KEARNEY — Forget beauty, talent, congeniality and swimsuits. The Miss America pageant is a scholarship competition.
That’s what Allison Tietjen, Miss Nebraska 2017, told the Noon Rotary Club Monday.
“Miss America is the leading scholarship provider for women in America. Every girl who competes for Miss Nebraska will walk away with a scholarship. Miss Nebraska will allow me to graduate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln debt-free. Even on the local level, you can earn scholarship money,” she said.
Since becoming Miss Nebraska last June, she’s been practically living in a Honda Accord — it’s hers to use for a year — while making a dizzying schedule of statewide appearances, public speeches and more. She also won $13,500 in cash scholarships, and $13,000 in gifts, a wardrobe and more.
Raised on a farm near Chester, the daughter of Cary and Amy Tietjen shunned makeup and played four sports. Then, in 2012, she met Mariah Cook, Miss Nebraska 2012. “She told me the contest paid her way through college. I thought, ‘I want to do that!” she said.
She was even more convinced after watching the Miss Nebraska pageant. “I was hooked. I was amazed by what these ladies had accomplished as local titleholders. I learned what the ‘job’ of Miss Nebraska is, and I decided that I wanted that job,” she said.
In 2013, Tietjen entered the Miss Milo Day Queen Contest in Chester. She did not win, nor did she win the Miss Kool-Aid Days pageant in Hastings the following year. But in the fall of 2014, she was named Miss Heartland at the Nebraska State Fair.
That made her eligible for her first Miss Nebraska pageant. She finished as the third runner-up, “I was more excited than if I’d won the title. I took a leap of faith. I went outside my comfort zone.” In 2015, she was named Miss Kearney. Last June, she became Miss Nebraska.
She was “terrified,” she said, when she headed for Atlantic City in September to compete in the Miss America pageant. “My goal was never to be Miss America, but to be Miss Nebraska. Miss America was just icing on the cake,” she said. Nevertheless, she loved the two-week romp of appearances, rehearsals and new friends. “I had a blast,” she said.
Since taking the crown, her life has turned upside-down. She has traveled the state extensively. She spent a day with Gov. Pete Ricketts honoring Nebraska’s four Blue Ribbon schools. “I’ve been to every tiny corner of Nebraska. I’ve been to so many towns I’d never heard of. We live in an amazing state,” she said.
Her platform, “United We Stand: Honoring Our Military,” remains strong. Her grandfather was a “proud Marine” during the Korean War. He died when Tietjen was in high school. In his memory, she raised money to send a Korean War veteran on the next Korean Honor Flight. She was asked to serve as a guardian on that flight as well as a later flight with Vietnam veterans.
Tietjen, a 2014 graduate of Thayer Central High School in Hebron, has also helped students across Nebraska raise $25,000 for future honor flights. She accompanied 16 secondary school students on a Gold Star flight from Omaha to Lincoln. They visited the Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion and watched the Nebraska-Michigan State game in a suite owned by Larry the Cable Guy.
“It’s the duty of all of us, as American citizens, to support our military and everything they sacrifice for our great nation,” she said. She also made 700 beaded bracelets and sent them to mothers of men and women in the armed forces.
Tietjen, who will graduate from UNL in 2019, hopes to become an occupational therapist. She plans to remain in Nebraska.
Tietjen said she is “shocked” about the sexual harassment findings that led to the recent resignation of Sam Haskell III, the CEO and executive chairman of the Miss America Organization, and two other top executives. She met Haskell in North Platte in June when she was crowned Miss Nebraska.
She is glad that the 1989 Miss America, Gretchen Carlson, will become chairwoman of the organization’s board. “She knows exactly what it means to be Miss America,” Tietjen said proudly. “The pageant made me who I am. As Miss Nebraska, I have learned to become the best version of myself.”