Marilyn Van Derbur is known as Miss America 1958 and for her work helping sexual abuse survivors. Now she’s making headlines for helping in another way.
DENVER — Moments become memories, all too quickly. Monumental memories are documented.
In Colorado, Marilyn Van Derbur is known as Miss America 1958. She’s also known for her work in helping survivors of sexual abuse after going public in 1991 with her story of being abused as a child by her father.
From age 19 to 84, the title of Miss America has framed her life and given her a platform to help others, she said.
“(It) profoundly changed my life. Helped me help survivors in a way that nothing else could,” Van Derbur said. “Answered tens of thousands of emails: ‘If this can happen to Miss America, then it can happen to me. And if you can get through this, I can get through this,’ and that was the greatest gift I was given.”
The title came with other gifts.
“I gave my gorgeous gown — Miss America — to the Colorado Historical Society, who has it in a warehouse,” she said.
And then there’s her crown.
“Queen Elizabeth would buy my crown,” she said. “It is prettier than any she has. It’s just stunning. And the bracelet, it’s a mini-crown. And I’m the only one who has a bracelet, and we don’t know why. It’s enormous.”
About nine months ago, a filmmaker doing a documentary on Miss America asked her to show him her crown, so she did.
“He said, ‘Do you have any idea how valuable that is?'” Van Derbur said.
That got her thinking about what the crown might be worth — to someone else.
She’d watched teachers during the pandemic finding ways to teach virtually, trying to get computers to those who didn’t have them and buying their own supplies.
“I just thought, what if we sold the crown and gave the money to teachers?” she said. “First, I said to my granddaughter, ‘This is something you would have. Would you be OK if I sold this and gave the money to teachers?'”
Her granddaughter said yes.
So Van Derbur’s Miss America crown and bracelet are now up for auction, with the proceeds going to two schools in Denver to help teachers and classrooms. The auction through Heritage Auctions started on Thursday and runs through Sunday. The opening bid was $20,000.
“What I hope is we can make enough money to make a difference for teachers,” she said. “We all have something to give. All of us have something to give.”
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Feature stories