Nov. 27, 2006
Delano's Suzie Heffernan crowned Miss South Dakota USA
By Ryan Gueningsman
For someone who considers herself a tomboy, or even just the girl next door, 2004 Delano High School graduate Suzie Heffernan has been turning some heads recently, and rightfully so.
After being crowned Miss South Dakota USA Nov. 12, Heffernan is ready to embark on a blockbuster year of public appearances and photo shoots, along with the opportunity to compete for the title of Miss USA in April 2007 at a place yet to be determined.
“It’s all very new and exciting,” Heffernan said while back home for Thanksgiving break. “I don’t know what it all entails yet, but there is a lot of stuff to do, and a lot of people to meet. It’s a great opportunity to meet a ton of different people from South Dakota and from different charities.”
She participated in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant last year, and was named second runner-up.
Heffernan decided to try for a title in South Dakota this year because she is attending college at the University of South Dakota Brookings.
“I thought ‘Hey, why not go for South Dakota?” she said. “I went there and did it, and I didn’t even expect to finish in the top 12. I was very worried about making it in the top 12, but I took home the crown.”
During her years at Delano High School, Heffernan was a four-sport athlete, participating in basketball, volleyball, cross country, and softball at different stages of her high school career, lettering in both softball and cross country.
She also served as an officer on the Delano High School Student Council, and when she was not involved in school activities, spent most of her time working at the Tiger Activity Center and at McDonald’s Studio. She also helped out at the Delano Senior Center with the Meals on Wheels program.
Presently, Heffernan is still in the beginning process of the “Miss” program, and said her first appearance as Miss South Dakota USA was last weekend at the Miss Minnesota USA pageant in Bloomington.
“Our directors cover Minnesota, Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota, so this is the last pageant,” she said. “When this pageant is done, it’ll all kind of start to roll.”
She will participate in what’s known as “pageant power week” in January, which entails preparation for the Miss USA pageant, interview skills, as well as getting to know the girls she is running against from across the US.
From there, she will attend Eagle U, which is in Texas, and is a week-long camp that she has been told is a “life-changing experience.”
There are different Eagle U sites around the US, and Heffernan said the camps provide opportunities to further leadership and communication skills.
Because Heffernan had already gone through the selection process in Minnesota, she was able to take part in the selection process in South Dakota.
“There were 24 ‘Miss’ contestants in South Dakota,” she said. Preliminary competition took place Nov. 11, and consisted of an introduction, interview, swimsuit competition, and evening ware competition.
The following day, Heffernan and her fellow contestants again had an introduction, and after that, the top 12 were named.
From that point, the top 12, which included Heffernan, competed again in swimsuit and evening gown segments. After that, it was narrowed down to the top five girls, who were asked an on-stage question.
“Is it ever OK to tell a lie, and if so, when or why?” Heffernan recalled her question, adding that she felt the answer she gave was said too rapidly.
“I said something to the effect of ‘White lies are ok around Christmas- time, but otherwise, lying doesn’t get you anywhere in life, and you should just be truthful with everyone, because if you have to lie about something, it’s probably something you shouldn’t be doing anyway,’” she said with a laugh.
“I haven’t watched the tape yet, but my mom said I was like a gunshot,” she said.
After the on-stage question, there was a final presentation in front of the judges for their final review, and from there, the decision was made.
She said a lot of special awards were presented before the actual crowning of Miss South Dakota USA.
“The previous Miss South Dakota was the one who crowned me,” Heffernan said. She explained that throughout the pageant, contestants wanted to hear their names called, because that meant they advanced to the top 12, and eventually the top five.
From there, Heffernan said things were reversed, and she did not want to hear her name because those were runners-up.
“They said ‘Jessica,’” she remembered. “My name’s not Jessica. That means I’ve won,” she said about the moment, noting it took both her and the first runner-up, Jessica Albers, a few seconds for it to sink in.
Hefferen received her crown from former Miss South Dakota USA Alexis LeVan.
“I threw up my hands,” she said, “and my crown toppled to the floor,” she added with a laugh.
“They are durable crowns,” she added.
Following the crowning moment, she said a lot of photos were taken, and a briefing session took place to begin preparation for the upcoming year.
“It was a very busy weekend,” she said. “Not much sleep a lot of caffeine,” she added with a laugh.
Heffernan said it is not known yet, for sure, where the Miss USA pageant will be, but said it will most likely be in April.
Last year, the pageant took place in Massachusetts, and like previous years, the 2007 pageant will be broadcast on NBC. She said last year, it was a three-week process for those competing for Miss USA. Most of that time consisted of rehearsals and getting to know the other contestants, she said.
“Right now, it’s just starting to get in shape,” she said. “Getting in shape is the biggest part because everyone’s in good shape. There’s not a bad body at Miss USA. That’s probably the first priority.”
Heffernan said her hope is to finish at least in the top 15 at the Miss USA pageant.
“South Dakota has not made it in the top 15 since 1974,” she said. “So, that’s my goal, to make it in the top 15. I don’t know if many girls are like ‘Yes, I can win this,’ but it’s one of those things that is just unbelievable and daunting, to be in the Miss USA pageant.”
She said she has not yet met any other contestants in person who will be competing along with her next spring, but said she has had plenty of activity in the online community FaceBook.
“I’ve probably gained about 150 ‘friends’ in the past week and a half,” she said. “It’s been absolute craziness, but it’s been awesome with everyone’s support from all around. Everyone from high school has been so supportive, and college friends, and all these other ‘Miss’ contestants who say, ‘Hey, I’m Wyoming,’ or, ‘I’m from California.’”
Getting used to being recognized is still something Heffernan is, well, getting used to.
She recalled recently having been out, and having a girl come up to her and say, “You’re Suzie, right?”
Along with balancing her participation in the “Miss” program, Heffernan is a junior at SDSU-Brookings, with plans to major in psychology with a minor in sociology.
At college, she said she stays very active, and is a supervisor and official in intramurals basketball, volleyball, and softball.
She has also spent time working with a company called Advance, which works with people who have developmental disabilities, as well as working two other jobs.
She said she plans on staying in school during her reign, but is only going to take seven credits instead of 16.
“When you’re gone three weeks in April, that’s kind of difficult for finals,” she said.
She hopes to be able to get involved with children who may not have had the best childhoods, and said that anytime you can be a role model or mentor to anybody, it is well worth it.
“Anything to do or brighten somebody’s day, really,” she said, adding that she also wants to get involved with the Big Sister/Big Brother organization in Sioux Falls.
“That’s kind of my thing,” she said. “I’m always going to be a tomboy at heart. I’m always going to stay active with people who have developmental disabilities. Anything I can do to get people out and about. I may put a smile on their face, but they make me smile a whole lot more. It’s really hard to have a bad day when you’re with them . . . they’re so fun and full of life.”
Modeling began early
Heffernan began attending modeling schools around the age of 14; she said her mother never forced her to pursue modeling or participating in pageants.
“I was always such a tomboy throughout all my life,” she said with a laugh. “My mom would just leave pamphlets, like on my dinner place- mat, but she never pushed me. She just left them there and said ‘If this is something you’re interested in, let me know, and we can work on it.’”
Her mother, Sherry, is self-employed as a certified public accountant in their hometown of Corcoran. Her older brother, Shad, is living in Denver, Colo., and the two of them have her main family supporters, she said.
When Heffernan was younger, she would go with Sherry to Shad’s basketball games, and would spend a lot of time playing ball with Shad. When it came time for her first competitive event, her “tomboy” characteristics showed through.
“Here’s my pretty little girl, all dressed up,” Sherry recalled. “But, she still walks like a basketball player,” she added with a laugh.
“I was like a little mimic of my brother, but I had heels on,” Suzie said. “It was so awkward.”
Heffernan received some casting calls, but because of her age, didn’t want to pursue any until she was a bit older.
From there, she did a pageant the summer before her senior year called Youth of America, where she won the title of overall Miss Photogenic. She was flown to national competition in Florida, where she was named fourth runner-up out of 76 girls.
She had the opportunity to compete at Miss Minnesota USA her freshman year of college, but decided against it in order to gain some more experiences and “get a little older.”
The following year, while a sophomore in college, she competed at Miss Minnesota USA. She said during that pageant, she was very nervous on stage.
“It’s very unnatural,” she said. “You know everybody’s looking at you. Even with my question, I was just so terrified. My knees were just locked. All I could think about was how bad my feet hurt. This year, I just felt a lot more comfortable with myself. I didn’t feel like there was anything else I could have done better.”
Looking to the future
Heffernan, who also has dreams of being a therapist, said she also has a passion for acting, film, and photography.
She hopes to live in California, and said grad school is in her future, eventually.
“I would like to go to a different city or different state just for a different culture change,” she said. She hopes to be able to be involved both as a therapist, as well as keeping her passion strong for film, photography, and acting. She added, with a laugh, that her “Minnesota accent” might be hard to break, though.
Heffernan said she would love to be a spokesperson for a company or charity, and hopes she can catch the right person’s eye while participating at the Miss USA pageant.
“I’ve always had this dream of being on a billboard,” she said with a laugh.
But, for now, she’ll have to be happy being Miss South Dakota USA, and continuing to look forward to the future with her goals set in place.
“It is something you have to learn how to do,” she said. “I’ve always just considered myself the ‘girl next door.’ I’m just trying to take as much advantage of this as possible.”