A match made in science

A match made in science

Jamie Ginn sits barefoot on the carpet of an administrator's office at the Delaware State Fair. She's bent over, intently studying her reflection in a compact mirror propped against the square wooden brown case that stores her rhinestone crown.

Her tiny reflection offers little aid in her task, which may help explain why she has spent the last hour trying to style her hair.

First she had it down. Then she tried an up-do. Now she's trying to slick it back into a simple ponytail.

"I'm not your typical beauty queen," explains Ginn, 24, who became Miss Delaware 2006 in June. "People tell me I should have learned to do my hair by now. I'm still learning."

And she better master it quickly, because in 15 minutes she's having dinner with the governor -- one more appointment in the hectic schedule of a newly crowned Miss Delaware.

Thursdays like this one usually are crammed with appearances. She's just spent six hours making the rounds at the fair's booths. But if it wasn't the fair, it would be a Blue and Gold game, the Best of Delaware party, the Delmarva Chicken Festival, the auto show in Snow Hill or the Peach Festival.

That schedule is part of the reason Miss Delaware is required to give up her full-time job for the first six months of her reign, while she's training for the national pageant in January.

In Ginn's case, that meant taking a hiatus from her job at the DuPont Co. as a chemical engineer working on environmental sustainability.

Ginn's crowning ties together two Delaware traditions: beauty pageants and corporate-icon DuPont.

If people outside of Delaware know anything about the state, it's usually that it's small, that it's the home of DuPont, and that the state was the first to ratify the Constitution or some historic founding document, says Gerdeen Dyer, founder of Pageants.Com and the Pageant News Bureau.

Few know American beauty pageants started in Delaware. The first was in 1880 at Rehoboth Beach. It was called the "Miss United States" contest, and Thomas Edison was one of its three judges, according to the University of Delaware.

"It was essentially a resort promotion," says Dyer, who attended this year's Miss Delaware pageant and has been keeping up with Ginn. "It was somewhat similar to what Miss America was when it began 40 years later, a beach promotion. But Miss America hung around, somewhat tenuously in the beginning, but it hung around and became big."

State archivist Russ McCabe remembers vaguely hearing that beauty pageants started in Delaware, but he sits in his Dover office and chuckles at what that scene must have looked like.

Rehoboth essentially was laid out for Methodist church camps, he said.

"I'm having a hard time picturing these old Methodists sitting around checking out ankles," he says between laughs.

DuPont is proud of Ginn and will support her efforts, spokesman Fred Strolle said. The company sees benefits beyond having a tiara in the house.

"As both a businessperson and professional technologist she is an asset to our DuPont Engineering organization," Strolle said. "We're confident she'll represent the state of Delaware in a positive manner and be a role model for younger women considering a career in science or technology."

Hair and makeup challenges

It's easy to stereotype beauty queens: pretty girls who dedicate their existence to their looks and those crowns. But if that's true anywhere, it's not with Ginn.

She proclaims herself a geek while growing up. She drives a hybrid car because knows the negative effect fossil fuels have on the environment. She has trouble styling her hair, for crying out loud.

As for makeup, "I could never really do it on my own," she says.

"I never really cared about what I look like. To this day, I'll go out of the house in the morning with no makeup and my hair undone. I'm still working on remembering to care about what I look like every day."

Ginn figures she really didn't need makeup to win a pageant. She believes she beat 16 other contestants for the title of Miss Delaware -- on her first try -- by simply being herself: An independent woman who's always liked math and science, is passionate about educating people about issues such as Crohn's and colitis disease, is family-oriented as the result of being the oldest of six kids, thinks George Bush is making a mistake in Iraq, loves jazz dancing and is the first to fall asleep at a slumber party.

It hasn't hurt that she's a stunning brunette who consistently wins pageant swimsuit competitions -- though she insists she doesn't work at it.

"I guess it's genetics. My mom has six kids, and she looks like one of my sisters," Ginn says.

Competitions paid for education

For Ginn, life isn't about pageantry. Pageantry is about life.

"It has never become my life, and I am very proud of that because I think you are who you are and you can't work hard at winning," she says. "You need people to like you for who you are."

Ginn, who grew up in Ocean City, N.J., but now lives in Wilmington, competed in her first pageant at 16 in Ocean City, mostly to showcase her jazz dancing. She won that first talent competition, the Miss Ocean City title and $5,000 in scholarship money.

She was content with that.

"But people kept on saying, 'You've got to keep going. You've got a chance at winning Miss America,' " Ginn says.

She continued to compete and placed in the top 10 at the 2000, 2003 and 2005 Miss New Jersey pageants. She has won more than $50,000 in scholarships, enough to pay for her Rowan University (N.J.) education, where she got her bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering in 2004.

Shortly after graduating, she moved to Wilmington to work at DuPont in the field of environmental sustainability. The company describes that as the area that's trying to reduce the environmental footprint of DuPont products and processes.

She entered and won the Miss Brandywine contest, and then won Miss Delaware 2006.

"A lot of people, when I became Miss Delaware, said, 'You're not native to Delaware.' "

But her job at DuPont made her feel an instant connection to people here, she said.

And it's common that girls represent states in which they live, but in which they were not born or raised.

"It goes on all the time because girls go to school all over this nation and get jobs all over this nation," says Susan Collins, the Miss Delaware pageant business manager. "They can be born in Timbuktu, but Miss America says that you have to live, work or go to school in the state that you represent."

Ginn didn't tell her co-workers that she was competing to be a beauty queen.

But once word got around of her win, people were supportive.

"Everybody treated me like a celebrity after that. They were like, 'You remember me? I hired you?' "

Sister's illness provides platform

Ginn says some people tell her they don't understand why Ginn, a successful engineer, wants to be Miss America.

"My intention was to grow as a person," she says. "I'm not your typical engineer, and I'm not going to pretend that I'm your typical engineer. I know I'm meant to do things other than engineering."

Ginn didn't have to look any farther than her family for her pageant platform -- an issue that each contestant, both at a local or national level, is required to advocate for during her title.

The daughter of Leann and James Ginn, who owns his own computer business, she has five brothers and sisters -- Brie Anna, Summer, Briar Rose, Graham, Michael and Jordan. The family is so close that until Ginn was 10 years old, her father, mother, grandparents and cousins all lived in one three-story house.

When Ginn's little sister, Summer, 12, was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 2000, the whole clan was devastated.

In Crohn's disease, the immune system attacks the bowel, causing inflammation and leading to infections, perforations and blockages. People with the disease can have a hard time eating without great pain and may require surgery to remove parts of the colon. It can be life-threatening.

In Summer's case, she needed surgery to help.

"It took a long time to come to terms with it. It wasn't something that I was ready to speak about. All of us were so emotional," says Ginn.

Summer remembers how how hard Jamie took her diagnosis.

"She cried a lot," Summer says.

In 2003 Ginn decided she wanted to make people more aware of the disease and help raise money for the cause. Crohn's and colitis became her pageant platform.

Summer couldn't be more pleased.

"I think that's really nice," Summer says, "because, like, she's my sister and she cares about me a lot."

Looking good takes time

For now, in between the personal appearances, Ginn focuses on getting ready for the Miss America pageant. (The location has yet to be disclosed.)

Those preparations include:

?Working out with a personal trainer at The Firm in Rehoboth Beach and rehearsing her dance on Mondays.

?Practicing for the big pageant interview and taking a public relations and communications course on Tuesdays.

?Shopping for pageant necessities, such as an evening gown, on Wednesdays.

The Miss Delaware pageant has a budget for her clothes, but doesn't disclose it, says Debi Wilson, executive director of the Miss Delaware organization. It hasn't changed in years, says Wilson, who shops with Ginn, but Wilson has gotten really good at making it stretch.

"Oh, I am a bargain shopper," she says.

Some state shops -- including Boston's in Rehoboth, Lady's Image in Hockessin, Twila Farrell's in Lewes and Morgan's of Delaware Avenue in Wilmington -- might donate a piece or outfit, but they often also help negotiate deals with designers that allow the pageant to get a gown or outfit at lower prices, Wilson says.

The most important clothing issue, Wilson says, is that Miss Delaware loves her clothes and feels really comfortable in them.

Ginn just got her gown in New York City from designer Stephen Yearick, who has designed for other state queens and Miss Americas.

"It's a bold color," Ginn says, but she doesn't want to give away too many details. "It's elegant, but sexy at the same time."

Ginn, who's never worked out at a gym before now, has discovered that having a personal trainer is no joke.

"He doesn't give me a number to strive for. He doesn't make me go to 20. He says, 'Do it until you can't do anymore.' "

But while the trainer may have her sore and sweaty, he isn't going to change what she eats, she insists.

If she's eating out in Wilmington, her favorite restaurants are Mikimotos and Sugarfoot.

But her tastes generally run much more plebian.

"My favorite food is buffalo chicken wings. That and cheesesteaks. I used to diet when I was in college," she says. "But now I just eat whatever I want."

Thinking on her feet

One day after the state fair gig and dinner with the governor, Ginn stands on the corner of a burgundy rug in the living room of a Middletown home.

To her left, leaning back in a wooden chair, is the home's owner, Buck Dopp. To her right is his wife, Stephanie.

She has come to practice the question-and-answer session during which she'll be grilled by judges at the Miss America competition. She can't afford to flub it because the interview is 25 percent of her score.

Dopp's been grilling Miss Delawares since 2002, when the then-Miss Delaware came into his Comcast studios to tape an interview discussing her platform.

He was impressed.

"It wasn't just a beauty pageant -- and of course the girls are all beautiful -- but they're intelligent, they have to have a talent, they have to have a platform. I think that it represents a well-rounded approach to developing young women," he says.

He and his wife take turns questioning Ginn. They aren't mean, but they aren't throwing powder-puff questions either.

?"How do you feel about women being in combat zones?"

?"Would Hillary or Condoleeza win in a presidential election?"

?"What do you think about President Bush vetoing the stem cell research bill?"

Ginn stands there -- poised and confident -- answering each question thoughtfully, no "ums" or awkward pauses. Her hands move in unison to help deliver her response.

After the session, the Dopps assess Ginn's performance.

"You weren't tense or uptight," says Buck Dopp. "You were really yourself."

Which is exactly what Ginn wants. If being herself won her the Miss Delaware crown, it just might score her the national one, too. She can add it to the crown she has back home.

"I hope she wins Miss America," Summer Ginn says, "because she is Miss America to me."

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Date Published: Sunday, August 20, 2006 - 01:00
Source URL: The News Journal