In May 1976, 18-year-old Lenne Jo Hallgren of Clarkston is named winner of the 1976 America's Junior Miss title. Monday May 17 is declared Lenne Day, a Clarkston city and Asotin County holiday, with public offices closed, a parade, and an honor ceremony at the Charles Francis Adams High School field. The speakers are Mayor Howard “Irish” Clovis and U.S. Congressman Thomas S. Foley (1929-2013).
Academic Achievement, Poise, Talent, and Beauty
The popular America’s Junior Miss competition began in 1958 in Mobile, Alabama, founded by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. From its inception, it has stressed academic achievement, poise, talent in the performing arts, and physical fitness. One of its purposes has always been to award college scholarships. Although Hallgren emphasized that the program “does not stress good looks,” (Young) photographs of her and other national winners over the years would indicate that attractiveness is no detriment. As of 2010, the program has been renamed Distinguished Young Women. Typically over 5,000 contestants participate.
Lenne Jo received the honor in the national competition held at Mobile, Alabama, accompanied by her mother, Cherryol Maxine Coulter Hallgren Cassell, and her stepfather, Bob Cassell, who won a prize as the “most congenial parents” (Young). Lenne Jo Hallgren received $12,675 in scholarships at Mobile, plus some local and state prizes. Many Clarkston residents greeted Lenne Jo and her parents at the Spokane Airport upon their return from Mobile. From there, a motorcade with police escort conducted them home to Clarkston.
Lenne Jo’s immediate schedule following the return to Clarkston involved high school graduation on May 22, followed by an appearance in Hollywood with actor Michael Landon, as well as photographic sessions and meetings in New York with the sponsors of the contest. She later graduated from Spokane’s Whitworth College (now University) and pursued a career in radio, television, and public relations.
Clarkston, with a population at the time of 6,312, had long been in the shadow of larger and more prosperous Lewiston, Idaho, its counterpart just across the state line at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers. Of the significance to her home town of Lenne Jo Hallgren’s achievement, Mayor Clovis declared, “She really gave us a shot in the arm in terms of recognition. She really put us on the map. People will remember Clarkston for a long time to come” (Hauenstein).