D-Queens Through the Decades

By University Marketing & Communication

Original story credit Dixie Sun News, 2017.

In celebration of one of Dixie State University’s oldest traditions, the D-Queen Pageant, the University and Alumni Association are taking a trek down memory lane and highlighting some of the incredible women who have been crowned D-Queen since the pageant’s inception in 1922.

The current areas of competition include private interview, talent, evening wear, onstage question, academic achievement, written essay, service and involvement.

“It differs from Miss Dixie because Miss Dixie focuses on what they’ll do and D-Queen focuses on what they’ve already done,” 2017 Pageant Director Madison Brostrom said. “There is no age restriction, no swimsuit or fitness competition, and married students are eligible to compete.”

Just as Dixie College evolved into the university it is today, the D-Queen Pageant has also evolved over the years into the production it is today.

1922 – Roma Church Esplin

Roma Church Esplin, 1906-1998, was the first D-Queen ever and won the title in 1922. At that time, Dixie offered the last two years of high school and the two years of college, so Esplin was able to win as a 15-year-old freshman.

According to an April 12, 1973, South Utah Press-Advertiser article titled “Queens, First and Present Featured,” Esplin said: “We were elected by the student body, as each class nominated a girl to represent them. They cast their votes with money as a penny represented one vote.” At that time, D-Day was celebrated instead of the present D-Week, so the winner was called the “D-Day Queen.”

1954 – Willa Nita Brooks Derrick

Willa Nita Brooks Derrick said winning was the ultimate honor.

“The D-Queen Pageant was very different in those days,” Willa said. “You were selected by the faculty and it was based on your involvement in the school. They selected six young women to be the potential queen then they were voted on by the student body. We did not have to do any kind of a talent. They didn’t even have a show like they do now.”

In the 1954 Dixie yearbook, she said: “To have been your D-Day Queen for 1953 and ’54 is the most wonderful thing that happened to me. To have represented you as the Spirit of Dixie will always be: A memory to cherish; An ideal to inspire; A challenge to keep me always worthy of dear Dixie.”

After her time at Dixie, her husband’s career as an Air Force fighter pilot took them around the globe, but they returned home to their Dixie roots to raise their family. The Derricks still reside in St. George today.

1967 – Leslie Empey Johnson

Leslie Empey Johnson is one of five generations of her family that have attended Dixie.

When they announced I had won, “it was such a thrill and honor, to say the least,” Leslie said. “Every photo they took was of me with my hand to my mouth in shock. I’ve really realized more and more as I’ve grown older what a great opportunity and honor it was and is to be part of the fabric of Dixie.”

She said her time at Dixie was the highlight of her life.

1981 – Koni Kae Esplin Smart

Koni Kae Esplin Smart, granddaughter of the first D-Queen, Roma Church Esplin, said the most memorable part of the pageant was having her grandmother there with her when she was crowned.

After her time at Dixie, Koni also attended BYU, SUU, and U of U. “I loved all of the schools, but I have to say Dixie was by far my favorite,” Koni said. “It holds all of my best memories.”

1986 – Brenda Esplin Wade

Brenda Esplin Wade, who’s also a granddaughter of the first D-Queen and sister to Koni, followed in her family members’ footsteps.

“I participated in the pageant because it was tradition,” Brenda said. “I loved participating in something my sister and grandmother were a part of.”

The pageant has been a family affair for the Esplins. Brenda’s mother made her pageant dress for her and later patterned her wedding gown from it.

2000 – Nicole Metcalf Hadley

Nicole Metcalf Hadley is currently an adjunct instructor of tap dance at DSU. For the talent portion of the competition, Hadley performed a Riverdance, which is a combination of traditional Irish quick dance steps set to traditional Irish music.

“I keep coming back to Dixie,” Nicole said. “If we truly feel the Dixie Spirit, don’t we all keep coming back?”
During the competition process, Hadley tripped, and her dress ripped all the way up the side. She grabbed some duct tape and still went out on stage.

“To this day, the duct tape is still on that dress,” Nicole exclaimed.

2019 – Taylor Godfrey

Taylor Godfrey, current student body president, said the D-Queen Pageant was an unbelievable experience.

“It was nothing as I had expected. The girls were so amazing,” Taylor exclaimed.

Taylor is passionate about how DSU aids each individual in flourishing and offers so many opportunities for self-development and growth.

“Each student can blaze a trail and leave behind their very own legacy” Taylor said.

For a full schedule of virtual events for D-Week 2020 visit utahtech.edu/dweek.