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Judi Ford Nash

If you are new to Boone County, you might be surprised to learn Belvidere was home to a former Miss America.

As a child, Judi Ford Nash never considered one day wearing the Miss America crown. “I was a tomboy,” she says. “I did play with dolls, but I was more into sports like swimming and trampoline.”

But life can be so unpredictable. What started out as a lark turned into something far bigger than anyone could ever imagine. After winning the Boone County Fair queen pageant, Nash went on to win two more pageants before doing the unthinkable – winning the 1969 Miss America title in the fall of 1968.

A month later, on October 30, Judi came home and was treated to a celebration fit for a queen. Businesses in downtown Belvidere were decked out with signs, banners and photographs. Schools were closed for the day. The Belvidere High School choir greeted Nash with the song Hello Judi which was taken from Hello Dolly. State officials were there and floats were rolled out as more than 35,000 people turned out for a glimpse of Miss America.

“It was unbelievable,” Judi says. “I just remember being on a float and looking up the hill at all the people lined up on both sides of State Street. I couldn’t believe they were there for me.”

Born in Iowa City, Iowa, Judi moved to Belvidere when she was 3, with her parents, Virgil and Marjorie, and older brother, Don. Virgil was personnel director and a labor relations executive for Sundstrand Corporation, and Marjorie was an English teacher at Belvidere High School.

Her family lived a quiet life in town, where Judi enjoyed riding her bike, playing with neighborhood friends and swimming at the city pool. Judi spent most of her free time participating in sports. She joined the Belvidere city swim team at the age of 8 and worked at the Belvidere pool as a lifeguard and swim instructor as a teenager. She also became quite good on the trampoline. In high school, Judi was a member of the cheer team.

“Belvidere was a great town to grow up in,” she says. “I have many fond memories.”

After winning the Miss America pageant, Judi went on to live out experiences most people could only dream about. She spent 1969 traveling the world, meeting famous people and soaking in amazing sights. Over the next several decades, she settled comfortably into the role of wife, mother, teacher and coach.

These days, Judi is retired and living in Geneseo, Ill., with her husband, Jim, a practicing attorney. The couple has 12 grandchildren. Judi spends her time by substitute teaching, volunteering at a local hospital, playing golf, running three miles a day, and watching after her grandchildren. Judi returns to Belvidere occasionally to visit relatives and a few close friends. This former Miss America couldn’t be any happier. “I’ve had a pretty good life,” she says. •

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