By Juanice Gray, with information provided by Sluppick’s granddaughter, Chelsea Joy
Natchitoches lost an icon of the Christmas season Nov. 7, when Judy Hubley Sluppick, the first Miss Merry Christmas, lost her battle with cancer at age 81.
Miss Merry Christmas is possibly the most widely recognized community honor for senior girls. Each year, the City of Natchitoches seeks an outstanding young woman to serve as hostess for the Christmas Festival as well as a City of Lights representative throughout the year. She also receives an NSU tuition scholarship, cash scholarship and other prizes and awards. Plans are made all year to ensure a fresh show and, above all, to select the most qualified person to wear the crown. But, according to those donning the title in the 50s and 60s, Miss Merry Christmas had a very humble beginning.
The story begins in 1956 with a great pair of legs. As a high school senior, Hubley competed in the Miss Natchitoches pageant. She explains, “It was a big deal. The town was much smaller than it is now and everyone literally knew everyone. So all of the senior girls were in it.” Essie Byers was crowned queen, but Sluppick did not go unnoticed. As the Christmas season approached, the city council decided Natchitoches needed a representative to entice people to visit. As they were bouncing around ideas, former mayor Frank Keys chimed in, “I saw the Miss Natchitoches contest and that Judy Hubley sure has got some good-looking legs!” The legs were a trait she got from her mother, Marjorie.
Furthermore, she came from a good family and possessed morals and values. The council agreed she would be an excellent choice. The mayor called Sluppick’s mother and asked if her daughter would consider being the city’s ambassador. “I said ‘sure,’” says Sluppick. “But, I was also terribly shy. I was definitely an introvert.” She was a dancer and didn’t mind so much being seen, but she was at a loss for words when it came to public speaking. For those who knew Sluppick, it’s tough to believe that, once upon a time, her greatest challenge was talking.
She says, “Betty Jones took me to Shreveport for a radio interview. I was scared to death, but I got through it.” She recalled having the same nervous feeling when promoting the festival in Lake Charles. There, she interviewed with a state representative from Baton Rouge, a huge feat for a sheltered young woman from small, humble Natchitoches.
Her grandmother, Bonnie Haworth, made her Miss Merry Christmas outfit, which consisted of a red cape and shorts with white trim to show off her dancer’s legs. She also created the red evening gown she wore to special events. News of Sluppick’s travels and popularity spread around school like wildfire, but she never anticipated Miss Merry Christmas would grow to be such a huge honor or that years later, she would still be recognized for being the first.
When former mayor, Joe Sampite, would spot her in town, he made sure everyone was aware that she was the original Miss Merry Christmas. Just as she did during her reign, Sluppick rode each year in the Christmas Festival parade. Though the selection process has evolved into a competition, Sluppick notes, “It’s not a beauty contest. It never has been. Miss Merry Christmas is an ambassador. She must have a unique aura about her.”
She and other former Miss Merry Christmases hope future generations will continue to carry out the tradition and its responsibilities with pride and integrity.
Hubley was also a graduate of NSU and continued her role in the community by teaching elementary school for 30 years. In addition, for 13 years she was the Executive Director of the Crisis Pregnancy Center, now the Women’s Resource Center, a non-profit organization. Alongside fellow volunteers, she was dedicated to educating and empowering young women to make informed decisions for themselves and their unborn babies during unplanned pregnancies. She was also a member of PEO Chapter AG.
Hubley-Sluppick often said she enjoyed riding in the festival parade every year and was proud of her title as “The Very First Miss Merry Christmas.”