The Mentors that Shape Our Lives


April (Drum) Smith, Miss Mendocino County 1993 with Priscilla Ryan (left) and Gwen Adkins (right)

I went to watch a friend participate in the Miss Mendocino County Program and I said to myself, “I can sing, I can do that.”  Little did I know that watching that program would change the course of my life and bring in a mentor who shaped the foundation of my life. Priscilla Ryan was larger than life to a young woman who rode motorcycles, horses and who got the majority of her school clothes from a thrift store. She would walk into a room dressed in a white and gold St. John knit with her red hair and beautiful smile and you were mesmerized. Over the course of three years, I participated in the Miss Mendocino County Program and I learned more by not winning than by winning the title my first year. I was lucky enough to have Priscilla be my friend and director for two years before I won the title. After I won the title of Miss Mendocino County in 1993, Priscilla made me feel like a princess! My mother always says that she gave me the tools to succeed in life, but that Priscilla gave me the heels to run in. Priscilla took a girl from the woods and taught me what it was like to really, truly be confident about myself. It was more than just the shopping and going to appearances. Priscilla and her family made me feel like I was their daughter and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

There are a variety of reasons as to why someone chooses to become a local director for the Miss America Program, but I wanted to give you my perspective on why I have been volunteering for The Miss America Organization for over 15 years. When I first became a director, I was a 29 year old woman who was basically told “I had to be the director of the Miss Sacramento County Program.” I had a good job but very little resources so it was a huge task. I had to start from the bottom and work my way up in forming a program that had a variety of directors for a few years before I took over the program. It was frustrating because I wanted to be like Priscilla right from the beginning. Luckily, I had titleholders that where amazing and so appreciative of anything that I could do for them. For many years, we worked with what we called “a skeleton crew” and it was tough, but we had a really good time and the titleholders felt special even though we worked with a shoestring budget, mostly coming from my own pocket. The funny thing is that I had to retire in order to really develop my program. I have two small children and I couldn’t do it anymore. There was just too much work for a few people, but after I retired, new and existing committee members came out of the woodwork in support of the program and really starting taking on active roles as a committee and I knew then that I couldn’t leave the program.

April (Drum) Smith, Miss Mendocino County 1993 with her Director, Priscilla Ryan

April (Drum) Smith, Miss Mendocino County 1993 with her Director, Priscilla Ryan

When a young woman decides to compete in my program, the fun begins. I always feel like Priscilla when we start discussing wardrobe and planning on what areas the contestants is strongest at for talent. Over the years, I have literally watched young women transform from a girl to a young woman in a very short period of time. It is an amazing process to see a sometimes awkward, but brilliant young women come into her own. I think of Priscilla often and even though she is no longer with us, I always feel her smiling down on me as I help the contestants, whether they win the crown or not. It is not always about just working with the titleholder, but helping to prepare ALL the contestants. Sometimes the girls who don’t win the title learn more than the one who gets to wear the crown. Those are the contestants who come back and win the next year.

The reason I volunteer my time for the Miss America and Miss California Programs is because of the sense of family. As a network of volunteers, we get to celebrate everyone’s successes. Believe me, there are some family squabbles, but overall, you cannot replace the feeling of watching these young women succeed and knowing that you may have had a very small part in helping them along the way. Priscilla changed my life! She not only gave me scholarship money (that paid a large portion of my schooling), but she taught me that I can accomplish anything that I set my mind to.

April Smith
Miss Mendocino County 1993
Director, Miss Sacramento County/Miss City of Sacramento