The first Sweetcorn Festival had its humble beginnings in 1938, organized by local businessmen to promote Hoopeston and celebrate the end of the sweet corn harvest.
The first Sweetcorn Sweethearts, later known as Miss Hoopeston, were chosen by the public during the earlier years of the festival when they shopped in local stores. A list of young girls names were provided and each customer voted on a local girl of their choice. The girl with the most votes reigned over the celebration.
In 1939, things change in the way Miss Hoopeston was selected. Local judges became responsible for the selection of the reigning Miss Sweetcorn. By 1940, another change came when Hoopeston persuaded canning and related industries from Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin to send contestants to compete for the title of Miss Sweetcorn to celebrate the end of Harvest.
With competition arriving in Hoopeston from these states, the name of the Hoopeston Sweetcorn Festival received a name change in 1941 to the National Sweetcorn Festival and the reigning Miss Sweetcorn to National Miss Sweetheart.
The festival was discontinued briefly during World War II. It resumed after the war under the sponsorship of the Hoopeston Jaycees and has remained under its sponsorship as a fundraiser for the many projects the Jaycees promote for the Hoopeston area. These projects include: Underprivileged Children’s Christmas, Toys for Kids, Birthday Club, High School Post Prom, the Easter Egg Hunt, The Firemen’s Ball, Miss Hoopeston and, of course, the National Sweetheart Pageant.
The format of the festival stayed the same as its early beginnings until 1952 when the Hoopeston Jaycees took complete control of the event and invited the first runners-up of their respective states to compete in the National Sweetheart Pageant. This also was the time when the Miss America circuit judges were invited to judge the competitors, which brought national recognition to the Hoopeston festival, making Hoopeston’s festival a training arena for those young women who planned to re-enter their state pageants in order to compete in the Miss America pageant.
In fact, eight previous contestants went back to their home states, won their state pageants, competed and became Miss America. One of those eight young ladies returned to Hoopeston and the Sweetcorn Festival for one day during her reign.
The eight Hoopeston’s National Sweetheart Pageant contestants that became Miss America are: Pam Eldred, Miss America 1970; Rebecca King, Miss America 1974; Grace E. Ward, Miss America 1982; Debrah L. Turner, Miss America 1990; Carolyn Sapp, Miss America 1992; Leanza Cornett, Miss America 1993; Tara Dawn Holland, Miss America 1997; and Katie Marie Harman, Miss America 2002.