Mrs. Nebraska 1955 – Mrs. America 1956

Ramona Deitemeyer – Lincoln, NE
Ramona Deitemeyer is the only Mrs. Nebraska to date to have worn the Mrs. America crown. We pay tribute to her through her biography and pictures.

n early 1955, Ramona’s husband, Carl, and her son, Steve, entered her in the local Mrs. Nebraska competition. The format at that time consisted of bringing a cake to the contest and participating in an interview. The first competition was held in Lincoln, NE at the Gas Company.  Following that competition, the district contest was held at KOLN-TV also in Lincoln. Contestants from Lancaster and Saunders counties were allowed to enter. The areas of competition included cooking, sewing, ironing, and interviewing.

Stoves and the appropriate equipment were set up for the first area of competition where each contestant would bake a Mrs. Nebraska chocolate cake. The stove on Ramona’s set was not calibrated correctly, so her cake failed! The next area of competition was to stitch an apron on the provided sewing machines, and ironing boards were set up to iron men’s shirts and grocers jackets. Interviews followed those competition segments. Ramona won that competition making her eligible for the State competition.

The state competition was held in McCook, Nebraska. Twelve contestants participated in the event. Each contestant was set up with a small kitchen, complete with a table and 4 chairs. Contestants had to prepare a complete meal within an hour and a half, and serve the meal to their husbands and two guests. Other areas of competition were to sew another apron, and do more ironing. The interview segment was held to determine the family values, and contributions, each contestant had made to her church and community. That evening Ramona was crowned Mrs. Nebraska 1955.

The Mrs. America competition was held in Daytona Beach, Florida that year. Each of the 50 contestants competed by living in a small villa on Mrs. America Avenue.  The contestants participated in several activities throughout the week at Mrs. America. Areas of competition at Mrs. America included how well each contestant kept their villa, the preparation of a meal, ironing, sewing another apron, and more interviewing. Ramona won the overall award for “Best Kept Villa” and “Best Meal”. Concluding the week was the presentation ceremony of Mrs. America 1956, which was held on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.  Ramona was crowned “Mrs. America 1956”. In her own words she says, “being crowned Mrs. America was both an honor and humbling, but quite an exciting and inspirational achievement”.

Mrs. America 1956, Ramona Deitemeyer, passed away in Lincoln NE on November 27, 2014 at the age of 94. On behalf of the Mrs. Nebraska Organization we pay tribute to Mrs. America 1956-Ramona Deitemeyer!
Finding Mrs. America, 1956

Story by Sally Stritch, photos contributed, as appeared in the December 2006 L Magazine.

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Ramona Dietemeyer was crowned Mrs. America 1956 on May 14, 1955, in Florida. Her prize package included a new car, a complete set of state-of-the art kitchen and laundry appliances and a six- week trip to Europe ­­–with husband Carl in tow—to meet with European housewives and discuss the domestic arts.

I spotted the Nebraska-shaped cookie cutter in an antique mall in Grand Island. It had no dings or rust and was in its original mint-condition box, probably from the 1950s. I’d hit the trifecta for collectibles.

A baker I am not, but a sucker for memorabilia from my native state—that’s a different story, even if the souvenir is overpriced. And at $9, this cookie cutter was. But a girl’s gotta have what a girl’s gotta have, and I had to have it—for conversation purposes if nothing else.

Inside the box was a folded piece of paper with a recipe for sugar cookies, from “The Recipe File of Mrs. Carl Dietemeyer, Mrs. America, 1956.” Hand-sketched flowers and hearts adorned the typed recipe, which suggested adding a hint of almond extract and sour cream to an otherwise standard sugar cookie recipe. Its quaintness piqued my curiosity. What had happened to Mrs. Dietemeyer, who 50 years ago, was crowned the quintessential wife and mother?

Thanks to the Internet, I found her easily. At 86, Ramona Dietemeyer lives in Lincoln in the townhouse she shared with her husband Carl, who died in 1986. She still cooks and cleans and runs her own errands and meets friends for lunch. She spends free time knitting caps for newborns, a quiet luxury she longed for when she was raising five boisterous children born within a six-year span.

Looking back, she never envisioned herself a pageant contestant and was ambivalent about entering. ”My husband and son entered me in the local competition in 1955,” she says, after the sponsor (at the time, the American Gas Association) placed an ad in the Nebraska Farmer where Carl was editor. Taking care of five youngsters was her full-time job, but she was nothing if not a good sport and went along with Round One ,a cake baking contest with the final product delivered to the local gas company headquarters in Lincoln. To her surprise, she won.

Round Two involved a two-county competition and another cake baking contest, this time on site at a local TV station. Though her chocolate cake flopped, she somehow won, which took her to the statewide competition in McCook, Neb., where the stakes increased exponentially. ”There were twelve kitchens set up in an auditorium in McCook and, in addition to ironing a man’s shirt and sewing an apron, we had to prepare and serve dinner made from scratch in 90 minutes,” she says, remembering only the main dish—oven fried chicken. In private interviews, each woman was asked about her community and church involvement. Ramona told the judges about her volunteer work as a Sunday school teacher and presiding over the local PTA.

By day’s end, she was named Mrs. Nebraska. The national pageant, scheduled a few months later in Daytona Beach, Florida, meant she had to line up family and friends to baby sit her brood for the week-long competition. Tucked in her suitcase were an evening gown and a new bathing suit. But she never even slipped into the one-piece suit because that particular year excluded the swimsuit contest, a first in the pageant’s 17- year history.

The essence of outward coolness, the 49 contestants undoubtedly tapped into their inner desperate housewives more than a few times during the next seven days. “Each state winner and her husband stayed in a small villa on Mrs. America Avenue,” she says of the one-bedroom stucco homes with the grandiose description on a street that hasn’t been called Mrs. America Avenue in so long, many of the locals can’t recall which street it was. “Our job was to perform household duties.” Judges popped in periodically to check oven temperatures for accuracy. And to see how well the contestants kept house.

Used to running a household of seven, Ramona was a model of efficiency. “I made sure all the hangers in the closet faced the same way, “she says, “and I hung towels in the bathroom with precision.” Her ace in the hole, she thinks, was a simple grocery matter. Each contestant had groceries delivered for the meal contest. Ramona put hers away in the cupboard, using the open shelves to artfully display the cooking utensils. ”Other women left their groceries on the open shelves, “she says, which may explain why she won the award for best housekeeping.

She credits Carl’s ability as a wordsmith with her winning the award for best dinner menu. (The judges didn’t eat the meal; rather, they judged how creatively each woman used the same ingredients to make a dinner for her husband.) “I came up with the menu items, “Ramona says, “but Carl helped me name the dishes.” Her roast became Cornhusker Roasted Beef accompanied by Seaside Ambrosia, which paid homage to Florida—and stuffed potatoes, buttered peas and carrots, salad with garlic dressing and sweet pickle chips.

As the women labored, the husbands were treated to field trips and golf at the country club. In a four-page “Note to Husbands,” the guys were instructed:”Do not help your wives with any of the cooking, dishwashing or other chores…even if you may do so at home.”

To those of us raised in an era of women’s lib, the pageant rules– and the pageant itself– grate like nails on a blackboard. And yet, Ramona, who treasured running a smooth—and gracious—household, where everyone had chores and said “please” and “thank you” as naturally as breathing, viewed it as her life’s purpose. Given that she raised five kids who still enjoy each other’s company as well as hosting family get-togethers, her accomplishments may well qualify as a higher calling.

Crowned Mrs. America 1956 on May 14, 1955, at the Ellinor Village Country Club, Ramona, resplendent in her evening gown, was both surprised and elated. The next day, she received the keys to the Mrs. America Home where she would return a year later to crown her successor. Her prize package included a new car, a complete set of state-of-the art kitchen and laundry appliances and a six- week trip to Europe with Carl in tow. It wasn’t about relaxation. She met with European housewives to discuss the domestic arts.

Was her life changed by being the only Mrs. Nebraska to ever be crowned Mrs. America? “It was wonderful, “she says, “but I took it in stride. It didn’t really change my life.”

Yes, it did, counters oldest daughter Diann Sorenson, a retired nurse in North Platte. “It presented opportunities for Mother. She got her own TV show interviewing interesting people who were coming through Lincoln, “she says,”and then she got to write commercials.” In the 1960s, Ramona and Carl moved to Washington, D.C. where Carl worked for the USDA in rural development and Ramona worked for Congressman Doug Bereuter (R-Neb). In other words, Ramona successfully became a working woman after finding fame as a domestic goddess. She’s had it all.

“Now, tell me why you contacted me?” she asks politely, as we wrap up the conversation. I tell her about the sugar cookie recipe and her cookie cutter. “That was my mother’s recipe,” she says. ”It was one of my favorites.” “And you made them in the shape of the state,” I ask almost rhetorically. Without a hint of hesitation, she says she never owned a Nebraska cookie cutter.

I’m speechless at first, then tempted to suggest that perhaps she doesn’t remember it. But I bite my tongue, no small feat for a know-it-all child of the 60s. Really, what difference does it make whether she did or didn’t own that cookie cutter? And who am I to debate Mrs. America 1956, a woman who understands what many of my Boomer generation still grapple with: that it’s better to live right than be right.

Mrs. Nebraska 1955 - McCook Daily Gazette
Here is an article from the McCook Gazette:  http://www.mccookgazette.com/story/1193695.html

COOKIE CUTTER: Winning crown as Mrs. America ' didn't really change' life - The Denver Post
Nebraskan's tidiness won 1956 Mrs. America title