Bexley History Programs

Celebrating 50 Years With Bexley’s Own Miss America 1972

by Local History Librarian David

Thousands lined the streets of Bexley for a 68-unit parade of marching bands, floats, bagpipes, and drill teams, reminiscent of the city’s annual Independence Day celebration. However, on this day, in mid October, royalty was celebrated. On the last float, cradling a bouquet of red roses in one arm and waving to the crowd with the other, sat Laurel “Laurie” Lea Schaefer, Bexley’s own Miss America 1972.

Laurie, a 1967 graduate and National Honor Society member of Bexley High School, was known for acting, singing, and starring in lead roles in school productions. Studying theater at Ohio University, she was first attracted to pageants as a freshman for the prize scholarships. Crowned Miss Southeastern Ohio and twice Miss Central Ohio, she found her charm winning her third Miss Ohio competition. By then, the 22-year-old had earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with plans to pursue an acting career.

Then she won the “triple crown.” Repeating her performance at the state competition, she sang “This Is My Beloved” from “Kismet,” and just as she did for Miss Ohio, won the swimsuit competition. Crowned Miss America 1972 on September 11, 1971 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Laurie was whisked away with a Miss America competition representative always at her side. It would be more than a month of public appearances before she would return home.

Then as her plane touched down at Port Columbus International Airport on the morning of October 17, 1971, she was another twelve-hour day away from the house she grew up in. A massive homecoming celebration with lunch at the Governor’s Mansion, a ninety minute long parade, a theater production of “Laurie Through the Playhouse Door,” based on her life, a reception at her alma mater, and a “Royal Banquet” at Capital University had been orchestrated in her honor. 

From her throne, a red velvet chair, under a sequined crown, on a float designed and built by members of the Montrose and Cassingham schools’ PTA, Laurie signed autographs, was greeted by dignitaries, accepted awards and gifts, and received nothing less than the admiration of the community she grew up in. Fifty years later, Laurie remembered that day for the “outpouring of support that the Bexley community embraced” her with, which she said was one of “her most treasured memories.”

During her year-long reign, Laurie traveled over one hundred thousand miles across the world and answered an average of one hundred pieces of correspondence a week. She met the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, even sang the National Anthem at his Inauguration in 1973, and was the last Miss America to headline a USO Tour in Vietnam and Thailand. Though far from 2435 Plymouth Avenue, she never forgot her hometown, Bexley, which she called a “diamond, a real gem.”

On Wednesday, March 9 from 7-8 p.m., join Laurel Lea via Zoom in conversation with Lori Ann Feibel, member and former president of Bexley City Council. Register to celebrate her 50-year anniversary as Bexley’s own Miss America 1972 at Online registration is required to receive the Zoom link.

Bexley Public Library’s latest digital collection documents Bexley’s Miss America 1972, Laurel Lea Schaefer with photographs, documents, and other memorabilia. View the collection here.

If you have any photos or mementos of Miss America 1972 and her Bexley homecoming celebration that you would like to share for the digital collection, please contact Bexley Public Library’s Local History Librarian at