Gretchen grew up in Minnesota. Her brothers used to tease her by calling her Hindenburg and Blimpo because she was a chubby child. Her mom tried to put her on diets but Gretchen succumbed to her mom’s great cooking skills.
“I used to cross off the size from the back of my jeans,” says Gretchen. Her weight never affected her until 10th grade when she overheard a boy she liked say she was too fat to date. “That was the time I went on a diet and lost 30 pounds,” she says. During her first press conference as Miss America, Gretchen was intent on inspiring overweight girls by letting them know they could still pursue their dreams. After telling her story, Gretchen arrived at the airport the next day and the headline gossips newspapers read “Blimpo Becomes Miss America.” “I realized my life would be different as Miss America and my point got taken out of context,” she says. “It comes as a shock at first then you develop tough skin.”
Talent counts as half the score in the Miss America pageant. Gretchen was the first violinist to be crowned Miss America. She picked up the violin as a young girl. By the time she was 10, Gretchen was playing with world renowned violinist Isaac Stern before large audiences. She was passionate about music and practiced up to 4 hours a day. “I loved performing but the accomplishment came with a lot of practice,” says Gretchen. She missed playing with her friends. “I’ve never regretted that time, though sometimes I struggled and it was lonely,” she says. “I would have never been Miss America, much less Miss Minnesota, were it not for my violin.”
It has been Gretchen’s goal to improve the image of the Miss America organization. “There is a misconception about the entire program,” she says. All the money won in the pageant has to be used for education. “One of my greatest joys was to call my dad and say, I’m paying for the rest of it,” says Gretchen. She says many of the contestants are talented and involved in their communities. The average GPA for all the contestants is 3.7.
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