Miss Centennial Nebraska 1967 in a Centennial Parade in O’Neill.
By Kylie Kinley, Assistant Editor
It won her a crown so heavy it dented her forehead, a gold 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and a quarter horse named Billy Ray Lane. But when Miss Nebraska Centennial Nancy Pardeiro talks about her reign as Nebraska’s Centennial Queen in 1967, she doesn’t talk about the things. She talks about the people and the experiences. “It was a thrilling, exciting, and intense year of people and events,” Pardeiro says. “I did it because it was just such an unusual event. And the timing was perfect.” With Nebraska’s 150th birthday celebration coming up in 2017, looking back at the events and celebrations of 1967 gives us a snapshot of how Nebraskans’ values and people have changed over the last fifty years. Fifty years ago this week, Nebraska held its “Pageant of the Century.” Pardeiro was Miss Nancy Griffin in 1966, and she had just graduated from Atkinson High School and was starting at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a Spanish major.
A portrait of Nancy Griffin Pardeiro, Miss Centennial Nebraska, in 1967.
Pardeiro had never competed in pageants before, but her mother gave her the push to compete in the centennial queen competition. She won her local competition in Atkinson and then the Holt County pageant in the summer of 1966 before advancing to the state contest in December. While she competed against five or six girls at her local Methodist Church and then eight or so girls at the county level, Pardeiro competed against seventy other county centennial queens at the state contest. “I was very shy,” Pardeiro says. “Mother was outgoing and very theatrical. We worked the whole summer on things like smiling while playing the organ to get me ready for the pageant.”
The Nebraska Centennial Queen pageant was just one of many festivities planned by the Nebraska Centennial Commission. Formed in 1961 by an act of the Legislature, the commission was appropriated $600,000 for the celebration (around $4.5 million in today’s dollars). The commission’s goals were to honor the state’s heritage, stage a state-wide birthday party from March 1 to November 25, 1967, and to design programs and projects of lasting value. Because the Commission wanted to promote programs that couldn’t be financed by a state agency, the Nebraska Centennial Non-Profit Association was formed to raise and spend money as well. The goal of the Miss Centennial Nebraska pageant was to find “Nebraska’s Golden Girl.” A November 30, 1966 story in the UNL newspaper The Daily Nebraskan quoted Ed Sykes, assistant director of the Nebraska Centennial Commission, saying, “The ‘once in a hundred years contest’ will be the “Biggest queen pageant in the Midwest.” Sykes went on to describe the judging criteria, “The ‘Girl of the Century’ candidates will be judged on natural beauty, poise and personality, public speaking ability, and talent. Beauty will be scored as the most important quality in the judging.”
The November 30, 1966 Daily Nebraskan ran an advertisement for the Miss Centennial Nebraska pageant.
An advertisement on the same day urged students to “support your University of Nebraska Candidates – Attend the Spectacular Pageant of the Century! Not just a queen contest but an all-Nebraska show featuring production numbers by the cream-of-the-crop of Nebraska girls.” Pardeiro remembers the event as a “huge production.” “We practiced the entire week before the state contest,” she says. Held at the Pershing Center in Lincoln, the event was marketed at the “First Official Nebraska Centennial Event” and charged $1.50 for general admission and $2.50 for reserved seats. Over $10,000 in prizes, trips, and scholarships were at stake.
On Tuesday, December 6, Pardeiro competed for the crown. Her talent was playing the organ. She remembers how nervous she was to perform. “The whole event was quite intense,” she says. “We were standing in line and I thought, ‘I’ve forgotten everything. I don’t have a single note to play.’ And I’d grab the book and refresh my memory. I learned if you’re well prepared, usually you can pull it off.” She was voted “Glow Girl” by the other contest entrants and won the Miss Congeniality trophy. “Then I was in the top ten. Then top five. Then I won, and it was so overwhelming. I couldn’t believe it,” Pardeiro says.
The crown was so heavy that it left a dent in Pardeiro’s forehead. Later, she found a unique solution to her problem. “I had a long braid of my grandmother’s hair that she had cut off when she was younger, and it was the same color as my hair,” Pardeiro says. “I arranged it between the crown and my head and that helped.” The Daily Nebraskan’s article about the pageant on December 8, 1966, reported that “Nebraska’s Golden Girl received a 1967 Oldsmobile, $500 in cash, $25 thousand life insurance policy for her reigning year and a $1000 scholarship and other prizes totaling approximately $10 thousand.” After she “had to literally go to the catacombs of the library and isolate myself to study for finals,” Pardeiro was required to take a year off of school to fulfill her queenly duties. Along with the car and the quarter horse, which she was given after the pageant and kept at her uncle’s in Holt County, she received luggage, a watch, and an entire new wardrobe. “It was what you would call ‘church clothes’ now with some very formal dresses,” Pardeiro says. “They also had made some old western style dresses with cowboy boots and hats.”
Later, as an Ak-Sar-Ben Princess, she wore a gown designed by Oscar de Larenta. Her first event as Miss Centennial Nebraska was to travel to Pasadena to be in the Rose Bowl Parade. She was accompanied by a chaperone (a chaperone went with her to all of her events), and the Smothers Brothers, who hosted a variety show on national television. They later became famous champions of free speech with their show that pushed the limits of what could be funny and what could be said about politics on network television. Pardeiro doesn’t remember why they were in Nebraska, but she remembers their antics clearly. “I remember driving to the airport in a huge blizzard, and the Smothers Brothers got an ice chest and filled it full of snowballs,” she says. They took the snowballs on the plane (they probably just carried it on – 1967 was truly a different world). Pardeiro’s role on the float was to stand in a giant skirt made of roses. “We hid the ice chest under my skirt of roses and then once the float was past the cameras, we threw snowballs into the crowd,” Pardeiro said.
Miss Centennial Nebraska Nancy Griffin Pardeiro in her Ak Sar Ben gown
Once back in Nebraska, Pardeiro traveled to hundreds of events across the state. She usually made the journey in her 1967 Oldsmobile, which had one of the first vanity plates ever issued in Nebraska. “Mine said ‘Nancy,’” Pardeiro said. “One time a policeman pulled me over because he had never seen anything like it.” She also went to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., and she traveled to Alaska in June for the centennial of Alaska’s purchase by the U.S. “I rode in a convertible with Burl Ives at the Miss Alaska Centennial,” Pardeiro says.
Even though the pageant organizer’s valued beauty as the role’s most important factor, Pardeiro’s role did embody the commission’s wish to promote the heritage of the state and celebrate Nebraska’s birthday. “Sometimes I traveled to a town and I didn’t know what they wanted – a speech or for me to play the organ or what. I was in so many parades,” Pardeiro says. “It gradually happened that I became more outgoing because, well, you couldn’t say no. You had to steel yourself. I had to be prepared to do whatever they needed.” Pardeiro remembers speaking at the Nebraska Auctioneers convention. Her allotted time ended up being shorter than she had planned. “In the elevator after the speech, I was with one of the auctioneers. He said, ‘I’ve heard a lot of fast talkers in my life, but you beat them all,’” Pardeiro says. In 1968 Pardeiro returned to the University of Nebraska and her sorority house, Gamma Phi Beta. She sold the Oldsmobile to pay for her education. “Sometimes I really wish I had kept it,” Pardeiro says.
The October 7, 1966 Daily Nebraskan ran an article with the headline “‘Girl of the Century’ Pageant to Include 24 NU Coeds.”
During her sophomore year, her house hosted Nebraska Governor Norbert Tiemann, whom Pardeiro knew from her time as Centennial Queen. Pardeiro mentioned to him how she and a friend wanted to travel “somewhere different” for the summer. He connected them with employment at a hotel in Hawaii, and they went. “I fell in love with Hawaii, and I transferred there and graduated in 1971,” Pardeiro says. She met her husband, Carlos Pardeiro, shortly after she graduated. They married, worked as self-supporting missionaries, and then moved to the mainland U.S. They’ve lived in Arkansas for thirty years and have four children. They own and operate a television network called SafeTV. “We come back to Nebraska ever year for family reunions or high school alumni reunions,” Pardeiro says. Her hometown of Atkinson is still very special to her. And she was definitely special to Atkinson. After she won the title of “Nebraska’s Golden Girl,” they erected a billboard on the highway coming into town. It read: “Home of Nancy Griffin, Miss Centennial Nebraska.”