Pageant success becomes a Holen family tradition
Morgan Holen’s path to pageant history began with awe. She was about five years old, sitting in the audience of a Miss Nebraska competition in North Platte. On stage, contestant after contestant spoke passionately about causes and organizations they were working to help.
“They were people who wanted to change the world,” Holen said. “I wanted to be like them.”
In June, Holen achieved her goal and also helped her Omaha family make state history by winning the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen competition. Since her mother won the Miss Nebraska pageant in 1988, the two became the first mother-daughter pair since 1925 to win Nebraska pageants associated with the Miss America contest.
“It’s really an honor. My mom and I are both so passionate about the Miss America and Miss America’s Outstanding Teen organization,” Holen shared. “To be able to say we were both representatives of it feels incredible.”
The Holen family’s achievement also shows that pageant contestants continue to support the competition years after they have finished participating, said Rachel Daly, executive director of the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant. “It’s not something they compete in and then move on with their lives,” Daly explained.
She would know. Her mother competed in Miss Nebraska competitions and then, years later, Daly did as well.
Family experience with the state pageant is what brought Morgan Holen to the competition as a child. She and her older sister, at very young ages, tagged along with their mother, Jodi Holen, when she volunteered as the choreographer for the Miss Nebraska pageant from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. “Every year, we made it kind of a mini-vacation to go to North Platte to watch the Miss Nebraska pageant,” said Morgan Holen, who is now 17.
At the pageant, Morgan and her sister, Brittany, watched rehearsals and asked contestants for autographs and photos. The girls also participated in the Miss Nebraska’s Little Sisters program, which pairs young girls with contestants before and during the pageant to give the girls role models. The girls would walk on stage with their mentors and perform a dance routine with the contestants.
“We thought it was the greatest week ever,” mentioned Brittany Holen, who is a few years older than Morgan.
Last year, Morgan decided it was time to try pageants for herself. She became Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this year, her second attempt at the title. The cause she will promote, known as a personal platform in the pageant world, is the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
Daly called Morgan Holen the “textbook role model.” “She embodies the spirit of a teenager but she handles herself and her responsibilities as someone much older and mature,” Daly said. “She’s always polished and very relatable.”
This year, Morgan Holen will be busy. As a junior at Elkhorn South High School, she will continue her usual extracurricular activities, which include dance team, varsity show choir, pep club, student council, and Students Against Destructive Decisions. As Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, she will be traveling all across the state, visiting schools, stopping by local pageants, and attending promotional events for the Children’s Miracle Network, a sponsor of the Miss America pageant.
It’s safe to say Morgan Holen’s Nebraska travels as a pageant winner will be much different than her mother’s were 26 years ago. In 1988, “We didn’t have a Garmin. We didn’t have navigation on our cell phones that (also) didn’t exist,” explained Jodi Holen.
Navigational tools were called something else then, she said. “It was called maps and asking for directions.”
This year, Morgan Holen will also rely on her older sister, who is serving as her manager, organizing interviews and arranging Morgan’s calendar. In other words, Nebraska pageants are continuing to be a Holen family tradition.