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Legacy - The Colombo family

An affection for pageantry forms a family bond

An affection for pageantry forms a family bond

October 15, 2007|By JANET HEIM

The plate of brownies is calling Whitney Colombo as her stomach rumbles with hunger after school. She and her younger sister, Audreanna, both reach toward the plate as Whitney declares, "Pageant diet!" Homework and dance lessons will fill the rest of the evening for the two sisters, who were crowned Miss Washington County and Miss Teen Western Maryland on February 17.

With "Physical Fitness in Youth for a Better Life Tomorrow" as her platform, Whitney, 18, is mindful of what she eats and tries to set a good example, but added that taking dance classes four nights a week and teaching a dance class helps her stay in shape. Even brownies, in moderation, can be a part of a healthy lifestyle.

"They work out, but they don't ever not eat. First of all, I would never tolerate it," said their mother, Jodi Colombo, during an interview at their Spring Valley home.

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The sisters have danced with City Ballet since the age of 3. What started out as a fun preschool activity turned into preparation for pageant talent.

As Whitney prepared to graduate from North Hagerstown High School in early June, the sisters were also gearing up for the next round of pageants, a result of their February success. Both took the stage at the Maryland Theatre, where the pageants were held - Whitney competing for the title of Miss Maryland and Audreanna, 14, a contestant for Miss Maryland's Outstanding Teen.

Whitney is now a freshman at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., studying to be a neonatal nurse. While at North High, she was in the Medical Academy and also took classes at Hagerstown Community College, was secretary of the Calculus Club, secretary of the Senior Class, on the executive board for the Student Government Association and on the Spirit Committee.

Audreanna is a freshman at North Hagerstown High School, where she will be a junior varsity cheerleader.

It's not the tiaras or sashes or lip gloss that bind the generations together in this family - it's their support for each other. Behind the scenes, Jodi Colombo keeps the schedule humming.

From wardrobe shopping - always looking for a bargain and traveling as far as Johnstown and Sharon, Pa., for the perfect evening dress and interview suit - to keeping track of appearances, her role goes far beyond that of the mom of two busy teenage girls. Colombo has sewn costumes and embellishes swimsuits or dresses with extra beading and "dazzle" for a one-of-a-kind look. Competition talent costumes are often recycled dance recital costumes.

EARLY EXPERIENCES

Jodi Colombo's involvement with pageants dates back to her two older children, even though she said she did not compete in pageants as a child. After seeing a notice in the paper, Colombo entered her older daughter, Jennifer, in a pageant in Martinsburg, W. Va., which she won when she was 3.

It only took a few more pageants, though, for Jodi to realize she lacked the competitiveness of the other mothers.

"The competition was more between the mothers than the girls. Whose dress could be bigger, whose hair could be bigger. That's when I bowed out. Jennifer never had $1,000 dresses," said Jodi Colombo.

She said her son, Ronald, who owns a farm in West Virginia, also won "Most Photogenic" in local pageants.

Jodi Colombo was pregnant with her third child, Whitney, when she was approached by Ed Dorsey of Dane Broadcasting about being on the Miss Maryland board.

Her experience with Jennifer, who is now 32, left Colombo hesitant to get involved, but those previous pageants were not part of Miss America. Dorsey urged Colombo to go to the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City before making her decision.

If she wasn't hooked after that, he said he wouldn't ask again. Being at the Miss America pageant had the desired effect, and Colombo became an associate board member in the mid 1990s and served a three-year term as Miss Maryland board president.

"I liked that it was empowering young women and giving them opportunities to further their education through scholarships. It really gives them a voice for their platform and community service," said Colombo, who does not work outside the home.

"A lot of girls will tell you without this program, they wouldn't go to college or get a graduate degree. It's the largest scholarship program for women," Jodi Colombo said.

All the while, Colombo was careful not to pressure her daughters to compete. She wanted them to decide on their own whether or not to participate.

WHITNEY DECIDES

Jodi Colombo knew the time had arrived when Whitney suggested her mother step off the Miss Maryland board. Jodi's husband of almost 20 years, Jim Colombo, was leery.

"A mother never wants to see her daughter hurt, but a father, it's even harder. He had mixed emotions about throwing them into a situation where he couldn't control the hurt," Jodi Colombo said.

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