PRATT, Kan. (KAKE) - Miss Kansas began more than 80 years ago, so there have been some pretty significant changes to the pageant over the years. One thing that’s remained constant? The heart it takes to bring home the crown.

From 1937 to 2023 there have only been three women who have won both Miss Kansas and Miss America - Deborah Bryant in 1965 and 1966, Debra Barnes in 1967 and 1968 and Tara Dawn Holland in 1996 and 1997.

“I’m certainly very proud of Kansas,” said Deborah Bryant in 1966.

KAKE was able to get in touch with Deborah Bryant-Berge recently and she talked about her experience of winning Miss America.

“It just forever changes your life and gives you open doors you wouldn’t have otherwise and opens your eyes to experiences you can enjoy,” said Berge.

She also remembers the homecoming parade in Pratt in 1966.

“The experience in Pratt was amazing and by that I mean everyone in that town supported the Miss Kansas pageant one way or another,” said Berge.

She says it was an honor to represent Kansas as she traveled more than 360,000 miles over the course of her year-long reign as Miss America.

“I had exciting opportunities- I filmed commercials, I was on national television programs, the Cotton Bowl parade, I visited Washington D.C. and I met the president and visited in the white house, visited with my congressional delegation,” said Berge.

Debbie remembers her time as Miss Kansas and Miss America fondly.

“I know that it changed my life in a positive direction and I think that that’s probably true for everyone that’s been in the pageant,” said Berge.

She went on to get her English degree and become a public speaker. She’s also had children and grandchildren- one of which has been involved in the Miss America Opportunity program.

Someone else who has been involved in the Miss Kansas program for almost as long is Larry Strong.

He’s been attending the Miss Kansas pageant since 1967 and volunteering for 50 years.

“I’ve made a lot of great friends all over the country,” said Larry Strong, a long-time volunteer.

It was at his first state pageant he witnessed Debra Barnes crowned Miss Kansas. She later went on to become the Sunflower States 2nd ever Miss America.

“She just looked like Miss America- you know she just had that special quality. She had the it factor,” said Strong.

He’s actually met all three former Miss Kansas’s turned Miss Americas. Strong even judged the local pageant that qualified Tara Dawn Holland for Miss Kansas. She later went on to win Miss America.

“That was amazing! I judged Miss America! And I’m happy for her and when she comes back she always remembers me and thanks me for being on the panel that picked her,” said Strong.

Strong remembers when the pageants looked a lot different than they do today.

“Oh, it’s changed. It’s changed drastically. We have no more swimsuit competitions and when we started out talent was 2 minutes 30 seconds and now it's 90 seconds. Now we have community service as part of Miss America,” said Strong.

He feels passionate about the opportunities pageants provide young women and he feels fortunate to be part of that world.

“I hope we get more publicity about Miss Kansas and what a positive competition it is. And how it helps girls not only get scholarships, but it teaches them interview skills,” said Strong.

One more place you can go to learn more about the history of Miss Kansas is just west of downtown Pratt.

4 to 5 thousand people visit the Pratt County Historical Museum every year to see all the Miss Kansas memorabilia it has to offer.

The 24,000-square-foot museum has an entire section dedicated to Miss Kansas.

Every piece in the museum was donated. There are even pieces on display from former Miss Kansas/Miss Americas like Tara Dawn Holland.

“There is no place like home and I’m so thrilled and so honored to be back as Miss America,” said Tara Dawn Holland in 1997.

KAKE had the chance to interview Tara Holland-Christensen about her experience in the world of pageants.

“The Miss Kansas pageant changed my life…Probably my favorite memory of being Miss Kansas was living in Pratt honestly. The friendships there and the sweet community of support were so refreshing and such a beautiful blessing in my life,” said Tara Dawn Holland-Christensen.

She says pageants push women to be their best and improve, and it takes a lot of work to get the crown.

“Some of my greatest pageant experiences were in the losses- because I didn’t win the first time, the second time, the third time,” said

During her pageant days, Tara was awarded more than $80,000 in scholarships. That allowed her to get her master's degree in music education.

“There’s so many different ways young women earn scholarship dollars through the program and you don't have to come out the winner to receive assistance so that’s a very valuable part of the program,” said Christensen.

For ten years after winning, Tara was a public speaker who toured the country. Now she has two children and regularly visits a local prison to teach interviews and life skills.

“I love being able to share with them some of the things I’ve learned largely because of my pageant journey,” said Christensen.

She says the world of pageants empowered her and made her stronger. She hopes the same for all women who compete.

“The Miss Kansas program because they support women for who they are- they make better women,” said Christensen.

When she visits classrooms, she usually brings her Miss America crown and she has a very special message for the kids.

“I always tell kids this doesn’t make me any more special than anybody else, it’s just a representation of a dream. And it's a dream realized that I’m very grateful for,” said Christensen.

Tara, Debbie, and Larry are just some of the people who create the legacy that is Midwest royalty-but they are proud to represent Kansas both on stage and off.