This is Judie and Leonard Morton’s third time serving as a host family for Distinguished Young Women of Tennessee (formerly Junior Miss).
The family is hosting the local winners from Hamilton County, Victoria Jocsing, and Rhea County, Lexee Hill, at their home in Ooltewah.
“I just really like getting to know the young ladies,” Judie said.
She began thinking about being a host the year before the couple participated for the first time.
She always gives the girls’ parents time to get to know them when the parents bring the participants’ belongings. Judie took her granddaughters to watch the Tennessee program and mentioned the idea of hosting to them.
The girls were excited about the idea, and asked them to participate. The next year the couple did. Judie said the granddaughters also enjoy getting to know the participants during the week.
The second time they were a host family was a surprise.
The Mortons had not planned on being a host family, but when one of the state chairpersons, Traci Fant, called and said a potential host family could no longer help they agreed to host again.
That year they hosted the participant who was later named Tennessee’s Junior Miss, Chelsea Milligan.
“I think I screamed as loud as her mother did,” Judie said.
She really enjoys cheering for “our girls” during the Saturday night finals, she said.
During the girls’ stay, the participants develop close friendships with the host families.
This time Judie said she is hosting purely because she enjoys it.
“I just think it’s very fulfilling. I love it. It’s just fun,” she said.
Each girl that stays with the Mortons receives a journal and a pen. Judie encourages the girls to journal daily, so they will have a way to look back and remember details of the competition. Her memories from participating at the state level are a blur. She wishes she would have kept a journal to have a more detailed account of the week.
“We still hear from all of our previous four,” she said. The couple also receives Christmas cards from the girls that stayed with them.
She said the girls are great and have never had a problem. Many of the girls are very goal-oriented, according to Judie.
Judie was the 1965 Cleveland Junior Miss. She participated because she needed a way to pay for college. Back then scholarships and grants were limited. The scholarships she won through the program paid her way through nursing school.
All host families are interviewed by the state chair. Judie Morton said it is a lot of work taking them to the daily practices, but she enjoys it.