Many BYU students have parents and grandparents who still remember days of tiaras, gowns and big hair as part of their BYU homecoming experiences.
The roots of BYU’s Homecoming festivities date back to the end of the 19th century.
“President Benjamin Cluff began what would become our Homecoming,” said Gordon Daines, the university’s archivist on the BYU’s history website.
As part of the Homecoming celebrations, BYU started the tradition of a Homecoming pageant that female students could participate in.
In 1937, Bonna Ashby was crowned the first Miss BYU and was given the title to represent the university for all of the Homecoming festivities that year.
“It was one of the wonderful things of homecoming week,” said John Lewis, associate advancement vice president in Alumni-External Relations.
So whatever happened to the glitz and the glam of BYU homecoming week?
In “Brigham Young University: the First One Hundred Years,” by Ernest Wilkinson, President Spencer W. Kimball was quoted as saying, “It isn’t good for any girl to be named a queen. I shall look forward to the day we don’t have a queen contest.”
After many evaluations, the Miss BYU pageant was discontinued in 1988 when the board in charge of homecoming activities decided the pageant was no longer in line with the mission of BYU.
According to Lewis, homecoming’s focus shifted from homecoming queens to an important figure in BYU history.
“That is when we renewed the emphasis on choosing a founder for the university and celebrating the life of the founder and what he brought to the university,” he said.
In 1987, Crickett Goodsell Willardson was named BYU’s last Homecoming queen.
Willardson said she was unfamiliar with pageants, unlike the rest of the contestants who were accustomed to pageant life.
“My gown was handmade but don’t let that fool you,” Willardson said about her gown compared to the others. “It wasn’t like this extravagant thing; it was black, it had no sequins or dangly things, it was very simple.”
In a situation foreign to Willardson, she pulled off what to her seemed impossible and won the pageant.
“The things I did were a little bit off the usual path,” Willardson said. “That was actually a large part of why they selected me … they knew that was likely going to be the last year and they at least wanted to make an attempt to be a little less ‘pageanty.’ ”
The university had not made an official statement then whether or not they were going to end the pageant but they did say it was being questioned.
According to Willardson, she was not the pageant’s typical winner but presented herself as the “every girl.”
Willardson said she avoided the typical appearances during her reign and decided to focus more on giving firesides to young girls to help them see their own inner beauty.
“I pretty much just wanted to do firesides,” Willardson said. “I felt like it was more in keeping with what they wanted this role to represent … something that more girls could relate to.”
Willardson said she thinks doing away with pageants was both good and bad
“I have mixed feelings,” Willardson said. “Sometimes we focus so much on doing things with a big purpose but sometimes it’s kind of fun to have things that are trivial in order to connect people. For generations that came before and for mine that was a connection that was part of the ambiance of homecoming and it no longer is but that’s fine, too, they have other things.”
Other former Homecoming queens to grace BYU’s stage were Michelle King, who was Channel 2’s lead anchorwoman for 23 years, Sharlene Wells Hawkes and Colleen Kay Hutchins, both of whom went on to be Miss America.
Photos of past BYU Homecoming queens are on display in the Hinckley Alumni Center.
“They are one of the very few visual presentations that we can give,” Lewis said. “They allow our alumni to connect with an era. It’s a way for alumni to reconnect from the time periods when they were here.”