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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published June 05 2013

Miss North Dakota organizers make adjustments to deal with oil boom

WILLISTON, N.D. – As the young women wearing crowns filed into Wildcat Pizza here, every head turned.

A table full of women – let alone pageant contestants – is a rare sight in this male-dominated oil boom town, enough to prompt guys to get out their camera phones.

“It just made lunch so much better,” said Nathan Tuckfield, a construction consultant from Sidney, Mont.

The women are Miss North Dakota contestants, who came to Williston from across the state to compete in the annual scholarship pageant today through Saturday.

Laura Harmon, Miss Grand Forks, who posed for a photo with an oil field worker, said a group of women wearing crowns would stand out anywhere – not just in a boom town.

“No matter where you go, I think you’re going to turn heads,” Harmon said.

While the oil boom has changed the town of Williston, which has hosted the pageant since 1987, it hasn’t significantly changed the pageant.

However, organizers have had to reassure some parents in recent years about the safety of the community, which has received a lot of publicity as men from across the country have descended on the area for work.

“We’ve had parents nervous about their daughters coming,” said Marilyn McGinley, president of the event’s board of directors.

One adjustment the pageant made last year was finding a new place for the women to stay as Williston hotels became housing for temporary workers.

But that never became a problem, McGinley said, because Williston State College offered its recently constructed residence hall to the contestants and opened up rooms for parents.

With the addition of new hotels, the availability of rooms has improved this year, although rates are higher than other areas in the state.

The finalists continue to stay together at the college rather than at various hotels.

“There’s this camaraderie that we didn’t have when we had hotels,” said Marian Hamilton, executive director.

For the third year in a row, the pageant week’s itinerary included a dinner at a camp that houses oil field workers – often called a man camp.

That caused some anxiety the first time they went, McGinley said.

“One set of parents was very concerned about their daughter going to the man camp,” McGinley said. “We had five chaperones for 20 girls and I think we saw maybe five men while we were there.”

The pageant has always had security for the week while the women are in Williston. This includes a rule that the contestants need to be driven to all events by volunteer hostesses, said B. Michael Quayle, producer of the show.

“They’re sequestered, in a way,” said Quayle, adding that it allows the contestants to focus on preparing for the competition, with preliminary rounds today and Friday and the coronation Saturday night.

Last year, the event provided $40,000 in scholarships. The winner goes on to compete for Miss America.

Jacky Arness of Fargo, who holds the title Miss State Capitol and is in Williston for the first time, said everyone is looking out for each other.

“They’ve taken impeccable care of us,” Arness said.

Harmon, who is in Williston for her fourth year of competition, said the town isn’t like many of the rumors she had heard.

“You hear a lot of things but it’s not like that when you get out here,” Harmon said.