By Linda Kor
A hometown hero will be returning to Holbrook next week as part of the city’s Route 66 Festival. Launa Gardner, a member of Holbrook High School’s Class of 1964, made her community proud when she was crowned Miss Arizona in 1966, the only northeastern Arizona woman ever to be honored with the crown.
In the Feb. 10, 1966, edition of the Holbrook Tribune-News it was reported that Gardner performed a modern dance interpretation of Polonaise, and competed against four other finalists in the swimsuit and evening gown competition. She received numerous scholarships as Miss Arizona, including a $1,000 college scholarship, a 1966 Oldsmobile convertible for the duration of her reign, and other gifts of clothing and jewelry. Holbrook celebrated the event when Mayor Ed Karges declared the Monday following her win as Launa Kay Gardner Day.
During the interview portion of the competition, Gardner was asked what she would do if given a $1,000 scholarship, which would equate to approximately $7,330 today with inflation. “It would be a miracle, because I could study hard and graduate and do my best for America,” was her reply. Gardner did just that, graduating from Northern Arizona University with a teaching degree.
Gardner initially wasn’t eager to participate in the Miss Navajo Pageant as it was called at the time, a title she held that allowed her to compete as Miss Arizona. “My English teacher Mrs. (Ellen) Dillon was a real drill sergeant and she insisted I do it. It ended up being the most wonderful experience,” she stated. Once crowned, Gardner traveled to Texas and to New York City, where she appeared on the Johnny Carson Show.
“What was really the most amazing part was the incredible support of the people of Holbrook. They raised money so that I could have a wardrobe and luggage, and Nester Motors even arranged for a vehicle so that my parents could travel to Texas while I was there,” she recalled. “Then there were the ladies that helped with my clothes and makeup, because it really wasn’t my thing and I didn’t know what to do,” she laughed.
Gardner will be returning to Holbrook on Saturday, Aug. 9, to take part in the city’s Route 66 Festival, which begins the previous day.