As a child, Helen Paulson enjoyed watching lawyer shows on television with her mother. “I was only about 3 years old, and we used to watch ‘Perry Mason.’ I loved that, and when I learned how to read, I loved mystery books like ‘Nancy Drew.’”
In grade school, students had to choose someone to job shadow to learn more about the profession. “I picked a lawyer,” Paulson said. “I have always been interested in the justice system, and I have a strong belief about justice and helping people.”
Not surprisingly, the little Tell City girl so intrigued with the law and with social work decided to attend Indiana State University to fulfill those goals. “I liked the people I met when I was visiting ISU in my senior year of high school,” Paulson said. “I also liked the programs at ISU and the financial assistance available to me there.”
What she didn’t count on, Paulson said, was entering the Miss Indiana State University Scholarship Program. And winning the contest.
It all came about because Paulson was a flute player. “I started playing the flute in grade school and continued in high school,” she said. “I was the first chair flute in high school, and I was in the marching band, too.”
Although she didn’t want to major in music at Indiana State, Paulson said she did want to keep playing the flute. “I tried out for the symphony the first year and made it.”
Paulson was also active at Indiana State in the Union Board, Chi Omega, Blue Beret, Homecoming Steering Committee, Blue Key Honorary, Alpha Lambda Delta Honorary, Alpha Kappa Delta Honorary, and Student Chairperson of Association of College Unions Region 9.
When it came time for the Miss Indiana State University competition, people who knew she was a musician encouraged Paulson to try out. “You had to have a talent to be in the contest. A large percentage of the scoring is based on talent …. I always like to try different things, so when people kept telling me I should enter, I thought ‘Why not?’”
This year, the Miss Indiana State University Scholarship Pageant will be celebrating its 35th anniversary. Scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 23, in Tilson Auditorium, the program is inviting all alumnae who served as Miss Indiana State University, previous directors and past members of the board of directors to attend.
“The special celebration event will include a brunch, campus tour, campus update and opportunity to attend the Miss Indiana State University Scholarship Pageant,” said Freda Luers, director of Campus Life and co-director with Al Perone of the Miss Indiana State University Scholarship Program.
“The event will provide our student contestants the opportunity to network and socialize with Miss Indiana State University titleholders,” Luers said.
An affiliate of the Miss Indiana and Miss America programs, the Indiana State pageant follows the same judging guidelines set forth by the other entities. “The judges are members of the campus and community that have a wide range of backgrounds — talent, community service, public speaking, etc.,” Luers said.
Duties of the winner, Luers said, include being “an ambassador for the university, a positive role model, a public servant, an entertainer and a potential Miss Indiana and Miss America. Our scholarship providers generously support our contestants through scholarships and book scholarships. The Miss and runners up are awarded a total of $3,750.”
Being a pageant contestant required a great deal of preparation, practice and production rehearsals as well as finding an evening gown, Paulson said. “It was a very simple gown, not glittery. My mother made it.”
In fact, Paulson and her mother had always made most of the young girl’s clothes. “My mother made all my stuff when I was a child, then she taught me how to sew and I started making my own clothes in grade school. It was just a part of the way things were,” Paulson said.
When the day of the pageant rolled around, Paulson was understandably nervous, partially due to the difficult flute piece she was performing. She also was nervous about the interview portion of the contest.
“Each question was different, and we had no idea what it would be,” Paulson said. “I don’t remember what anyone else was asked but I do remember my question — ‘What is the first thing you would do if elected president of the United States?’”
Her answer? “I said that the first thing I would do would be the process of selecting my cabinet, because that is so important. The selection would be so involved because I would want to be sure I chose great cabinet members.”
Then the contestants lined up on stage to await the announcement of the winner. “It was nerve-wracking,” Paulson said. “They started with the runners up and didn’t call my name.”
That either meant that Paulson was not a finalist or — dare she hope? — the winner. “When they announced my name as winner, I couldn’t believe it. There were many talented contestants with great poise, talent and personality so it was quite a surprise.”
As Miss ISU 1978, Paulson went on to participate in the Miss Indiana pageant. She also graduated from Indiana State in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in social work and received a master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis as well as a law degree. Paulson practiced law for many years with a top firm in St. Louis before stepping way to work pro bono with several nonprofits.
Today, Paulson lives in St. Louis and has four children — Allison, Audrey, Jared and Adrienne. Her parents — 90-year-old Eugene and 82-year-old Jeanette — still live in Tell City. Before retirement, Jeanette was a secretary, and Eugene worked at General Electric.
Deciding to attend Indiana State was a decision she never regretted, Paulson said. “I received a wonderful education that served me well for future education endeavors and for my career. I made a lot of friends that are still my friends today. I had four great years at ISU.”
Entering the Miss Indiana State University pageant also was a rewarding experience, Paulson said. “First of all, you are dealing with many people and you definitely gain confidence and poise. You increase your interview skills. People do not understand that it is really a lot of work, but it is well worth it.”
As for sewing, Paulson made sure her children know how to sew. “It is a good thing to know,” she said, adding with a laugh, “After all these years, though, I never want to sew again.”