There was no crown when Patricia Cummings was crowned Miss Minnesota at the Excelsior Amusement Park in 1944. World War II raged, so whatever medal would have gone into tiaras was apparently needed to help the war effort.
“Everything had to be natural,” she said. “No bleached hair. No nose jobs. No falsies. They sent a woman into the dressing room to watch you put on your swimsuit to make sure.”
Now 90, splitting time between Arizona and Plymouth and known as Pat Harding, she’s the oldest living Miss Minnesota. The pageant honored her 70th anniversary this month and even gave her a long overdue crown a couple of years ago.
Back in ’44, she went on to Atlantic City, N.J., dazzled Miss America judges with a hula dance and finished in the top 10.
“We wore little skirts over our swimming suits because there could be no hint of a crotch,” she said.
Unlike today’s $9,000 scholarship that accompanies the title, the 1944 winner hauled in few benefits. But that didn’t slow her down.
Cummings went to Hollywood in 1945, dancing as an extra in Fred Astaire’s “Yolanda and the Thief” and playing a carnival queen in “Abbott and Costello in Hollywood.” She attended and taught at the Minneapolis Business College, worked as a radio DJ in Ohio and forecast the weather in Minneapolis in the 1950s under the name Polly Prophet.
She even went for a ride in a Blue Angels airplane in the early-’50s.
“The pilot did loops and I almost got sick, but I’m adventurous.”
She spent 10 years with the Minnesota Brewers Association, hawking beer in small towns across the state.
“I’m not a beer drinker, but had just enough to make sure people saw I was representing the breweries.”
She also raised three kids and has eight grandchildren and a half-dozen great-grandchildren. Twice widowed, she met her current husband, retired electrical engineer Edward Russell van Krevelen, after placing a personal singles ad in the newspaper in the 1990s.
“The gals encouraged me, saying ‘Do it, do it, you’ve been widowed longer than us,’” she said. “I met a few creeps first at the Perkins in Edina, but Russ and I talked for more than an hour and had plenty in common.”
She insists people have four distinct ages: chronological, mental, physical and spiritual.
“Everyone thinks of chronological age, but my chiropractor says I stack up with folks in their 50s and 60s physically, and I’m always interested in learning new things.”
New things like writing. At her granddaughter’s prompting, she’s busy crafting her autobiography.