It has been 17 years since Pennsylvania's beauties flocked to Altoona for the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant. The pageant left for Easton in 1993 and never returned. It is now held near Pittsburgh.
But in July some former Miss Pennsylvanias are heading back to the town where they were crowned. A reunion is planned July 24 at DelGrosso's Amuse-ment Park, Tipton, and anyone who was involved with the pageant is invited.
"Those of us that were involved in the pageant, many of us have stayed in touch. That's the reason we want to have this reunion," Nancy Sinisi, a member of the board of directors and former chaperone for the Miss Pennsylvania pageant, said.
Mirror poto by Gary M.?Baranec
Nancy Sinisi, Duane?Bordell (center) and Hap?Durbin, all of Altoona, were involved with the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant when it was held in Altoona and they are planning a reunion.
Sinisi looks back fondly on the Altoona Miss Pennsylvania years. She loved getting to know the girls and celebrating their talents. Over the years, there were ventriloquists, opera singers, tap dancers, pianists almost any talent imaginable.
Marie McLaughlin (now Rotunda) said she didn't have a talent when she competed in the Miss Pennsyl-vania contest in 1975.
"I sort of sang and danced. I was terrible," said Rotunda, who was the second runner up that year.
So, the following year, she knew she needed a talent. She went to a magic shop in Philadelphia and bought a book about ventriloquism for $1.98.
"I taught myself and I became good," Rotunda said.
She became Miss Pennsyl-vania 1976 and continued her career with Timothy, her doll, who later became the spokesperson for the Whopper candy company.
"I was opening for Kenny Rogers and Liberace," said Rotunda, who now lives in Naples, Fla. "The pageant was the best thing that ever happened to me. It opened up so many opportunities."
Many people involved with the Altoona Miss Pennsylvania pageant feel the same way.
"What we enjoyed the most was helping to give the young women scholarship opportunities. That's what we really enjoyed doing," Sinisi said.
Most of the Miss Penn-sylvania winners graduated from college and fulfilled illustrious careers.
The only reason Carolyn Black (now Sotir) entered the pageant was to earn a scholarship for graduate school.
She was new to the whole pageant thing, but desperately wanted to continue her schooling in music.
When Sotir was in high school, a local Miss Pennsylvania chapter contacted her asking her to participate in the Miss Lancaster County pageant.
"I said 'no thank you'," Sotir said.
But, when it came time to apply to graduate school and she was contacted again, the 21-year-old Sotir agreed.
She won the pageant, and headed to Altoona the following year for the Miss Pennsylvania contest. Her talent was opera and the judges were smitten. She became Miss Pennsylvania 1979.
"The people in Altoona were just terrifically nice and fun people to be with. It was a great time," Sotir said. Traveling around the state as Miss Pennsylvania also helped her career. "Having to perform as much as I did and talk in public really helped me."
Sotir has done everything from host a television show on CNN to sing for the Annapolis, Md., Orchestra. She also taught at Towson University in Maryland.
She is now pursuing her PhD in voice performance and directing from the University of Maryland. Sotir and her husband Michael, and their children Ian, 21, Ramsey, 19, and Charlie, 18, live in Baltimore.
Sotir and her husband plan to attend the reunion in July and hope to catch up with people from the past. Those include Miss Pennsylvania producer Dee Riley, emcees Tom Riley and "Big" John Riley, as well as Sandy Durbin, the official state chaperone for Miss Pennsylvania, have since passed away. Sandy's husband, Hampton "Hap" Durbin, a member of the board of directors also was extremely involved and plans to attend the reunion.
Sinisi, former state director for the pageant Duane Bordell and others involved with the planning, including Rotunda and Miss Pennsylvania 1991 Linda O'Boyle (now Zaneski) hope the reunion will bring people together to reminisce and get to know each other all over again.
"It's great to see what wonderful women they have become," Sinisi said.
"I just want to re-connect and see everybody and find out what's gone on in their lives," said Rotunda, who hopes to attend the reunion with her husband, Ron.
That's how the idea for the reunion was hatched. A handful of former Miss Pennsylvanias expressed interest in getting together. So, Sinisi, along with Bordell and some of the Miss Pennsylvanias planned the reunion. Everyone from stage crew, makeup artists and orchestra members to local directors, chaperones and host families are invited.
"Anyone who participated in any way with the pageant is welcome to attend the reunion," Sinisi said.
Those wishing to attend the reunion at 12:30 p.m. July 24 at DelGrosso's Amusement Park should contact Bordell at 944-2585.