When you think of Downtown Hartsville, you might instinctively think of amazing shops, beautiful, historic scenery, and friendly, familiar faces. Did you know that Downtown Hartsville is also home to an organization that has a reach across the entire state of South Carolina, positively affecting the lives of hundreds of young women each year? Hartsville is proud to be home to the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization Inc.
Headquartered in Downtown Hartsville, the mission of the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization is “Preparing great woman for the world. Preparing the world for great women.” An official preliminary to the Miss America Competition, the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization, Inc. is one of the largest providers of scholarships to young women in the state. The organization provides $260,000 in scholarships annually, with the winner receiving $60,000, the largest amount within the Miss America Organization. Often perceived as a one-night competition by the general public, the organization lends itself to much more.
The Miss South Carolina Scholarship Pageant is one of the oldest in the Miss American organization, dating back to 1936. Previously headquartered in the upstate region of SC, the move was made to Hartsville in 2010 thanks to the pageant’s President and Co-CEO, Ashley Byrd. A native of Hartsville, Ashley, who also works full time for Sonoco, has had a long involvement in the pageant industry. “I’ve always enjoyed watching pageants,” says Byrd. “My involvement began when I applied to be a certified judge with the Miss South Carolina pageant.” After that, he served for 16 years as a Field Director between state and local offices in the Pee Dee area. He recounts that he had to briefly step away from the Miss South Carolina Organization when he served as a board member for the Miss America Organization. “There couldn’t be any conflicts of interest,” Byrd adds. After so many years of volunteering and working with pageants Ashley says he realized he was ready for the challenge of taking on the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization. In 2010, he submitted his RFP and was granted the licensing agreement for the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization Inc. The organization was officially moved to Downtown Hartsville in 2011.
“I love being downtown,” says Byrd. “It was perfect timing, really. This building became available in 2010 and in 2011 I made the decision to move the organization from my home office to Downtown Hartsville, and I’m so glad I did.” In addition to the publicity and ease of access, Ashley relates that the Miss South Carolina delegates have built relationships with downtown merchants and love shopping locally whenever they’re in town. Although the organization no longer provides an apartment for the winner, many of the delegates still make a point to return to Hartsville and visit their favorite shops as often as they can. Byrd also says they bring in board members from across the state for retreats who shop, eat, and stay downtown.
Ashley invites those interested in learning more about the organization to visit his office at 121 N. Fifth St. Laughingly, Ashley reports that “We often get mistaken as a photography studio thanks to all the portraits on the wall.” An entire wall of the office is dedicated to past Miss South Carolina Scholarship winners and can easily be viewed by those passing by. Ashley points out two portraits in particular. “We’ve had two Miss South Carolinas take home the title of Miss America. The first was Marian McKnight in 1957, who was a Coker College graduate, and the second was Kim Aiken in 1994.” Byrd says there have also been two National Teen Winners, previously Miss South Carolina Teen, Taylor Fitch in 2009 and Rachel Wyatt in 2013.
When asked about the future of the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization Ashley remarks that the brand is continually evolving; it’s an 86-year-old brand. “We’re always looking for ways to add diversity to the pageant, find new candidates, new cities. There are currently 47 participants in the form of cities, festivals, and universities who compete. Ashley says he’d like to see that number grow but recognizes that many pageant-aged young women are busy with so many extracurricular activities that might prevent them from competing. Ashley sees the need to be competitive to reach new delegates. “Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization reaches a large audience. We’re one of only three pageants at the state level who still live stream the event, which reaches over 1,000,000 people annually.” If you’ve ever watched the pageant and found yourself asking how you can get involved, you’re in luck!
“We love volunteers,” says Ashley. “We’re a volunteer-based program with one part-time staffer.” In addition to volunteering, Ashley says in-kind gifts such as gift cards to local restaurants and shops are also welcomed. “Our delegates love shopping downtown, so any extra incentive to bring them and their families to town is appreciated.” Byrd says that the winner of Miss South Carolina is always available for speaking engagements, and encourages local schools, churches, and civic organizations to reach out to him if they’d like Miss South Carolina to make an appearance. For more information about the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization or to find out how you can be involved, reach out to Ashley Byrd at 843.857.9173.
Organization Name: Miss SC Scholarship Organization Inc.
Year Opened: 1936
President/ Co-CEO: Ashley Byrd
Business Address: 121 N. Fifth Street