D-Queens Through the Decades

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The D-Queen Pageant is one of Dixie State University’s oldest campus traditions. This most recent pageant marks 94 years since the first D-Queen, Roma Church Esplin, was crowned in 1922.

The current areas of competition include private interview, talent, evening wear, an onstage question, academic achievement, written essay, service and involvement.

“It differs from Miss Dixie because Miss Dixie focuses on what they’ll do and D-Queen focuses on what they’ve already done,” Pageant Director Madison Brostrom said. “There is no age restriction, no swimsuit or fitness competition, and married students are eligible to compete.”

Just as Dixie College evolved into the university it is today, the D-Queen Pageant has also evolved over the years into the production it is today.

1922 – Roma Church Esplin

Roma Church Esplin, 1906-1998, was the first D-Queen winner in 1922. At that time, Dixie was a college that combined the last two years of high school with the two years of college they offered, so Esplin was able to win as a freshman student at only 15-years-old.

According to an April 12, 1973 South Utah Press-Advertiser article titled, “Queens, First and Present Featured” Esplin said: “We were elected by the student body, as each class nominated a girl to represent them. They cast their votes with money as a penny represented one vote.” Only D-Day was celebrated instead of the present D-Week, so the winner was called the “D-Day Queen.”

1981 – Koni Kae Esplin Smart

Koni Kae Esplin Smart, 55, granddaughter of the first D-Queen, said the most memorable part of the pageant was having her grandmother there with her when she was crowned.

After her time at Dixie, Smart also attended BYU, SUU, and U of U. “I loved all of the schools, but I have to say Dixie was by far my favorite,” Smart said. “It holds all of my best memories.”

1986 – Brenda Esplin Wade

Brenda Esplin Wade, 50, granddaughter of the first D-Queen and sister to Smart followed in their footsteps.

“I participated in the pageant because it was tradition,” Wade said. “I loved participating in something my sister and grandmother were a part of.”

The pageant has been a family affair for the Esplins. Wade’s mother made her pageant dress for her and later patterned her wedding gown from it.

Other D-Queens through the decades include…

1954 – Willa Nita Brooks Derrick

Willa Nita Brooks Derrick, 83, said winning was the ultimate honor.

“The D-Queen Pageant was very different in those days,” Derrick said. “You were selected by the faculty and it was based on your involvement in the school. They selected six young women to be the potential [queen] then they were voted on by the student body. We did not have to do any kind of a talent. They didn’t even have a show like they do now.”

In her Dixie Class of ‘54 yearbook she said: “To have been your D-Day Queen for 1953 and ‘54 is the most wonderful thing that happened to me. To have represented you as the Spirit of Dixie will always be: A memory to cherish; An ideal to inspire; A challenge to keep me always worthy of dear Dixie.”

After her time at Dixie, her husband’s career as an Air Force fighter pilot took them around the globe but they returned home to their Dixie roots to raise their family. The Derricks still reside in St. George today.

1967 – Leslie Empey Johnson

Leslie Empey Johnson, 70, has had five generations of her family attend Dixie.

“[When they announced I had won] it was such a thrill and honor, to say the least,” Johnson said. “Every photo they took was of me with my hand to my mouth in shock. I’ve really realized more and more as I’ve grown older what a great opportunity and honor it was and is to be part of the fabric of Dixie.”

She said her time at Dixie was the highlight of her life.

2000 – Nicole Metcalf Hadley

Nicole Metcalf Hadley, 36, is currently an adjunct instructor of tap dance at DSU. For the talent portion of the competition, Hadley performed a Riverdance, which is a combination of traditional Irish quick dance steps set to traditional Irish music.

“I keep coming back to Dixie,” Hadley said. “If we truly feel the Spirit of Dixie, don’t we all keep coming back?”

During the competition process, Hadley tripped and her dress ripped all the way up the side. She grabbed some duct tape and still went out on stage.

“To this day, the duct tape is still on that dress!” Hadley said.

2016 – Sarah Nilsson

Sarah Nilsson, a communication major from Gunnison, said she participated because she wanted to give back to the school that gave her so much.

“My advice to those interested in competing would be, do it,” Nilsson said. “You’ll never regret saying yes. My life motto is: Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”