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Debbye turner,was crowned “Miss America” at the 68th Annual Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City,NJ, on this date in 1989.Turner was a 23 year old Black veterinary student at the University of Missouri.

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Debrah Lynn (Debbye) Turner, who grew up in Jonesboro (Craighead County),was crowned Miss America 1990. After her reign as Miss America, Turner became a veterinarian, has appeared on national television, and is a motivational speaker on youth-related and Christian topics.

“Debbye” Turner was born on September 19, 1965, in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Gussie Turner and Frederick Turner Jr., who was stationed there in the military. As a child, she set her goal to become a veterinarian but recognized the financial challenges ahead, especially after her parents’ divorce. Living in Jonesboro with her sister, Suzette, and her mother, who became an academic counselor at Arkansas State University (ASU),Turner took a fast food job at age sixteen, moving later to department store clerk and grocery store cashier. She graduated from Jonesboro High School in 1983. In 1986, she graduated cum laude from ASU with a BS in agriculture. Desiring to attend graduate school in order to become a veterinarian, she followed a path toward a scholarship which had begun several years earlier: beauty pageants.

Her first pageant had been Miss Black Teenage World in 1981, in which she was first runner-up. She won the title of Northeast Arkansas Junior Miss that same year and was a semi-finalist in the 1982 Arkansas Junior Miss pageant. In 1983, she won the Jonesboro High School Valentines Sweetheart pageant, after which was approached by the director of the Miss Jonesboro pageant, who encouraged her to enter that competition as her first pageant in the Miss America system. Turner was interested because the Miss America scholarship program was the largest source of scholarships for women in the world. She placed as second- and first runner-up respectively in the Miss Jonesboro pageants of 1983 and 1984.

Turner then won three local pageants—Miss Arkansas State University (1985), Miss White River (1986), and Miss Northeast Arkansas (1987)—through which she went to the Miss Arkansas pageant three times, finishing twice as first runner-up.

 

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