Teresa Scanlan just returned from a Croatian vacation and I was thrilled to hear more details about her trip and that she is planning to attend the Sunday, October 1st New York City music event and fundraiser at the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Croatian Catholic Church Hall. This event will salute the Croatian American community’s “40 Under 40” honorees and several will perform and provide wonderful entertainment. Teresa laughed when we talked on the phone and said she will need to start practicing on the piano if she will perform one song at the New York City Croatian fundraiser. All proceeds will benefit the Banja Luka Catholic Diocese.
Teresa gushed that it was a dream come true for her to be able to bring her own son to Croatia for the first time this summer. She shared with me, "My heart was so full as I watched him on the fishing boat with my Nono, exploring the island of Ilovik, and making friends with lots of other Croatian children. We had a fabulous trip and I loved every minute with my relatives and family. I can't wait to return again with my son soon! It will always mean a lot to me to stay close to my heritage and to allow him to explore that piece of himself as well."
It is a long way from the island of Ilovik, where Teresa’s maternal grandparents are from, to Las Vegas, Nevada where she won the Miss America title in 2011. No one was prouder of her Miss America title than her maternal grandparents, Nives and Frank Jelich. Teresa's grandparents are from a small island off the Croatian coast (near Mali Losinj) with only 300 residents and it is quite a love story. They both left Communist Yugoslavia in the early 1950s and their journey included marriage in Italy before immigrating to the USA. Teresa is quick to thank her maternal grandparents for the lessons learned and is forever “grateful for their love and support” and for all they sacrificed for her mother. Teresa and her grandparents both feel that her incredible success story, winning the Miss America title in 2011 is a classic American dream come true from an immigrant perspective.
Teresa Michelle Scanlan grew up and now resides again in Gering, Nebraska. She is an American beauty pageant titleholder and won the title of Miss Nebraska in June, 2010 and was the youngest ever crowned in that state. She then took her piano talent and her platform commitment to deal with “Eating Disorders” to the Miss America pageant in January, 2011 in Las Vegas.
Proud Grandparents Nives and Frank Jelich with a family gathering on the Island of Ilovik, Summer 2017
She was the youngest Miss America winner in 74 years and won the talent portion of the contest with her piano performance of “White Water Chop Sticks.” Teresa accepted and arranged a special visit in 2011, with a dozen of her fellow contestants to the Croatian Embassy to visit and to attend a celebratory lunch hosted at the time by Croatian Ambassador Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.
Teresa is also very proud of her volunteer work with Father Gio Belanich and the Croatian Relief Services projects in Haiti. She proudly proclaims that "visiting the orphanage in Haiti was a life changing experience” for her and she is still committed to supporting the Cardinal Stepinac Children’s Home, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital. This Children’s Home serves the pressing needs of orphaned and abandoned children. She still keeps in touch with Father Gio which is another example of Teresa’s commitment to a wonderful charity which brings another Croatian connection to her life.
Teresa stays very busy in Gering Nebraska as a proud mother and even has a local radio show, talking about the issues of the day. If you visit her home town in Nebraska, you can find the Teresa Scanlan Miss America collection there at the North Platte Valley Museum. She travels and speaks as a motivational speaker with quite a story to tell. It’s a big priority this year to her to study and properly prepare for a mid-September LSAT test and she is still energized about going to law school next in her career progression. In her little spare time she actually manages to study the Croatian language too as an offshoot of serious pride in her Croatian heritage.
This author first met Teresa Scanlan at her appearance at the National Federation of Croatian Americans (NFCA) annual meeting in Florida in 2013. I was impressed with her commitment to make a difference in this world. I will never forget that she finished her inspirational talk at a Friday night reception at the Croatian Center in Clearwater, Florida, by reciting by memory the poem entitled: The Dash by Linda Ellis. Please google it and read it and you will better understand that Miss America 2011 even as a teenager, truly understood how precious life and time is and that is one reminder gift she gave to me.
Mark your calendar and I hope many of you will have a chance to meet her in New York City at the 1:00 pm afternoon music extravaganza on Sunday October 1st. It will salute many of the “40 Under 40” honorees and to raise funds for Bishop Franjo Komarica and his Banja Luka Diocese with so many needs for his Catholic community still living in the Republika Srpska.