. Sadly, according to Fox News, Dennison, the oldest living Miss America winner, passed away last month at her California home at the age of 97. 

Dennison’s son confirmed his mother’s death to Deadline, though a cause of death wasn’t made available at the time of this writing.

The Miss America Organization released a statement in the wake of her passing, writing on social media, “The Miss America Organization is saddened to hear of the passing of Miss America 1942, Jo-Carroll Dennison. We thank her for her year of service and will miss her dearly.”

Her amazing story

Dennison has quite an interesting life story, and it began when she was born at an Arizona men’s prison. Her unique birthplace was born out of necessity, as her parents were traveling to California when Dennison’s mother went into labor — the nearest doctor happened to work at the local prison.

She would grow up on the road, traveling with her parents as they crisscrossed the country selling elixirs and other concoctions of the time in their traveling medicine show.

After Dennison’s father passed, she and her mother packed up and moved to Texas, where Dennison found employment at a local bank. It was her job at the bank that led to her discovery, and after dominating the amateur pageant circuit, she was given the chance to content for Miss America 1942, shortly after the U.S. joined World War II.

The rest is history, as Dennison won the prestigious pageant and immediately claimed her place in the public limelight. She would spend the next year entertaining U.S. troops, filling a critical morale-boosting role for battle-worn troops at the time.

Pure class

Over the years, Dennison shared memories of her days on the pageant circuit and revealed how she truly felt about winning at the time.

“Back in 1942, the pageant was mostly about looks,” Dennison said last month, as the Miss America Organization celebrated the 100th anniversary of the pageant.

She added: “Yet I never thought I had won because of the way I looked, but rather because of the way I felt about myself. With this in mind, I flat-out refused to wear my bathing suit on stage after the pageant, beginning at with the very first tour stop.”

Dennison would spend her later years giving back by working at a hospice facility, which she revealed was the most rewarding time of her life. “When I was Miss America, the boys were so terrific, but it was the symbol they were applauding. Working for hospice I thought I deserved the applause I got.”

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