By New Times
By Connor Radnovich
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Ray Stern
By Keegan Hamilton
By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
On screen, Corrie is blowing kisses. Her arms look long and impossibly thin; she looks thrilled. "This was probably one of the highlights of my life, other than my kids being born," Trudy says.
The woman who runs the Miss Arizona organization, Monica Rich, shows up in one of Trudy Hill's videotapes, bustling around the edges of the room like a nervous honeybee. Short, chubby, and clad in a shapeless jacket, she stands out in a room of beauty queens like the answer to a Sesame Street puzzle: Which of these things is not like the other?
A 4-year-old could pick her out in a heartbeat.
Years ago, Rich was a second-grade teacher. Her husband, Steve, a customs agent, is "the quietest person on Earth," says LeAnn Hendrix, Miss Arizona 1998. The two have spent their lives in the dusty border town of Douglas, population 16,000. Their only child, a son, lives out of state.
The Riches refused an interview, but New Times spoke with nine people who volunteered for Miss Arizona during their tenure, as well as a half-dozen contestants. No matter what these people think of Rich, all agree she is devoted to the job.
Monica Rich started as a traveling companion for the "Miss Douglas" pageant and was later promoted to that pageant's director, then state field director, and finally state executive director. It's a lot of work for no money, and Rich is famous for sighing folksily about her cash-strapped status. She talks frequently about the time and money she spends on Miss Arizona, staffers say, never noting that the beneficiary is a scholarship organization that would never choose anyone like her as a recipient.
She has a sweet manner -- sticky sweet to her detractors. She is also talented: good at crafts, a good pianist, a former clarinetist with the junior college symphony.
She holds, strongly, the ladylike values that Miss America still promotes, even if the rest of the world has coarsened. The "duties and responsibilities" sheet she gave to Corrie Hill bars Miss Arizona from drinking, smoking, or showing "any outward signs of affection" to boyfriends at official appearances. LaLona Hughes, the current Miss Mesa, says Rich went out of her way to praise her for praying before a meal during last year's pageant. "We notice these things," Rich told her.
(While Rich has no official say in choosing the state titleholder, she makes a point of telling contestants that good behavior matters, they told New Times. Contestant Hannah Boucher once questioned Rich about how it could possibly factor into scoring. She says Rich replied, "We let the judges know who doesn't follow directions.")
Rich and her husband obviously believe in Miss America. "They have good intentions, the best of intentions," says Rhonda Smith, who used to produce the state pageant. "They love these girls. They think this pageant is the best thing ever."
Second to the pageant, though, might be a good piece of gossip. Even before she was director, Rich was famous within the organization for her scoops, says Jaime Fryer, who was a contestant in the mid-'90s and later a state director. "She was this little lady from Douglas, and all she did was run her mouth. She knew everything. You'd get to the pageant and she'd just plop down next to you and fill you in: who was pregnant, who was getting married, everything."
For a while, Trudy Hill was part of Rich's audience. Trudy was flattered when the state director called her up to chat -- this, after all, was the state director, at a time when her daughter really wanted to win the state title. So on and on Rich went, talking about that week's crisis, and Trudy clucked sympathetically, enjoying the proximity even more than the news.
It got particularly exciting four years ago. A girl from Mesa, Kapri Rose, had won the Miss Arizona title.
Rose wouldn't do what Monica told her -- could Trudy believe it? (She couldn't.) She'd sneaked a dress backstage at Atlantic City that Rich hadn't even seen before the competition. There Rich was in the Miss America audience, when Rose came out looking like a "beached whale." "How could she do this to me?" Rich wailed. (Trudy didn't know.)
Rich told Corrie Hill that Rose was an embarrassment to the state organization, that she'd been caught having sex in a hot tub in a Sierra Vista hotel. "Everyone knew about the hot tub," Corrie says.
And everyone believed it. Rich was, after all, the executive director.
"People believed everything Monica said," Corrie says. "If you want to be Miss America, you believe every word she tells you."
The drama only grew. Rich would beg Trudy and her husband, Irv, to escort her to her car. The Rose family was angry, she said, and might attack her.
Everyone believed that, too.
Corrie Hill was a skinny, awkward kid. Her junior high photographs show a girl who was more average than not: a long nose that her face hadn't quite grown into, braces, and frizzy hair that looked permed, even though it wasn't.