Jacksonville State University has much to boast about when it comes to Southern beauty and charm. Its women have brought home many Miss Alabama crowns: Ceil Jenkins (Snow) 1971, Jane Rice (Holloway) 1973, Julie Houston (Elmer) 1977, Teresa Cheatham (Stricklin) 1978, Tammy Little (Haynes) 1984, Heather Whitestone (McCallum) 1995, and Jamie Langley 2007.
In the 1970s, JSU gave a one-year tuition scholarship to every girl who competed in the Miss Alabama pageant. It was called the Junior Miss Scholarship; unfortunately, JSU had to drop the scholarship because of the expense involved. Of course, the state pageant continues to give scholarships. These scholarships in themselves are incentives to be in the beauty pageants. Plus the winners have a platform to explore their humanitarian interests.
Stricklin, first-runner up to Miss America in 1979, recalled, “Miss Alabama is difficult to win and the contest is very steep.” Yet it is a great pride for the university as well as the contestants. This great pride was plentiful at JSU in 1995 when Heather Whitestone (McCallum) won Miss America. Though profoundly deaf, Whitestone performed the difficult ballet en pointe to “Via Dolorosa.” In Let God Surprise You: Trust God with Your Dreams, she described her adventures in life. She is also the author of Listening with My Heart and Believing the Promise. When she was asked about her fondest memory of JSU, Whitestone answered, “Joining the Baptist Campus Ministry. I made many good friends there. And, of course, I won my first local pageant of the Miss America Pageant, Miss JSU 1992.”
Teresa Cheatham Stricklin entered JSU as a freshman in 1975 as a voice major with a minor in drama; it’s little wonder that she took first place in the Miss America talent contest. She received her masters in vocal performance from the University of Louisville, Kentucky, and returned to JSU first as a recruiter and then as the director of the Information Center, enjoying fifteen years in public relations. In 2001, she became an instructor of vocal music. She observed, “The years at JSU were the best four years of my life. It was a time to grow, to learn about myself and my discipline. I learned how to be an adult.” The biggest concerns on campus seemed to be getting a date and getting a M-R-S Degree. The Greeks were worried about who was taking them to the sorority formal. The independents were “into the issues of the day,” such as the equal right movement. Stricklin, however, was as much of an oddity in her goals as her interests: singing, seeing the world, and seeing how far she could go. Since she did not live on campus, she missed much of the social life. She was “busy before it was in vogue to be busy.”
She fondly remembers JSU as a “peaceful, sweet place. There was freedom to grow and find yourself. I loved every moment here.”